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Top-10 quotes from the 2014 Poker Hall of Fame induction ceremony

10 November 2014

On Sunday night at Binion's Gambling Hall & Hotel, two men who have had an enormous impact on the poker world were inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame.

Daniel Negreanu and Jack McClelland are at very different points in their poker careers. Negreanu, a first-ballot inductee, is the all-time leader in poker tournament earnings, with nearly $29.8 million in his career. But at just 40 years old, he may only be one-third of the way through his playing career.

According to The Hendon Mob poker database, McClelland ranks 9,493rd on poker's all-time money list. But McClelland's contributions to the game had much less to do with his own tournament play than the role he played directing and marketing some of the world's most successful poker tournaments.

The induction ceremony was a star-studded event, with legends like Doyle Brunson, Phil Hellmuth and Jack Binion in attendance. It was full of great moments that shined a light on who the latest members of the Hall of Fame really are.

Here are the top-10 moments from the 2014 Poker Hall of Fame induction ceremony.

10. Nolan Dalla talks politics with Doyle Brunson
Like Negreanu, World Series of Poker Media Director Nolan Dalla (and the induction ceremony's emcee) doesn't have any problem speaking his mind. He is, however, smart enough to know when he should shut up about politics.

"Last month, Doyle invited me up to his ranch in Montana," said Dalla. "Doyle and I, let's just say we don't really have the same political beliefs. I'm kind of on the left, and he's kind of wrong. But here's one thing that I discovered: You never argue with a Republican with a firearm in his hand."

9. Ty Stewart gets in a good dig on Dalla
Speaking of the emcee for the evening, in case you didn't already know, he likes to bet on the NFL. This week he employed his famed "Teaser Wheel" strategy. (I'm pretty sure he wouldn't have been quite as jovial at the induction ceremony had the Ravens not covered his modified 2.5-point spread.)

But before Dalla could take the stage, he had to be introduced by none other than WSOP Executive Director Ty Stewart.

"We'll start the procession with Mr. Nolan Dalla, who is sweating out Bears +35 or something," teased Stewart.

8. Negreanu's first trip to Las Vegas
Let's just say that not every moment in Negreanu's career has been Hall of Fame worthy.

"My first trip to Las Vegas was here, in Binion's Horseshoe, downstairs," said Negreanu. "I brought a $3,000 bankroll, and about 24 hours later, I had a lot of free time on my hands."

7. McClelland's first career choice
For the second year in a row, Hellmuth gave an introductory speech at the Poker Hall of Fame. Last year he introduced Scotty Nguyen, and his speech was more about himself than it was about Nguyen. This year, he was much more focused, though he still did manage to insert himself into quite a bit of McClelland's life story. (This is Phil Hellmuth, 13-time WSOP bracelet winner, after all.)

But he'd clearly been in touch with McClelland to get some background information so he could be a knowledgeable speaker on McClelland's behalf. Many of the people in attendance learned for the first time that the famed poker room manager started his career outside of the poker world.

"Jack thought he was pretty good at bowling and decided to become a professional bowler," said Hellmuth. "I'm going to read this back in your words, Jack. 'I was not good enough to win, and barely smart enough to quit.'"

6. Negreanu sees Balsbaugh's future
Brian Balsbaugh, an agent who works with poker players, signed Negreanu as his first client in 2003. In his speech introducing Negreanu last night, Balsbaugh said that Negreanu was number 14 on his hierarchy of potential clients at the time. But that's not how Negreanu saw it.

"(Negreanu) looked me right in the eye and he said, 'You don't even know me yet, but you're going to make more money by working with me than all your other clients combined,'" said Balsbaugh.

"I thought, 'This dude is crazy. He hasn't won a tournament in like three years according to my online research.' … Guess what? He was correct."

5. McClelland's friendly jab at Hellmuth
McClelland managed to get in a friendly jab at Hellmuth's expense when talking about his role in the formation of the World Poker Tour, where Hellmuth has still yet to win a tournament.

"Although Phil's played in about 100 World Poker Tour events and I've played in three," said McClelland. "We still have the same amount of titles."

4. Negreanu's business strategy
Balsbaugh told another great story about Negreanu in his introduction about a time in 2007 when he told Negreanu that one of Negreanu's projects was in trouble and they needed to raise $500,000 by the end of the month.

"Okay, well, Tunica is next week, so I'll just fly to Tunica and play in the World Poker Tour event and I'll just get the money," Negreanu said.

To which Balsbaugh thought, "Man, this is our business strategy?"

But once again, Negreanu proved to be prescient. He finished second and won $502,000.

3. McClelland's last conversation with Benny Binion
The Binion family is legendary in the poker world, and none had a more outsized personality than Benny Binion.

McClelland recounted his last conversation with Benny:

"Benny stepped on the elevator, and he said, 'Young man, how long have you been working for us?'

"I said, 'Oh, seven or eight years, Mr. Binion.'

"He says, 'Well, you must be doing a great job, otherwise I would have ran your ass off down the road.'"

2. Negreanu's mom would be proud
Negreanu's mother was less than pleased with his plan to play poker for a living.

"My mother had (a conversation) with one of her best friends, and her best friend said, 'I don't want my son doing what your son does.' And I thought to myself, 'Seriously? (Her son) sold cocaine and stole car stereos out of the back of a van. And I'm the bad guy?'"

"It was in that moment that I decided that I wanted to make my mother proud of what I do. When I started in the late 90s, being a professional poker player wasn't something to be proud of."

Beyond playing poker, Negreanu has used his winnings and his clout within the poker community to raise a great deal of money for charity, most notably for St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital in Las Vegas. He encourages young poker players to find a larger purpose in life, though his allegiance to the Choice Center is a source of controversy within the poker community.

"My parents, if they were here today, I know would be proud," said Negreanu. "My mother would have of course cooked all the food, and my father would have made sure that all your glasses were full, because that's the kind of people they were. The life that I have today I owe to them. The way that I am, the way I treat people, it's all based on the fact that I had parents who just loved me unconditionally, and I'm super grateful and thankful for that.

"In this 20-year journey, one of my goals was to make my mother proud. And I hope that in doing so, I've inspired others to dream bigger, live a bigger life, and also show the world that just because we play poker for a living doesn't mean we can't contribute to society."

1. It's déjà vu for McClelland
McClelland was the tournament director for the World Series of Poker in the 1980s, when it was held at Binion's Horseshoe. He reminisced about how difficult it was to get what he needed to promote and run the tournament series.

He said that Jack Binion always told him to "go ahead and get anything you need, but there's one stipulation: you can't spend any money."

One minute later, the microphone cut out on McClelland, who had to hit it with his hand to continue his speech.

"It didn't work 20 years ago, either," he quipped.
Aaron Todd

Home-game hotshot Aaron Todd was an editor/writer at Casino City for nearly eight years, and is currently the Assistant Director of Athletics for Communications and Marketing at St. Lawrence University, his alma mater. While he is happy to play Texas Hold'em, he'd rather mix it up and play Omaha Hi/Lo, Razz, Deuce-to-Seven Triple Draw, and Badugi.

Aaron Todd

Home-game hotshot Aaron Todd was an editor/writer at Casino City for nearly eight years, and is currently the Assistant Director of Athletics for Communications and Marketing at St. Lawrence University, his alma mater. While he is happy to play Texas Hold'em, he'd rather mix it up and play Omaha Hi/Lo, Razz, Deuce-to-Seven Triple Draw, and Badugi.