Antonio Esfandiari, Matt Savage Among Poker HOF Candidates

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Senior Editor U.S.
5 min read
2021 poker hall of fame

Love him or hate him, Chris Ferguson is a finalist for the 2021 Poker Hall of Fame, as is Antonio Esfandiari, Matt Savage, and seven other talented individuals.

Earlier this month, the WSOP accepted fan nominations for the one-person Poker HOF class. The results were tallied up and the 10 highest vote getters, all at least 40 years of age, advanced to the final stage in the voting process. Current living members of the Hall of Fame will now vote on a winner based on the fan nomination list. The player or industry star who receives the most votes will be inducted at a ceremony next month during the WSOP Main Event.

2021 Poker Hall of Fame Candidates

Eli Elezra

This year's list of fan nominations looks very similar to 2020. Missing from the list, however, is Patrik Antonius, Norman Chad and Lon McEachern, and of course Seed because he's already in the HOF. Bertrand "ElkY" Grospellier, Michael Mizrachi, and the late Layne Flack are the 2021 replacements. The full list of 10 players and industry personnel are as follows:

CandidateCategoryHendon Mob
Antonio EsfandiariPlayer$27,810,802
Ted ForrestPlayer$6,392,082
Chris FergusonPlayer$9,584,547
Bertrand GrospellierPlayer$14,680,562
Mike MatusowPlayer$9,750,072
Eli ElezraPlayer$4,157,024
Michael MizrachiPlayer$17,326,423
Layne FlackPlayer$5,081,152
Matt SavageBuilderN/A
Isai ScheinbergBuilderN/A

Making a Case for and Against All 10 Candidates

Only one of the 10 talented individuals above will be inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame next month. But they're all deserving of induction in at least one major way. Hence, why the fans nominated them to advance to the final step in the voting process. Let's take a look at the main reason(s) they each deserve consideration, and why they don't.

Antonio Esfandiari

Case For: Esfandiari is the first ever to win a $1 million tournament — the WSOP Big One for One Drop in 2012 — and has two World Poker Tour titles along with being a long-time ambassador for the game.

Case Against: Much of Esfandiari's claim to fame the past decade was that 2012 win, but he hasn't accomplished much in tournament poker since, mostly because he rarely plays anymore.

Ted Forrest

Case For: Considered one of the best stud players ever in cash games, but is also a six-time World Series of Poker gold bracelet winners.

Case Against: Forrest has fallen off the map a bit the past decade, although he still competes in a number of WSOP events.

Chris Ferguson

Chris Ferguson

Case For: "Jesus" is a six-time bracelet winner, 2017 WSOP Player of the Year, 2000 world champion, and one of the most feared players during the poker boom era.

Case Against: This one is pretty obvious, but he's never fully owned up to his transgressions during the Full Tilt Poker Black Friday scandal, and many poker fans refuse to forgive and forget.

Bertrand "ElkY" Grospellier

Case For: "ElkY" has over $4 million in WSOP cashes and two bracelets. He's been an online poker crusher for many years and arguably the greatest French poker player in history.

Case Against: His live tournament numbers don't quite stack up against many other candidates.

Mike Matusow

Mike Matusow

Case For: "The Mouth" has four WSOP bracelets, reached the Main Event final table twice, and was considered one of the top PLO/8 players in the world in the 2000s.

Case Against: Most no longer consider Matusow one of the top players in the game, and haven't for quite some time. He hasn't won a bracelet since 2013 and admittedly has gone broke numerous times.

Eli Elezra

Case For: Elezra is an Israeli poker and high stakes legend. He's won four bracelets and has been a regular in the big games at Bobby's Room inside Bellagio in Las Vegas for years.

Case Against: The overall tournament results don't stack up with some other candidates, and he's been rumored to have some outstanding debts with fellow poker players.

Michael Mizrachi

Case For: Mizrachi is a three-time winner of the WSOP $50,000 Poker Players Championship, the most prestigious non-hold'em tournament in the world. He has two additional World Series of Poker titles and two WPT wins.

Case Against: The case against Mizrachi is tough because anyone who wins three PPC titles would nearly be a lock for the Poker Hall of Fame without having accomplished anything else in poker.

Layne Flack

Layne Flack

Case For: "Back-to-Back" Flack was a six-time World Series of Poker champion. He cashed for over $5 million lifetime in live tournaments and was one of the most entertaining poker players ever.

Case Against: The overall results in poker are worthy of the Poker Hall of Fame in certain years, but perhaps not quite enough against Mizrachi, Savage, and a few others on this list.

Matt Savage

Case For: Savage, the WPT's executive tour director, has played an integral role in setting standards and rules for poker tournaments all around the world. He's a beloved tournament director and a great ambassador for the game.

Case Against: Quite simply put, Savage isn't a player and many voters and fans don't think "builders" deserve induction into the Poker Hall of Fame.

Isai Scheinberg

Case For: Scheinberg, the PokerStars founder, was one of the key players in growing the online poker industry from the ground up.

Case Against: The argument against Scheinberg is similar to Savage in that his case for the Poker Hall of Fame isn't based on any poker playing accomplishments.

The Current Poker Hall of Fame

Doyle Brunson

There are 59 current members of the Poker Hall of Fame, 32 of whom are still alive and have a vote. Huck Seed, the 1996 world champion, was inducted in 2020, the first year since 2004 in which only one person was voted in. The WSOP plans to continue inducting just one member annually barring unforeseen circumstances.

Tom Abdo1982Barry Greenstein2011Johnny Moss1979
Crandell Addington2005Jennifer Harman2015Daniel Negreanu2014
Bobby Baldwin2003Dan Harrington2010Scotty Nguyen2013
Billy Baxter2006Murph Harrold1984David Oppenheim2019
Lyle Berman2002Phil Hellmuth2007Henry Orenstein2008
Joe Bernstein1983John Hennigan2018Walter "Puggy" Pearson1987
Benny Binion1990James Butler "Wild Bill" Hickok1979Julius Oral Popwell1996
Jack Binion2005Red Hodges1985Thomas Austin "Amarillo Slim" Preston1992
Bill Boyd1981Edmond Hoyle1979David "Chip" Reese1991
Doyle Brunson1988Phil Ivey2017Brian "Sailor" Roberts2012
Todd Brunson2016Linda Johnson2011Huck Seed2020
Johnny Chan2002Berry Johnston2004Erik Seidel2010
T.J. Cloutier2006John Juanda2015Mike Sexton2009
Nick Dandolos1979Jack Keller1993Jack "Treetop" Straus1988
Eric Drache2012Jack McClelland2014Dewey Tomko2008
Barbara Enright2007Felton McCorquodale1979David "Devilfish" Ulliott2017
Mori Eskandani2018Tom McEvoy2013Stu Ungar2001
Fred "Sarge" Ferris1989Chris Moneymaker2019Red Winn1979
Henry Green1986Roger Moore1997Sid Wyman1979
T "Blondie" Forbes1980Carlos Mortensen2016  

The criteria for selection is a tad subjective, much like any sports Hall of Fame nomination process. Candidates must be at least 40 years old, played against top competition at high stakes, earned the respect of peers, and stood the test of time. Or, for non players such as Matt Savage, a candidate in 2021, they must have contributed to the overall growth of poker in a significant way.

Check out our 2021 WSOP Hub here!

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