The Poker Hall of Fame represents the game's highest honor. To be inducted is the crowning achievement of a lifetime. To date, only 46 individuals have met the criteria and have been enshrined into the Poker Hall of Fame, 23 of which are still living.
On Sunday evening, the Class of 2013 was introduced and ultimately enshrined into poker's most coveted fraternity. Tom McEvoy and Scotty Nguyen were the two players selected this year from an illustrious list of nominees that also included Chris Bjorin, Humberto Brenes, David Chiu, Thor Hansen, Jennifer Harman, Mike Matusow, Carlos Mortensen, and Huck Seed.
This year's ceremony was arguably the most memorable ever, due largely to the unique location, cordial ambiance, and guest list, a virtual “Who's Who” of poker. The reception and ceremony was held inside the cavernous Wine Cellar, located at the Rio in Las Vegas, home of the World Series of Poker since 2005.
The two inductees, their special guests, members of the poker media, and several current members of the Poker Hall of Fame were all in attendance. Attendees sampled many of the finest wines available in a setting which was both relaxing and celebratory.
Immediately following the wine reception, VIPs moved into a ballroom which was set up especially for the ceremony. Dinner was served and more wine was enjoyed. The show was about to begin.
Ty Stewart, WSOP Executive Director, started the evening, welcoming guests and paying homage to this year's two inductees. Stewart also acknowledged the current members of the Poker Hall of Fame in attendance, who were given a nice ovation by the crowd.
Nolan Dalla, longtime WSOP Media Director, served as the emcee for the evening. Dalla warmed up the crowd with some funny comparisons between McEvoy and Nguyen, noting some striking similarities. The presentation took on a mini-roast format for a few moments, and everyone seemed to enjoy the banter.
The first presenter of the evening was Wendeen Eolis, the ultimate poker insider. Eolis was asked personally by McEvoy to speak. She gave a rousing testament to McEvoy's integrity, telling a moving story about a time when he was offered a large sum of money to do something that would have been unethical, but no doubt he could easily have gotten away with. McEvoy steadfastly refused, citing his reputation as having “no price.” Eolis did a nice job conveying Tom's remarkable sense of character.
Next, McEvoy's daughter took the microphone. She gave he audience a more personal portrait of her father, the man most of us don't see. She cited McEvoy's early days as a poker player in Michigan and the family's move to Las Vegas. Melanie also told her father how much she meant to everyone in the family and how proud she was. When she exited the stage, the two embraced and there wasn't a dry eye in the house.
Hall of Famer T.J. Cloutier was given the honor of standing with McEvoy as his official presenter. Cloutier called McEvoy his “best friend.” He also emphasized McEvoy's often underlooked role as an author and teacher, helping to popularize the game. Then, Cloutier made a rather starling personal admission that it was McEvoy's tireless work to make poker rooms smoke-free that ultimately caused him to give up his four-pack-a-day habit. Cloutier welcome McEvoy to the stage, and the standing ovation was unanimous.
Everyone who knows McEvoy was well aware what a special moment this was for him. He's given his life to the game, and has always been a class act. McEvoy's appreciation for the honor showed several times, as he had to stop his speech on occasion to gather his thoughts, so overcome with emotion. This moment finally standing in the spotlight was something everyone could enjoy along with McEvoy and it was a delight to see someone who was inducted give the Poker Hall of Fame the reverence it so fittingly deserves.
After a short transition, it was Scotty Nguyen's turn to be honored.
The emcee Dalla began by giving an account of Nguyen's stuggles as a child growing up in Vietnam, and his journey to immigrate to America.
Next, Rick O'Connell, a longtime personal friend of Nguyen's who worked to bring Scotty Nguyen to the Cherokee Casino in Oklahoma as an ambassador gave a wonderful testament to Nguyen's ceaseless enthusiasm for the game and love of people. He talked of numerous occasions when Nguyen would wake up early the morning and do television and radio interviews all day, never once missing a date. He also was never too busy to sign and autograph or pose for pictures with fans.
The official presenter was Hall of Famer Phil Hellmuth, most certainly the most accomplished player in WSOP history and one of the few people worthy of standing beside Nguyen on such a grand stage. Hellmuth was poignant and precise, giving his enthusiastic support not only to Nguyen, but to McEvoy, as well. He spoke of Nguyen's remarkable poker accomplishments as well as his extraordinary skills as a player. “I've never beat him in a pot,” Helmuth joked.
Finally, Scotty Nguyen took the stage as the closer – the pinnacle of an evening with several highlights. Nguyen was much more introspective on this occasion than perhaps many were expecting. There were only a few “babys,” peppering his speech. In fact, there were far more pauses and even a few tears. It seemed that even Nguyen himself may not have quite understood the gravity of this moment until he finally took the stage on this night, held the microphone, and looked over a sea of faces that he's known for decades – all present to honor his achievement. Nguyen thanked his wife Julie, his friends and fans, and then was so overcome with emotion that he had to stop and simply leave it with two words, “thank you.”
Two remarkable poker players. Two amazing people. Two well-deserving champions – Tom McEvoy and Scotty Nguyen: Poker Hall of Fame, Class of 2013.