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Married to my childhood sweet heart, father of a teenage daughter, amateur poker degenerate by day, cape wearing super hero by night.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Legends of Poker Are Still Just Human Beings

   Recently the WSOP Hall Of Fame announced it's 2011 inductees.  Barry "The Robin Hood of Poker" Greenstein and Linda "The First Lady of Poker" Johnson will be enshrined in poker immortality in November at the WSOP Main Event November Nine ceremonies.  Both recipients are truly worthy of this wonderful honor for their achievements in the world of poker.  As many of us know Barry Greenstein gives all of his tournament winnings to charities benefiting children and Linda helped found Pokergives.org.  In addition to their philanthropy both are also highly accomplished players.  I truly admire both of these individuals.  But I can't help to think that one well known poker player has been slighted again this year.  Scotty Nguyen, known as The Prince Of Poker, has accomplished things in his poker playing career that few, if any, players have done.
In terms of live poker statistics Scotty Nguyen has earnings approaching $11 million dollars, 1 WSOP Championship title, 5 WSOP bracelets, 3 WPT titles, 33 first place finishes in major tournaments and at least 199 cashes!* (stats obtained from pokerpages.com)  He is the only player to win a WSOP Main Event title and a WSOP $50K H.O.R.S.E. title.  In contrast, Barry Greenstein has never won a WSOP main event, has three WSOP bracelets, 12 first place finishes and 126 cashes.  His career tournament earnings (according to pokerpages.com) are approximately $7.5 million.
   Obviously Linda Johnson is unmatched in her charity work.  Her career is now almost exclusively dedicated to it.  And Barry is very committed to his chosen charities as well.  But what is not as publicized is Scotty Nguyen's charity work.  Twice a year he travels to his homeland, Vietnam, and donates a truckload, literally, of dry goods, clothing, toys for children, and money to a village or town.  His mother is also heavily involved in charity work, which is mostly funded by Scotty, in their home country.  Scotty also travels frequently around the country and the world to play in charity poker events.  He, himself, downplays his generosity.  Once during a conversation he told me that he doesn't like the publicity when he gives to charity.  He believes that everyone who has done well in life should give to the less fortunate people without receiving recognition.  That it is something everyone should do.
   I know that many people like to point out that Scotty Nguyen has had some public relations nightmares in his past.  When he was younger he was a brash, flashy kid.  Many believed he was cocky and self-centered.  But not many 21+ year olds can handle overnight success and avoid the temptations of Las Vegas.  Those early days of his career, while many would consider self-indulgent and reckless, helped to build him into the player and person that he is today.  Learning to deal with the roller coaster ride that is the Vegas-gambler lifestyle helped him build his confidence.  And no one can deny that he is one of the most confident players ever seen at a poker table.
   In 2008 while playing at the final table of the WSOP $50k H.O.R.S.E. championship he put on a display that was, simply put, humiliating.  His alcohol induced tirades against waitresses, dealers and other players was, perhaps, the most embarrassing moment of his poker playing career.  While he was rude and even downright nasty at the 2008 H.O.R.S.E. event, the person he hurt and embarrassed the most was himself.  Scotty did, however, make up for it, mostly. Many of his fans forgave him after he made several public apologies.  He is known, maybe more than any other player of his stature, to be very approachable by fans.  He never hesitates to stop and give an autograph or take a picture.  He is probably one of the most recognizable personalities in poker (even many non-poker players recognize his signature word: "baby" at the end of every sentence.) And he is credited with coining two phrases that are forever part of poker history: "you call this one and it's all over, baby" to Kevin McBride while heads-up for the 1998 WSOP main event.  And, usually heard when finishing off an opponent, or taking a tough beat, "that's poker, baby!" 
While Scotty Nguyen is often seen as a man of the people he is, at the same time, larger than life.  He is a true superstar in an under appreciated, and often disdained, sport/game.  He is a character in a show.  Poker history is filled with characters: colorful and unsavory; chivalrous and shady.  Many of the most famous poker players, WSOP Hall of Fame members, have had their troubles.  Here are just a few:

Julius Oral "Little Man" Popwell
   He operated lotteries and card games from his home near Birmingham, Alabama, and on April 3, 1954, he was sentenced to 366 days in jail and fined $250 for this, as well as income tax evasion.

Amarillo Slim
    In August 2003, Preston was indicted in Randall County, Texas on charges of indecency with a 12-year-old child to which he eventually pleaded "no contest".

Benny Binion
    Binion's FBI file reveals a criminal history dating back to 1924, listing offenses such as theft, carrying concealed weapons, and two murder convictions.

Fred "Sarge" Ferris
    On April 22, 1983, Ferris gained notoriety as the Internal Revenue Service seized $46,000 during a high stakes game at the Horseshoe Casino.

(Info on above listed players was obtained from Wikipedia)

Stu Ungar
     Stuey's problems with drugs and alcohol are well documented and we all know it was his substance abuse problems which were the direct cause of his demise.  To be fair it is often said by those close to him that Stu Ungar was one of the kindest, generous men ever to live.  But some of his friends will also attest that Stu sometimes had an aversion to personal hygiene as well.

   The common factor among all of the people mentioned here is: they were, or are, great poker players.  Legendary players or people who have promoted and advanced the game.  They were put into the Hall of Fame because of their contributions to poker.  Certainly we could argue that some of these men should be excluded from the Hall of Fame because of their behaviour away from the felt (or even at the tables) but the fact remains that these men are included. And, I didn't include these salacious tidbits just to bash some of these legends, I merely want to point out that poker is filled with all sorts of people.  Good, bad and scandalous.
   Scotty Nguyen has made poker history several times, is ranked in the top 200 tournament poker players in the entire world and continues to be a great ambassador for the game.  Let's not make the same mistake that Major League Baseball continues to make by excluding Pete Rose from their Hall of Fame.  Judge Scotty Nguyen on his poker skills and the good that he has done and continues to do. Don't allow this sport to miss out on honoring someone who is truly deserving because of a couple of mistakes.  Next year, please, be sure to vote The Prince of Poker into the Hall of Fame where he belongs!

(Photo courtesy of pokerpages.com)


  1. Well said i met scotty in 2006 and he stopped for a photo in between transferrin tables now thats a poker ambassador. Yeah the horse event was pretty bad but we all fuck up now and again. Put him in the hall of fame.

  2. Thanks for the comment Bennett! Obviously, I couldn't agree more. It's a shame to keep passing over a player of his caliber!

  3. He will get in...Time heals all wounds, and as you stated he embarrassed nobody worse them himself. Great player and from the sounds of everything else (that I had no idea about) he deserves a spot in the HOF.

  4. maybe its time to not put bookies,molesters,tax cheats and convicted murderers in the hall of fame.

  5. Thanks for the opinion Bennett! Obviously, I couldn't believe the fact more. It's a pity to keep moving over a gamer of his caliber!