On Wednesday afternoon, the Poker Hall of Fame announced the nominees for the class of 2013. There were very few surprises, as most of the nominees having been nominated before. For even the fringe poker fan, the most familiar name on that list is Scotty Nguyen. He's been nominated every year since 2009, and each time, Nguyen has watched as some of his respected peers took the honor ahead of him.
Nguyen's credentials are impressive and there are certainly other nominees this year that don't come close to matching him. He's one of only 19 players to have earned more than $10 million in lifetime tournament earnings. He's the only player to have won the WSOP Main Event, the WSOP Players Championship and a WPT Championship. He has a total of five WSOP bracelets. Yet each year when the voters, who include members of the Hall of Fame and a select group of media members, cast their ballots, Nguyen, once dubbed the Prince of Poker, is overlooked.
An outsider might hear all of this and wonder what exactly is keeping a guy with the necessary resume out of the Hall of Fame, but fans of poker know the deal. In 2008, Nguyen made the final table of the $50,000 HORSE Championship. The winner would not only snag the cash and the bracelet, but would also become the first winner of the Chip Reese Memorial Trophy. Reese, who had won the first $50,000 HORSE event, had unexpectedly died the previous December and was being honored by the WSOP with the new trophy. At the final table, which was televised on ESPN, Nguyen basically made a fool of himself.
He'd been drinking, and didn't take kindly to the "young gun" at the table, Michael DeMichele. He said some things that were inappropriate and most people took issue with him when it happened, and then again when it was broadcast for the world to see. Nguyen is still probably being punished for his antics at that final table.
At the 2012 WSOP Europe, I spoke to Nguyen about his chances at getting into the HOF. He had been nominated last year and was waiting to hear the results of the final vote. He didn't mince words when it came to his feelings towards those who might be keeping him out of the Hall.
"You know baby, if they hold on to that, a mistake I made in 2008, then everybody's a criminal," said Nguyen. "A lot of guys in the Hall of Fame, they cuss, they're rude, they throw chairs and stuff like that. I don't do things like that. I've done a thousand good things for the fans, for the poker world and that's the one thing that hold me back?"
Nguyen's recollection is a little fuzzy. He's had incidents in the past where he's been rude to players and dealers. He's known to always have a beer in front of him when he's playing. Sometimes he consumes more beer than he should. Nguyen apologized for his actions at the 2008 final table -- the next day in fact -- but the memory of that day apparently still lingers with voters. That's unfair. If the goal was to punish Nguyen, embarrass him maybe, then mission accomplished. For the last five years Nguyen has been told he's being considered for the HOF only to be told a few weeks later "no thanks."
I'm all for holding people accountable for their actions. What Nguyen did at the final table five years ago was embarrassing for himself and for the game. Nobody was hurt by his actions though. To be fair, Nguyen has personal demons that many of us couldn't even begin to comprehend. His younger brother Dung was killed in a car accident while driving around in Vietnam celebrating Scotty's WSOP main event title and that continues to haunt him today as it would any of us. Nguyen has paid his penance. He's also accomplished enough in poker to be enshrined in the Hall. I find it hard to believe that those voters that have used their ballot in the past to send Nguyen a message can't look back at their own lives, both personal and professional, and find something they're embarrassed by for which they were forgiven by those that matter.
Nguyen has a 1 in 10 shot of getting into the Hall of Fame this year. He's beaten longer odds before.