Earlier tonight, I had the great honor of emceeing this year’s annual Poker Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
I’m deeply grateful to Ty Stewart and Seth Palansky (from Caesars Entertainment) for being chosen by them to host the event and for being permitted to stand along with so many poker legends, both past, and present.
The Class of 2014 was comprised of two inductees — Jack McClelland and Daniel Negreanu. Both of these exceptional gentlemen have contributed to the game immensely in different ways — McClelland primarily as a tournament official and industry leader, and Negreanu as a poker player and ambassador. I was pleased to see quite contrasting individuals honored in this way, which reveals there are many ways to be successful, have an impact, and make the game better. Both honorees have done exactly that and more.
The night was made even more special because we all returned to the hallowed “place that made poker famous” (that’s the casino’s catchy tagline). Binion’s Gambling Hall (formally Binion’s Horseshoe) rolled out the red carpet for everyone who attended, hosting the gathering inside what used to be known as Benny’s Bullpen. Now, it’s called the Longhorn Room. My deepest thanks go to Michelle, Paul, Jerry, Brad, and all the other fine people working at Binion’s who helped put the evening together, and who keep the tradition alive.
Attendees included an all-star cast of legends, starting with Jack Binion himself. I asked Mr. Binion if he’d been inside this building since he left it some 15 years ago to build a casino empire elsewhere (which he did). To my great surprise, he said this was the first time since 1998 he’d been back in the building which he helped to establish as a beloved home for all gamblers and poker players.
Other VIPs sitting in the audience included Lyle Berman, Eric Drache, Linda Johnson, Doyle Brunson, and Phil Hellmuth, all of whom are already enshrined in the Poker Hall of Fame (only 21 are living). We were also joined by World Poker Tour co-founder Steve Lipscomb, as well as chief executive Adam Pliska. There were also representatives from the European Poker Tour, and of course, the World Series of Poker.
According to memory, this was one of the few times I’ve ever seen all the powerful poker organizations come together in one sitting for a celebration. Many of us used to be rivals at one time and given the highly-competitive nature of poker, not just at the tables but in the boardroom, I was so proud to see everyone uniting for the sole purpose of honoring both McClelland and Negreanu this evening.
As for my role as the emcee, I intentionally bombed in front of the crowd. My jokes fell flat. I was nearly pulled off the stage. To which I say — mission accomplished. The back story here is, they told me in advance to completely blow it. That way, the other speakers could shine. I was glad to do my part to make McClelland, Negreanu — and their two chosen people who gave introductions for each player, Phil Hellmuth and Brian Balsbaugh sound like they were delivering the Gettysburg Address.
On a more serious note, the remarks by both inductees were quite moving. I was really touched by McClelland’s undying devotion to his late wife Alma, and Elizabeth, who has faithfully been at his side now for nearly 15 years. He was marvelous. Negreanu was — as you’d expect — Negreanu. Speaking for about ten minutes without much of a script, Negreanu delivered straight from the heart. Most notably, he paid tribute to his late mother who provided a solid foundation from which one of the game’s greatest ambassadors has evolved.
The evening concluded with ten or so Poker Hall of Fame members onstage being photographed together.
As a side note, special thanks to all those who came to tonight’s banquet. I hope you had a good time. Thanks also go to Jack, Linda, Jan, Mark, and Kristen who I was able to sit with and exchange conversation.
Next up and coming tomorrow (Monday)….the 2014 WSOP Main Event Championship final table, otherwise known as the November Nine. The action starts at 4:15 pm PST.