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2019 Poker Hall of Fame finalists announced

24 June 2019

(PRESS RELEASE) -- The finalists list eligible for induction into the Poker Hall of Fame in 2019 has been determined.

It will now be up to the current 30-member Hall of Famers and a 21-person panel of poker industry media members to determine who actually does join this exclusive club. The following represents the finalists:

2019 Poker Hall of Fame Finalists
  • Chris Bjorin
  • David Chiu
  • Eli Elezra
  • Antonio Esfandiari
  • Chris Ferguson
  • Ted Forrest
  • Mike Matusow
  • Chris Moneymaker
  • David Oppenheim
  • Huckleberry Seed
Only one new candidate has been nominated, and the nine others are previous finalists.

The new candidate is Antonio Esfandiari. The other nine are previous finalists – Chris Bjorin, David Chiu, Eli Elezra, Chris Ferguson, Ted Forrest, Mike Matusow, Chris Moneymaker, David Openheim and Huck Seed.

The criteria they will consider in their vote are as follows:
  • A player must have played poker against acknowledged top competition
  • Be a minimum of 40 years old at time of nomination
  • Played for high stakes
  • Played consistently well, gaining the respect of peers
  • Stood the test of time
  • Or, for non-players, contributed to the overall growth and success of the game of poker, with indelible positive and lasting results.
The 2019 Class of the Poker Hall of Fame will be inducted as part of the World Series of Poker Main Event final table festivities in Las Vegas 15 July during the ESPN telecast.

Official ballots will be sent to the voters, who will have until 8 July to fill them out and return them to the WSOP Governing Council. The inductee(s) are expected to be announced after all votes have been officially tallied.

Please read below for a brief about each of this year’s finalists for the Poker Hall of Fame Class of 2019, listed in alphabetical order.

Chris Bjorin
Bjorin, a 71-year-old Swedish-born poker player who now resides in London, England, has earned more than $5.7 million playing poker in his distinguished career. The two-time WSOP gold bracelet winner sits eighth on the all-time WSOP cash list with 94 and ranks second all-time in WSOP Main Event cashes with nine. A model of consistency, Bjorin has cashed for six-figures in 19 different calendar years. He sits second on Sweden’s all-time money list.

David Chiu
Born in China, David Chiu moved to the United States when he was an 18 year old exchange student. Originally a restaurateur in Colorado, Chiu first started in poker as a dealer before transitioning into one of the most successful tournament players in poker history. The 58-year-old is a five-time WSOP gold bracelet winner with wins in Limit Hold’em, Seven Card Stud, and Omaha Eight or Better and cashes in 74 WSOP events. Chiu’s most recent bracelet victory came in 2013 at a stacked $2,500 Stud final table where he defeated the likes of Michael Mizrachi, Frank Kassela and Scott Seiver to earn his fifth bracelet. Chiu’s success extends beyond the WSOP though, and also includes a memorable victory over Gus Hansen in the 2008 WPT World Championship. That win earned Chiu an impressive $3.3 million and, over the course of his career, Chiu has raked in more than $8 million in career tournament earnings since he first started playing tournaments back in 1996.

Eli Elezra
Eliahu “Eli” Elezra, is a 58-year-old Israeli poker professional now residing in Las Vegas. The former lieutenant in the Israeli army picked up the game after suffering a leg injury during the Lebanon War in 1982. While bedridden, the boredom led to cards and it now leads to a finalist list for the Poker Hall of Fame. But not before several jobs and business ventures, including gutting fish in Alaska and opening 30-minute photo processing shops in Las Vegas. Elezra is mostly known in poker circles for high stakes cash game action, but with a poker career spanning 20 years, the affable Elezra has also won four WSOP gold bracelets, a WPT title, amassed 64 WSOP cashes and more than $3.7 million in tournament winnings. The married father of five is now a long-time Las Vegas resident and has been a regular in the poker scene here for two decades.

Antonio Esfandiari
Esfandiari, known as “The Magician” from his previous occupation, is the only new finalist added to this year’s list. He became first-time eligible in 2019 after turning 40 late last year. Esfandiari may be best known for winning the inaugural WSOP Big One for One Drop $1 million buy-in tournament and its $18.346 million first place prize, but the Magician has had a terrific tournament career since taking up the game in 2002. He sits ninth on the all-time money list with more than $27 million in winnings, including three WSOP gold bracelets and two WPT titles. The Iranian-born Esfandiari is known for his talkative and outgoing personality at the tables and has even turned that charm into part time work as a color analyst on ESPN WSOP telecasts.

Chris Ferguson
Chris “Jesus” Ferguson has been playing poker since 1993 and playing it well. He’s won over $9 million playing tournament poker, including winning the WSOP Main Event over Poker Hall of Famer TJ Cloutier in 2000 for $1.5 million. The 56-year-old has his doctoral degree in computer science. Ferguson has 129 career WSOP cashes, good for second all-time, trailing only Poker Hall of Famer Phil Hellmuth.

Ted Forrest
A six-time WSOP gold bracelet winner, Forrest captured his latest bracelet by slaying Phil Hellmuth heads up to win the Seven Card Razz event at the 2014 WSOP. The 54-year-old New York native has won more than $6.3 million during his career spanning three decades. Forrest’s first cash at the WSOP was a victory at the 1993 WSOP when he won Event #11, the $5,000 buy-in Limit Seven Card Stud event. But if that wasn’t a coming out party, it only took two days longer to cement his name in poker circles. He went on to win Events 12 and 13 too – incredibly winning three WSOP gold bracelets in three consecutive events in three variants of poker – the first and only time that has occurred in WSOP history. Forrest’s resume is littered with success in every major variant of poker, and he’s captured a WPT and National Heads Up title. He’s also a noted cash game player, even taking part in the famed high stakes heads up cash games with Andy Beal.

Mike Matusow
Mike “The Mouth” Matusow has plenty to talk about when it comes to his poker accomplishments. The 51-year-old is a four-time bracelet winner with more than $9.5 million in career tournament earnings. A poker dealer turned poker pro, Matusow has final tabled the WSOP Main Event twice in 2001 and 2005, made 15 other WSOP final tables, and appeared at five WPT final tables. Never one to bite his tongue, Matusow developed a reputation of being a tough player and a tough talker, as he frequently speaks freely at the tables. The Mouth is a four-time WSOP gold bracelet winner and has also won the NBC Heads Up Championship.

Chris Moneymaker
“This is beyond fairy tale,” said Norman Chad. “It’s inconceivable!” That was in 2003 and he was talking about an accountant from Tennessee who was playing in his first live poker tournament after winning his entry into the event in an online satellite for $39. But it wasn’t just any event. It was the world championship of poker, the 2003 WSOP Main Event, where first place was $2.5 million and ESPN cameras were everywhere. It’s often said that poker is divided into two eras, pre-Moneymaker, and post-Moneymaker. And that’s all because 43-year-old Chris Moneymaker was able to capture the crown in 2003 at age 27. With hole cards being shown on ESPN for the first time, viewers at home were enamored by the “Aww shucks Accountant” who bluffed and bullied back at the pros on that fateful 2003 run. What followed Chris’ victory was a Tonight Show appearance, wide media coverage and a boom poker had never seen before, aptly now called the “Moneymaker effect.” It’s inconceivable to find someone’s first live cash in poker come with a victory and world championship, but that is the case with Chris. He’s been juggling family and poker ever since, serving as one of the sport’s greatest ambassadors and cashing in tournaments every year since 2003. He has now amassed $3.7 million in earnings, cashing 83 different times on four different continents. Suffice to say, Chris’ victory that day changed the course of poker history.

David Oppenheim
A Los Angeles cash game pro, Oppenheim, 46 is considered one of the most feared cash game players in the game. While his tournament career shows $1,866,190 in career winnings, including his most notable moment in the 2010 WSOP Poker Players Championship where he finished third for $603,348. David’s career spans a quarter-century, in which he has gained proficiency in all the mixed games and continues to build upon his reputation as one of the savviest pros on the felt.

Huckleberry Seed
It isn’t just Huckleberry Seed’s tall frame that helps him stand out among his competition at the table. The California native and Caltech alum is a four-time bracelet winner with $7.6 million in career tournament earnings. There is truly nothing Seed, 50, can’t play at the tables, as his varied list of results include bracelets in Razz and PLO, a victory in the NBC Heads-Up Championship, two final table appearances in the $50K Poker Players Championship, a win in the WSOP Tournament of Champions in 2010, and, of course, winning the WSOP Main Event in 1996. Since Seed first started playing tournament poker back in 1990, he has posted six-figures worth of results in 22 different years.

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