Seth Palansky expresses his views on the recent complaints rising internationally on the Poker Hall of Fame (PHOF) voting process.
There is a battle raging within poker. On one side, you have North Americans. On the other lies everyone else. The reason for war is the Poker Hall of Fame.
The North Americans are happy that the PHOF inducted Jen Harman and John Juanda. Nobody else is. Each complaint contains a cushy caveat that ‘both deserved to be inducted’ followed by that word my wife says I pull out of the knife draw when I am set to defend myself.
They should have inducted the Devilfish instead.
I reached out to Palansky to ask him for his opinion of the recent uproar, and this is what he said:
Who is in charge of the structure and can effect change in the Poker Hall of Fame?
We just administer the existing criteria. Since we inherited the PHOF from Binion’s a decade ago, we only made two tweaks to address some of the concerns we saw. One was to add the age minimum (because Tom Dwan and Isildur were getting too many nominations) and we added a Blue Ribbon Media Panel to cast votes to help broaden the base of voters. But in general, the group responsible is the Poker Hall of Fame Governing Council.
Who is the Poker Hall of Fame Governing Council?
A group that comes together a couple of times a year to deal with the process.
There is a sway of an opinion that as long as the current PHOF members have the final vote, and the PHOF continues to grow its American member base that even more Americans will get in, what’s your view on this?
They’re right. That’s true. But we haven’t inducted a single member. There were 25 years of inductees when we got involved, and the voters have determined since who gets in. So, we don’t believe our role is to try and manipulate the membership to better balance from what part of the world a person comes from. We believe if you make the finalists list, it is, in essence, a confirmation you meet the criteria and will undoubtedly get in at some point in time. Just like Ms. Harman has waited for more than a half decade to get in, she eventually did. And we’re confident other finalists will get in too.
Why do the current PHOF members have a vote and why are they allowed to vote anyone in regardless of the public vote?
First off, the public doesn’t vote. They nominate. Then the Poker Hall of Fame Governing Council reviews all the public nominations and puts forth the 10 deemed to fit the criteria. Then the PHOF members are voters along with the blue ribbon media panel. This year it was 23 PHOFers and 16 media members. Poker Hall of Famers have the ability to nominate someone that will get considered on the next year’s ballot if they meet the criteria. The truth is, it really is no different than the rights everyone out there has. Meaning, the Poker Hall of Famers can’t say they want X in, and we automatically make X a finalist the next year. They have to meet the criteria to become a finalist, like every other candidate.
Has a discussion on change ever emerged and if so could you share some thoughts on that?
No, not to any great extent. All Hall of Fame’s are subjective. You are letting people vote for whom they feel is most deserving. Everyone has biases based on their background. It happens with the Baseball Hall of Fame, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and every other one. Deserving people don’t get in year after year. To make it to a Hall of Fame should be hard and for the top percent of its members. Sure, there are probably 50 people who can make an argument to be in the Poker Hall of Fame. But it does no good to put all 50 in one year and not have any more to add for subsequent years. If someone is so worthy, they will get in. It is not an ‘if’; it is just a ‘when’. It makes no sense in our eyes to manipulate the process. That is in essence just as bad as some of the thing folks are accusing certain people involved in the Poker Hall of Fame of now. It just shifts the blame. Again, it is subjective. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
Why aren’t the members of the media who vote shown to the public, so it’s transparent?
All members of the media are allowed to identify themselves, identify they have a vote, identify who they voted for, etc. There’s no rules coming from the Governing Council stopping them. And while we believe in transparency in almost all cases, there’s some downside in this instance which is why we don’t “out” them.
First, they are volunteers. They aren’t getting paid to partake, and we don’t want the important task to become a burden. Second, we don’t want them to be lobbied or harassed or bombarded, etc., by supporters of those finalists. We want them to make decisions based on their research and not be influenced or swayed.
Now, we have debated this and see some good about discussions occurring to ensure voters have all the information and knowledge as possible when making decisions. But we have chosen to counteract this concern by giving the votes a lot of times to media outlets. What we do is put one person from a company in charge of assembling their entire editorial staff to discuss and debate the candidates, and finally submit back to us their company’s votes. While we don’t observe any of these discussions that these outlets have, we assume that when we get a ballot back, it has been well thought out.
Lastly, if we made the list known, it could potentially cause those with votes to vote differently. Feeling pressure or scrutinized, voters may no longer vote for who they believe deserves it that year, but instead vote to keep the peace or try and guess the consensus, etc. We don’t think that is good. Also, as part of all this, it is hard to find blue ribbon media members that aren’t affiliates or media outlets owned or run by a particular company/group with a more likely inherent bias. So, all the above has led us to the path we have chosen – though it is essential to understand, they can certainly be forthcoming with all the information if they wish, and many have.
Can you tell me who is in the Poker Hall of Fame Governing Council?
No, for the same reasons outlined above.
Is it possible to see the votes for the short list, and also the votes from the PHOF and media panel, again to aid transparency?
No. First, the nominations are nominations – the goal is to ensure everyone from far and wide can put forth names that are deserving. It’s a way to ensure no one deserving gets left off. Terry Rogers this year is a good example of that. Bob Hooks previously, etc. These aren’t votes, though.
Once names are nominated, they are analyzed, and the finalist list is based off these names versus the criteria of the Hall itself. If a Hall of Famer or Media Member wants to detail their vote, we have no problem with that. But putting everything out there to us is just potentially influencing future years or shaming people, and we don’t see the value of that. I can tell you with 100% confidence that all votes are done by individuals; we have seen no unusual patterns or concerns with the voting.
As I have explained in private emails to a few who inquired, if there’s one thing that is occurring in the voting, it is the decision on how many people a voter votes for. Since there is a 10-point must system (meaning, a voter can allocate 10 points. He can give them all to one person, split them among two people, or at maximum, split them among three people). So some voters vote for one person and give them all 10 points. Others vote for 3 and may allocate those 10 points as 3-3-4. So in that case, someone who gets 3 points by one voter, really needs three other voters also to give them 3 points to surpass the one voter who gave one person 10 points.
Voters are told to vote for whom they believe is most deserving in this calendar year. But again, when you are dealing with people, they interpret the information and the data as they see fit. With 390 total points up for grabs this year and each voter representing 2.5% of the votes, a finalist who gets say five voters to give them all ten votes, accrues 50 points. Compared to another finalist who may get 20 different voters to give them each 2 points, for 40 points. The finalist getting five people’s support is ahead of the other getting 20 people’s support. Is that fair? Is that the way it should be? Sure, that all can be questioned. But following the rules and the intent, simply the finalists getting the most total points are the ones ultimately inducted. It certainly doesn’t mean others didn’t have broad support. I think it just means some guys had their votes split, in essence, while others not as much.
John Duthie called the PHOF the Madame Tussauds of American Poker…can you comment on that?
We certainly respect John Duthie and can see quite clearly from his point of view as well. We want some Europeans and others from around the world in the Poker Hall of Fame too. There are certainly deserving candidates, and I think you saw some of them nominated this year. But we don’t have a vote, and we aren’t going to manipulate the system to ensure certain people get in. That wouldn’t be appropriate either.
Why is it restricted to 1 or 2 inductees per year?
Because that is what the original members had in mind after they had their initial year of establishing a base class. Could there be more? Sure. And perhaps as the growth the game has seen this century, perhaps that changes in the future.
What’s your view on an Online Poker Hall of Fame, or changing the criteria to make this a more prominent part?
There’s nothing currently that disqualifies or inhibits anyone that predominantly plays the game online. However, the criteria are clear and standing the test of time, gaining the respect of peers and playing against acknowledged top competition are all parts of the criteria. I would agree that it is harder for an online player to establish this if their gameplay isn’t well known or isn’t viewed, but there’s been no evidence that online players are not being recognized or included in the process.
What’s your opinion of widening the selection committee to prevent the clique like mentality?
We haven’t seen any evidence of a clique. In fact, this was likely the closest voting year in a long time. More finalists earned a fair share of points than ever before. There were a lot of worthy candidates, many of which will be on the finalists list again next year, I’m sure.
That’s the view of Seth Palansky, now it’s your turn? How would you change the PHOF to make it a fairer system, or do you think it works fine as it is?