Top 10 reasons the Poker Hall of Fame ceremony was a smashing success

7 November 2015

LAS VEGAS -- The Poker Hall of Fame inducted its 49th and 50th members on Friday night at Binion's Gambling Hall & Hotel, providing an evening full of shining moments.

One of the honorees — John Juanda — was unable to attend because he lives in Japan with a young family, and while his absence was felt, it most certainly did not take anything away from the overall quality of the ceremony.

The night more than survived having just one of the two inductees in the house, and Casino City spells out why:

10. The venue
The Hall of Fame ceremony was previously held at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino, where the WSOP is staged each year. But last year the WSOP shifted the scene to an off night during the November Nine and moved it to Binion's (formerly Binion's Horseshoe) in downtown Las Vegas.

Simply put, it was a brilliant decision.

Binion's is the home of poker. Benny Binion is the father of the WSOP Main Event and the founder of the Poker Hall of Fame, along with his son, Jack. And the ESPN generation may not even realize it, but Binion's hosted the Main Event from the 1970s to 2004.

Jennifer Harman was one of the honorees at the Poker Hall of Fame ceremony, but her twin boys also made sure to steal some of the spotlight.

Jennifer Harman was one of the honorees at the Poker Hall of Fame ceremony, but her twin boys also made sure to steal some of the spotlight.

While the property may not be as lush or convenient as the Rio or a Strip casino resort, it absolutely screams with history. In the poker room, there are photos hanging on the walls capturing the legends of the game, as well as a poker table that is signed by every big name you could think of. This is hallowed ground for poker players and fans, and it's the obvious choice to host the ceremony each year.

"The Horseshoe holds a special place in my heart," inductee Jennifer Harman told us after the ceremony. "It brings back so many great memories for me. Just look around. It's an amazing place."

9. The banners
Each year at the Rio, the ballroom where the WSOP is played is adorned with huge banners of every Main Event champion. Other than the actual bracelet (and the money), one of the greatest honors for Main Event winners is knowing their face will be forever remembered and displayed every summer at the WSOP.

Those banners were moved to Binion's on Friday night, draped along the hallway that leads into the ballroom where the ceremony was held. So, not only could you literally smell poker history when you walked into the building, but thanks to this classy touch by the WSOP, the goosebumps got even bigger as you strolled into the ceremony looking at the enormous tapestries of past champions like Stu Ungar, Scotty Nguyen and Chris Moneymaker. Very cool.

8. The format
Let's face it: Award ceremonies are typically long and pretentious, filled with awkward moments, excessive speeches and poorly written jokes. The Poker Hall of Fame ceremony had none of that on Friday night.

The format was simple, yet effective. There was a cocktail hour with a buffet and appetizers, followed by the actual schedule of events that lasted just under an hour. It never even got close to the point where anyone in the room was checking their watch wondering if they would ever get out of there.

The mood was light and casual. There were plenty of laughs, a few choked-back tears and a great deal of raw emotion. From this vantage point, put those ingredients together and you have yourself a rewarding and entertaining evening.

7. Nolan Dalla
One of the primary reasons the abovementioned format was so successful was that the man running point on the evening was Nolan Dalla, the well-liked and personable WSOP Media Director.

Dalla is one of those guys you feel like you've known for decades just moments after you meet him. He has a keen knowledge of poker history, as well as an array of other topics. He is never short on opinions, but is always entertaining. (For proof: check out his personal website at

So, with good old Nolan driving the bus, the ceremony was sure to be fast-moving, no-nonsense and enjoyable.

His best two lines of the night centered on two of his passions: politics and sports betting.

As he discussed the recent criticism the WSOP has heard regarding the Hall of Fame selection process being too American-centric and that it discriminates against foreign-born players, he added, "Well, let me address that and put at least one rumor totally to rest. As far as keeping foreign players out of the Hall of Fame, Donald Trump was not on the selection committee . . . Sorry, I had to get one political joke out there."

And then, when he was explaining the schedule for the November Nine weekend, he stated Day 1 would begin at 5 p.m. on Sunday, "right after the last NFL game ends and I lose a bunch of money, as usual."

Poker Hall of Famers (from left) Jack McClelland, Jennifer Harman and Daniel Negreanu.

Poker Hall of Famers (from left) Jack McClelland, Jennifer Harman and Daniel Negreanu.

6. Jack McClelland
In between the inductions of Juanda and Harman, Dalla recognized the presence of McClelland, the former long-time WSOP tournament director and Bellagio poker room manager who was part of the 2014 Hall of Fame class. You may remember he was the guy who announced the infamous hand between Johnny Chan and Erik Seidel back in 1988.

In December 2013, the news broke that McClelland needed a heart transplant due to a serious virus, and the following March he was added to the transplant list. Since that time there have been desperate moments, but on Friday night Dalla was more than thrilled to announce some good news. McClelland no longer needs a heart transplant. Dalla asked Jack to stand up and then he read a touching statement for his dear friend.

"I give stem cells the credit to fixing my heart. The timing was perfect because I was getting really, really weak. The credit all goes to my family and friends for their prayers and support and for keeping me from giving up."

Added a clearly choked-up Dalla, "I guess this means Jack is going to be attending a lot more of these types of ceremonies in the future. Let's hear it for Jack," prompting a standing ovation as the 64-year-old McClelland waved to the crowd, bringing his wife to tears.

5. Three November Niners
Only three of the nine players who will face off beginning Sunday for the WSOP Main Event bracelet attended the ceremony. But the three that did -- Federico Butteroni, Pierre Neuville and Neil Blumenfield -- were honored to be there.

"I'm here out of respect for the game, respect for the WSOP and the Hall of Fame," said the 72-year-old Neuville, who is trying to become the oldest winner of the Main Event. "I tried to tell all of the (final table players) that they should be here. I certainly was not going to miss it. Look around. Why would I not want to be here?"

Butteroni was one of the first people to arrive and had a smile pasted across his face the entire evening. The engaging Italian worked the crowd, introduced himself to those that didn't already know him and got a huge bear hug from Daniel Negreanu upon his arrival.

"I felt it was my duty to be here," he said.

Blumenfield brought two friends, as well as his cherished copy of the original hard cover of Doyle Brunson's Super System.

"I wanted to bring it on the off chance Doyle would be here," he explained. "He's not here, but that's OK. I'm so happy to be here. I had a blast."

4. Daniel Negreanu
The admiration for Negreanu by fellow players was never more evident on Friday night than when BOTH Harman and Juanda asked Kid Poker to introduce them.

"Obviously it was a true honor to do so because both Jen and John are dear friends of mine," said Negreanu, who was elected to the Hall of Fame last year with McClelland. "This is such a great night for poker. The Hall of Fame is getting two outstanding new players and even better people. I'm just glad to be a part of it."

Negreanu was more than "just a part of it." He stole the show.

Neil Blumenfield was one of three members of the 2015 November Nine to attend the Hall of Fame ceremony.

Neil Blumenfield was one of three members of the 2015 November Nine to attend the Hall of Fame ceremony.

His intros provided deep insight into where the two new inductees came from, why they were deserving and he made sure to get in some material that had the joint in hysterics.

Negreanu called Juanda a "father figure" to many of the pros from his era and said that he built his legacy "the right way" by being responsible, working hard and grinding.

"But what John never realized it just how friggin' good he always ran," Negreanu said with a laugh. "We used to talk poker all of the time and if you told him you lost three sessions in a row, he just said factually, 'You must have played bad.' Like he couldn't fathom the idea of losing three sessions in a row.

"Or, if we wanted to discuss a hand with him, we would say, 'John, what do you think of the way I played this hand?' and he would be like, 'First, tell me, did you win or lose the hand?' And I would say, 'I lost it.' And he would just say, 'Well, what is there to talk about? You must have played it wrong.' To him, it was that simple."

Before reading a statement that was prepared by Juanda, Negreanu took advantage of the opportunity to interject an intro that he claimed Juanda wanted him to read.

"First and foremost, John wants to thank someone very special. He said, 'I want to thank Daniel Negreanu. He's not just the greatest poker player ever — he's sooo good — but he is also quite handsome and has amazing, perfect hair."

This, of course, drew a huge laugh from the crowd as Negreanu giggled, "Oh, wait a minute. I'm sorry. He really didn't write that part. I just threw that in there." Great stuff.

As for Harman, Kid Poker called her a "pit bull in a Chihuahua's body," someone he's known since he was in his early 20s when she was "this cute, little blonde girl with her legs out, drinking Coors Light, playing with the big boys at the Mirage poker room." He admitted that he was "scared to death" to play against her at the time.

"What I really love about Jennifer is that quality of hers of wearing her emotions on her sleeve. Her best quality is just how genuine and passionate she is. You know what you're getting with her. Jennifer always tells it like it is. She's been in this arena a long time and she's put up with a lot and she's done exceptionally well for many, many years. I'm honored to be her friend."

3. John Juanda's words
When it came time for Negreanu to read the "actual" statement that was written by Juanda, he started by saying, "John is a man of very few words. He's known as the 'Silent Assassin' and tonight he's going to be so silent that you aren't even going to hear from him."

And while Juanda's words for Negreanu were definitely succinct, they were also heartfelt and genuine.

"I chose to play poker because I loved the game from the moment I first played. Through poker I have been able to experience things that I otherwise wouldn't have been able to; traveling to the most beautiful places in the world; meeting some of the most interesting and colorful people.

"As far as the Hall of Fame goes, it's not something that I ever dreamed about or gave much thought to, but when you do something for a living it's nice to be recognized and respected by your peers, specifically Dan Harrington and Erik Seidel, who were role models for me."

2. The twins
Part of the friends and family entourage that Harman brought with her were her twin sons, John Carlo and Francesco.

The boys, who were to celebrate their 9th birthday the day after the ceremony, were wearing matching outfits and brought a refreshing vibe to the room full of people mostly three and four times their age, or more. They accepted hugs and handshakes, gladly posed for the cameras and even challenged WSOP Executive Director Ty Stewart to a race across the ballroom floor (they lost).

During the actual ceremony, they sat sandwiched between their mother and adoringly hugged her, kissed her and kept asking her how proud she was. They were obviously getting a huge kick out of all the attention their mother was receiving and the crowd was eating it up.

Harman's love and appreciate for her boys was evident when she made them a prominent part of her acceptance speech.

"I'm honored to stand here today as a member of the Poker Hall of Fame, but my ultimate goal is to be there for my two boys and to be in their Mother Hall of Fame someday."

1. Jennifer Harman's speech
Harman started by saying she didn't have anything prepared and that she would be delivering it "off the cuff."

If that was truly the case, she's as skilled a public speaker as she is a poker player.

Harman, who turns 51 later this month, anchored the evening with a passionate and eloquent speech. She thanked her late mother, who she said probably taught her how to play cards as a 5-year-old so "she would have someone to play with." She mentioned how honored and proud she was to be a female role model for successful players like Liv Boeree, Vanessa Rousso and Vanessa Selbst. She talked about how she survived the tough times in her life, she thanked her friends and family and, of course, spoke about how much her two sons mean to her.

It was a perfect ending to a splendid night for the WSOP and the game of poker.

Related Links
Binion's Gambling Hall Details
The Mirage Details
Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino Details
Ranked Online Poker Rooms

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