Las Vegas, Nev. (November 10, 2014) - Sunday evening, the Poker Hall of Fame gained two new members, as Daniel Negreanu and Jack McClelland were inducted into the Hall in a ceremony at Binion's Gambling Hall in downtown Las Vegas.
Nolan Dalla kicked off the festivities with a brief introductory speech. He started by praising the choice of venue for the ceremoney. Binion's Horseshoe, as it was then called, was the birthplace of tournament poker. It's where the World Series of Poker started in 1970, and where it remained until it moved to the Rio in 2005. Dalla was the longtime media director for the World Series, and he experienced much of poker history at Binion's first hand. He even pointed to the spot on the floor where the table was set up when Chris Moneymaker won his famous Main Event bracelet in 2003.
Dalla then spent a few minutes surveying the crowd, and spoke admiringly about several members of the poker community who have had a lasting impact on the game. He started with Jack Binion (himself a member of the Hall of fame), who is largely responsible for creating the World Series of Poker and who is forever linked with the Casino that bears his name. Dalla praised the efforts of business visionaries like Lyle Berman (also a member of the Hall), and then Steve Lipscomb and Adam Pliska, who are largely responsible for the success of the World Poker Tour. And of course, Dalla praised the contributions of the legendary Doyle Brunson, who wore his trademark cowboy hat above his ear-to-ear grin.
Phil Hellmuth then took over and introduced the evening's first inductee, Jack McClelland. Hellmuth spoke at length about McClelland's contributions to poker with the WSOP, at Bellagio, with the WPT, and his role in the early days of televised poker, even before the inception of the WPT or Chris Moneymaker's famous televised victory at the WSOP. And of course, Hellmuth reminisced about his own famous victory at Binion's when he won his WSOP Main Event bracelet in 1989 and Jack McClelland was tournament director.
An emotional McClelland then took the microphone. In a moving speech, he thanked several people who were involved in his success, many of them in the room as he spoke. He recalled the pivotal moments of his career, and echoed Nolan Dalla's earlier remarks about the venue--it is fitting that he receives the highest honor of his poker career in the building where he first rose to prominence in the poker world.
Then Brian Balsbaugh, Daniel Negreanu's agent, took over and introduced his client as the evening's other honoree. He glossed over Negreanu's well-publicized achievements on the felt--6 WSOP bracelets, 2 WPT victories, 2-time WSOP Player of the Year, and countless more--instead speaking about Negreanu as a person. Balsbaugh focused on two qualities in particular, his confidence and his generosity. No one who's watched Daniel play poker or heard him speak at length could ever doubt his confidence, and Balsbaugh attributed much of Negreanu's success to that mentality. But he spent much more time talking about Negreanu's generosity. Negreanu not only engages in charitable giving, but he also uses his celebrity status to encourage others to do so as well. And on top of that, there are few poker players anywhere in the world who are more generous with their time, talking to fans on the rail, taking pictures with them, engaging with the poker community through his blog and discussion forums, and offering his time media to help promote the game.
When Negreanu finally took the stage, he simply said, "Thank you. This is a great honor." Then he left. Of course, it was a joke, as the notoriously gregarious Negreanu is virtually incapable so saying so little. He echoed many of Balsbaugh's comments, especially about the importance of giving back to the poker world and the community at large. His response to critics who claim that poker players don't contribute anything of value to the world is, "It's not how you make money that matters. It's what you do with it." Like McClelland, he spent a few minutes thanking those who helped him on his journey, especially his parents. At one point, he started to get visibly choked up when talking about making his mother proud.
When Negreanu was finally talked out, all living members of the Poker Hall of Fame joined the two inductees on stage, officially welcoming them into the select group who have achieved poker's highest honor.