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This summer, a 16-year association between the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino and the World Series of Poker comes to a close. With poker’s biggest annual festival rumored to be heading to Bally’s Las Vegas Hotel and Casino Event Center starting in the summer of 2022, the curtain comes down on the Rio’s time as host of poker’s signature series of life-changing tournaments. The Rio has been what the WSOP has needed, exactly at the time it needed it. For some, the lasting images of the World Series of Poker come from yesteryear, with legends of the game such as Doyle Brunson, Phil Hellmuth, Stu Ungar, and Johnny Chan winning big at Binion’s. While Binion’s has a great history, the Rio is where poker’s boom led to the growth of the game and its cavernous corridors have provided us with some of the most memorable moments ever witnessed at the felt. Many dramatic moments have followed in the Thunderdome, from Daniel Negreanu’s collapse after near-bubbling the final table to Phil Hellmuth’s record-breaking WSOP bracelet win in 2007 to Mark Newhouse’s celebrated reverse-curse on himself in WSOP the subsequent WSOP Main Event to his career-high score. https://twitter.com/mark_hizzle/status/486037130632638465 Binion’s had the gloriously claustrophobic nature of a state-wide game only much bigger. They hosted the WSOP while it was predominantly an American-attended festival. Fans were four or five deep at the rail, so close to Johnny Chan during his victory against Erik Seidel that they could have reached out and helped him push his chips over the line. The Rio, however, ushered in a new age of poker. During a time when poker enjoyed its years of growth and became more appealing to the mainstream, the rail increased and had to be moved back. Seating was erected in the Thunderdome, and in other rooms, with fans being kept at a modest distance. Antonio Esfandiari’s victory in the $1 million-entry Big One for One Drop in 2012 remains a watershed moment in poker and it all took place in the Thunderdome. From Sam Trickett’s quad threes against Brian Rast to ‘The Magician’ winning the bracelet and being held aloft by his friends and family after he got the better of the Brit heads-up, the event lived in the glow of flashbulbs. When thinking of the World Series of Poker at the Rio what comes to mind to this reporter is one hand in particular. In 2010, Jonathan Duhamel took down the WSOP Main Event to win $8.9 million when he dominated the final table. But in truth, Duhamel took the biggest step to victory when he won possibly the best hand the Rio has ever seen against Matt Affleck. Affleck had pocket aces, Duhamel had pocket jacks and somehow, all the money went in on a turn that saw Affleck a 4:1 favorite. Duhamel needed his straight draw or a jack to come in on the river and when it did, Affleck’s subsequent reaction was heartbreaking and incredible in equal measure. To the legendary commentary of Norman Chad and Lon McEachern, two men whose partnership has itself flourished at the Rio, a “thunderstruck” Affleck burst out of the Thunderdome and threw his water bottle against the wall. A few minutes later, Affleck returned to shake the hand of everyone at the table, ending in Duhamel himself. If the moment started awkwardly, it ended by transcending poker and showing the humanity that exists between poker players. Sure the Rio has its flaws. Poker can be about stepping into a teeming mass of sweat and closeness, shoulder-to-shoulder with your best friend and your biggest enemy - who, in a poker tournament, can be exactly the same person. It can feel like a cauldron. The Rio is often the opposite - it's a ‘cooler’. It's famous for its ice-cold temperatures forcing players to wrap up warm once they walk out of the Vegas sunshine and into the building where the last 15 World Champions have been crowned. Players who don’t insulate or consume enough vitamins have complained of the ‘Rio Flu’ years before COVID came along. In recent years, though, the WSOP Player of the Year has captivated fans for entire summers. With dozens of flags depicting former winners adorning every side of the two main cardrooms, each race has gathered its own momentum inside its echo chambers populated by thousands of poker players. From queues for the restroom and registration desk that snake through the labyrinthine pathways that criss-cross the Rio hallways to the stands of phone battery sellers and massage machines, there is no place like it. The Rio will go down in poker history as the venue where poker grew up, where it became the beast that can now never be tamed. The World Series of Poker will move on in 2022, but the memories of poker's time at the Rio will echo forever. How many more become eternal this Autumn remains as poker should, in the hands of the players who make the game what it is.
The World Series of Poker’s Poker Hall of Fame announced the list of 10 finalists that will be considered for induction in 2021. The 32 living members of the Poker Hall of Fame will cast their vote from the shortlist, with just one earning the honor of induction on November 17. This year’s shortlist includes (in alphabetical order): Eli Elezra A businessman and four-time WSOP bracelet winner, Elezra has proven himself to be a world-class competitor in both high-stakes tournaments and cash games. He has more than $4.1 million in total live tournament earnings as well as a World Poker Tour title to his name. Additionally, Elezra built a reputation in the Las Vegas cash games and made appearances on High Stakes Poker and Poker After Dark. Antonio Esfandiari Nicknamed “The Magician”, Esfandiari became one of the more popular personalities of the poker boom (along with his then partner-in-crime Phil Laak). He has three WSOP gold bracelets, two World Poker Tour titles, and is also well-known as the winner of the first-ever $1 million buy-in Big One For One Drop for which he earned more than $18 million, helping push his lifetime earnings to more than $27 million. Chris Ferguson As a six-time WSOP bracelet winner (including the 2000 Main Event), the 2017 WSOP Player of the Year, and with a total of 142 WSOP cashes for more than $6.8 million Ferguson has one of the best resumes in WSOP history. However, his reputation off the felt took a critical blow in the aftermath of Black Friday as one of the primary parties of Full Tilt Poker and the debacle that followed when players were unable to get paid. Layne Flack Six-time WSOP bracelet winner Layne Flack is receiving a posthumous nomination after his sudden passing away in July of 2021. Flack was given the nickname “back-to-back” after winning two consecutive events in the 1999 Legends of Poker, and then picked up two bracelets in 2002 and again in 2003. Flack earned more than $5 million in lifetime tournament earnings as well as a World Poker Tour title. Ted Forrest The third six-time bracelet winner on this list is Ted Forrest who has 39 WSOP cashes for just over $2 million. Additionally, Forrest has a World Poker Tour title and a reputation as being an important personality in the early poker boom as well as a member of The Corporation, who took on billionaire Andy Beal made poker famous as The Suicide King in Michael Craig’s book The Professor, the Banker, and the Suicide King: Inside The Richest Poker Game of All Time. Bertrand “ElkY” Grospellier One of the original online poker celebrities, Grospellier currently sits 47th on the All-Time Money List. With two WSOP bracelets and a WPT Championship victory in 2008, ‘ElkY’ has amassed more than $14 million in live earnings. However, with just one person making it into the Hall of Fame each year, Grospellier may be a long shot to get inducted in 2021. Mike Matusow Mike ‘The Mouth’ Matusow is one of poker’s most colorful characters but in addition to his polarizing personality, he boasts a decades-long resume of accomplishments. He’s a four-time bracelet winner with just under $10 million in career live earnings and he’s still ever-present at the WSOP today. Matusow’s strength is the impression he left and continues to leave on poker fans worldwide. Michael Mizrachi The top line of Mizrachi’s poker resume reads “Three-time $50,000 Poker Players Champion.” It’s an incredible feat and ’The Grinder’ is the only player to have pulled it off thus far. He’s a five-time WSOP bracelet winner, two-time WPT champion, and has accumulated over $17 million in live earnings and, at just 40 years old, is nominated in his first year of eligibility. Matt Savage The Executive Tour Director for the World Poker Tour, Savage is the most well-known TD in the game today. Nominated as a builder, Savage has been integral to the Tournament Directors Association helping shape the way that tournaments are played today. Isai Scheinberg PokerStars founder Isai Scheinberg is one of the most influential businessmen from the poker boom era, getting much of the credit for helping drive the success of online poker both through marketing and the development of his platform. Also nominated as a builder, Scheinberg was key in helping U.S. players get refunded from a defunct Full Tilt Poker and now, with his legal troubles vs. the U.S. government behind him, he’s nominated for the second year in a row. The criteria for nomination into the Poker Hall of Fame remains that players must be 40 years of age, player for high stakes against acknowledged top competition while gaining the respect of their peers. They also need to have stood the test of time. In the builder category, they are judged on the overall growth and success of the game while providing indelible positive and lasting results. The enshrinement ceremony will be held on November 17 to coincide with the final table of the 2021 WSOP Main Event.