Last night, poker’s ruling class all gathered at Binion’s to honor the game’s latest Hall of Fame inductees: Jack McClelland and Daniel Negreanu.
The Poker HOF induction ceremonies have taken a number of different forms over the years. The 2014 iteration was closer in line with the Mike Sexton, T.J. Cloutier years–big banquet, formal, speeches, etc. It’s the way (we think) the HOF needs to be handled. Anything that elevates what we do in this industry is a positive, so the WSOP officials got the format and feel right this year, especially given the magnitude of influence represented by this year’s class.
Having said that, heading into the night, we were a little iffy on whether or not Jack McClelland really had the bonafides to be inducted. This wasn’t due to a lack of respect for the man, he just felt more of a forced head-scratcher along the lines of Linda Johnson and Barry Greenstein.
McClelland though brought a real air of class and dignity to the ceremony. Phil Hellmuth provided the context of McClelland’s career with a heartfelt induction speech (one that also, by one media member’s count, included 26 “I’s” or “Me’s,” gotta love PH). Hellmuth noted that after trying an early career as a professional bowler and striking out*, McClelland got a job as a prop player at the Sahara and worked his way up the ranks, eventually writing the book on tournament directing. You could tell the room had great admiration for the man, and McClelland’s speech delivered the best joke of the night**.
The talk around the room was that Doyle Brunson had pushed hard for McClelland’s induction this year as Jack’s health was faltering. If that’s true, it’s great McClelland got a big dose of respect and admiration from his peers.
Also, HOLY CRAP THAT’S HOWARD LEDERER!
The biggest surprise of the evening was that Howard Lederer showed up (to honor his friend McClelland). As far as we know, Lederer was unharassed. For those who had a grudge with Lederer, it wasn’t the time or place to take it up with him. He sat undisturbed at a table with the always affable Mori Eskandani and others. The only acknowledgement of Lederer was during Daniel Negreanu’s speech. Negreanu, when he was discussing why he voices his often strong opinions, said something to the effect of, “I’ve had strong opinions about many of you in the room. And REALLY strong opinions on SOME of you. [raises brow, laughs].”
As far as Negreanu, he was flanked by Choice Center leadership (including founder Robyn Williams, who has historically white teeth). Also with him at surrounding tables was his agent Brian Balsbaugh, who delivered an excellent induction speech. With Brian were Doyle Brunson and Jack Binion. Friends and business associates like John Caldwell filled out the remaining Negreanu tables.
Some other notes:
:: WPT founders Lyle Berman, Steve Lipscomb, and Adam Pliska hung out all night, and Ty Stewart (pictured below) joined their table at one point.
:: We all like Nolan Dalla, but his Master of Ceremonies speech was full of comedy and laughs…except completely minus the comedy and laughs. Uffda.
:: Great side note from Brian Balsbaugh’s speech: when he got into poker, he met with WPT execs and they came up with a list of the top possible people to represent. Daniel was number 14 on that list. He was the first person Brian met with. Daniel told him, “I’ll end up making you more money than the rest of your clients combined.” He was right.
:: All in all, it was a solid night with a great community feel to it. Poker needs more nights like this.
* Nolan Dolla joke alert.
** There were mic problems all night. Every minute the mic would cut in and out. When McClelland started talking, the mic cut out, and he ad libbed, “That’s all right, we had the same problems with the mics 20 years ago.”