The World Series of Poker did itself proud, deciding to host a full on celebration of the elected inductees in the 2013 class of the WSOP’s Poker Hall of Fame. Tears of pride and joy trickled down the faces of poker professionals Tom McEvoy and Scotty Nguyen as each accepted the highest honors conferred by a grateful poker world at a dinner in their honor, last night.
A Cool Wine Cellar
The WSOP executive team chose the sophisticated wine cellar at the Rio All Suites Hotel and Casino for the cocktail reception. Impressive wines were uncorked. The drinks flowed freely and the hors d’oeuvres were elegant. An hour later the doors to an inner sanctum were opened for the sit-down dinner and organized celebration of two good men.
Filet mignon was served, but the sizzle in the steak was the poignant and gracious words that were spoken in the course of the induction ceremony.
WSOP Executive Director Moves the Needle
Ty Stewart, executive director of the WSOP, welcomed the packed house of invited guests and media in attendance. He set the tone for the evening by suggesting that the speakers throw away their notes and talk from the heart—as if they were engaged in a conversation. Some speakers retained their notes. All spoke from the heart.
Stewart introduced poker historian and WSOP media director extraordinaire, Nolan Dalla, as the evening’s emcee. Dalla enumerated the three R’s that surround the election process to the Poker Hall of Fame: recognition by the public; reverence by the media; and respect by peers.
The Poker Hall of Fame was established by Binion’s Horseshoe and WSOP founder Benny Binion (with his son Jack) in 1979 to pay homage to the highest stakes poker players who demonstrated indisputable staying power in the game.
Dalla explained that under the Caesars umbrella, the WSOP has expanded the criteria applied to election of candidates into the Hall. Non-players as well as players who have given mightily to elevating the stature of the game are eligible contenders.
Dalla Primes the Audience
Dalla then shifted his attention to the august guests of honor, jabbing light-heartedly at the similarities (and differences) between Nguyen and McEvoy before turning over the microphone for presentations by five speakers selected by the honorees.
A longtime friend of McEvoy, and part of Nguyen’s legion of fans, I was first up, as a speaker. I got to tell dear Scotty, “You’ve come a long way, baby,” using his favorite word of endearment for every man, woman, and child on the face of the earth!
Turning to McEvoy, it was time for me to make him the man of the moment, pointedly—not only for the breadth and depth of his poker accomplishments, but as significantly for his parallel commitment to proven integrity, every step of the way.
McEvoy’s daughter was next in line. She regaled the audience with family stories connected to McEvoy’s poker career. She spoke of its beginnings as a five year old, through its progression into full bloom as 1983 WSOP main event champion, and onward to the event at hand.
T.J. Cloutier, a legendary tournament player, who counts more than nine million dollars in tournament career earnings, arrived at the podium to count the myriad ways Tom McEvoy has enhanced the poker world. He labeled McEvoy an extraordinary tournament competitor, savvy poker strategy author, and successful advocate for poker players in his campaign to promote a smoke-free WSOP environment.
Cloutier acknowledged McEvoy’s unflinching integrity but also gratitude for the personal help McEvoy has given to him in dealing with his own personal “problems.” No further explanation of his point was needed among the knowing crowd in attendance. Cloutier, presented to McEvoy the trophy that signified his admission to the Poker Hall of Fame.
McEvoy Acceptance Remarks
You could hear a pin drop when Tom McEvoy, moved toward the microphone, barely holding his tears of joy in check. He thanked the WSOP, the Hall of Fame voters, and his friends for their support. He was humble from the tip of his toes to the top of his head.
There was no time lag between the emotional moments of McEvoy’s thank yous and Nolan Dalla’s return to the stage to put just the right spin on Scotty Nguyen’s achievements—in advance of the additional speakers.
Scotty Nguyen: A Story of Struggle
Nolan Dalla described, dramatically, the struggle that Nguyen faced as a child and as a teenage immigrant in America before he rose to poker stardom and financial fortune. Nguyen’s winding path to fulfillment of an American dream is a riveting story of beating very longshot odds.
Nguyen’s Speakers: O’Connell and Hellmuth
Dalla completed his passionate soliloquy and promptly shifted gears with the introduction of one of Nguyen’s close friends, Seminole Immokalee Casino poker room manager, Rick O’Connell. O’Connell flew to Las Vegas from Florida to participate in the festivities to help honor Nguyen. .
He did exactly as Nguyen asked. He talked one part about Nguyen and his close relationship with him and one part about his pride in the poker room he is growing, quite obviously pleased with the collaboration he has forged with Nguyen as an ambassador of the casino at their tournaments. O’Connell’s speech was so much a reflection on Nguyen who is known to pump up those he loves as much as himself.
Hellmuth’s Gracious Remarks
By the time WSOP’s 13 time bracelet winner, Phil Hellmuth, Jr. ascended to the stage on Nguyen’s behalf, the proceedings had taken the better part of two hours, but no one was fidgeting, and very few were checking their smartphones. The WSOP champion known as poker’s most successful tournament player and the most effective self-marketer showed pure class in his sentimental and meaningful remarks.
Hellmuth was brief, but powerful in his delivery of verbal applause for the two inductees. He started by shaking the hand of Tom McEvoy and telling him he truly deserved the honor, before launching into his plaudits of Nguyen’s monumental talent as a player. Like others, Hellmuth noted the respect Nguyen has gained from a huge base of loyal fans. Most touching, however, was Hellmujth’s notably gracious personal tribute to Nguyen, claiming he can never win a hand from him!
Hall of Fame Members Support 2013 Inductees
The presence at the dinner of numerous Poker Hall of Fame members including Cloutier and Hellmuth as speakers and Mike Sexton, Barbara Enright (the first woman) and Eric Drache as attendees, elevated the celebration of the two newest inductees. The evening’s formalities came to a close on a high note with Scotty Nguyen’s acceptance speech—unending thank yous, punctuated with unabashed tears—even more visible than the ones we witnessed with McEvoy a half hour earlier.
A Worthwhile Waiting Game
Like every serious poker player worth his salt, Tom McEvoy and Scotty Nguyen reached for the stars in their commitment to be the best they could be in their chosen work. They have hit the mark with their induction into the Poker Hall of Fame after being in the running at least four prior years.
The waiting time for both evaporated suddenly and magnificently a few weeks ago when McEvoy and Nguyen received congratulatory emails from Dalla, informing them they had been elected to this most coveted poker fraternity. And what their guests at the induction dinner heard and saw in both of them last night was authentic humility and an abundance of gratitude for the recognition.