The Australian Poker Hall of Fame - Looking Back

Posted at 11:59 2010-01-12

It could be said that the idea for an Australian Poker Hall of Fame started in 1987 at the first Australian Poker Championships when some of our current young guns were merely sparkles in their father’s eyes. Enthusiasm was high and we already had some champions, Egal Levy and Mike Heffernan, from Tasmania for example. However there was just not enough performance or history behind the game to justify a Hall of Fame. If we had, we would probably have selected Mel Judah, John Beagle and Ron Hurley and stopped there.

The first meaningful attempts were in the late 90’s when PokerNetwork was on its way, Casinoz was struggling and the golden years of Adelaide and Canberra were waning in the face of a new poker era beginning with Crown Casino and ending in the current International boom. They were the golden days of the now veteran poker stars in Adelaide and Canberra. Peter Jones, Bob Crossman, Charles Cuschieri, Sammy Korman, David Gorr, Gary Benson, Tony Frasca, Sam Khouiss, Jeff Lisandro, Billy Argyros, Mike Ivin, George Georgoulas, Graeme Putt, Mike Sampieri and other stalwarts still playing today, too numerous to mention, won the major trophies.

Poker in those golden years pre-Crown had a magical, but at times a “rascally” appeal to all of us. We were a club of poker roadrunners, bookies offsiders, the occasional desperate, refugees from the illegals and Tatts, and dare I say it, a sprinkle of successful businessmen and legal eagles who all took part on a level battlefield. It was fun, made more so by the people who were in it. Canada Jack, The Princess, Vanuatu, Bendigo’s Calcutta, John “The Baptist” Beagle wheeling and dealing for poker start-ups in Adelaide, Canberra, Christchurch and Crown, Mike kissing Milo’s backside, Sammy being interviewed by the ABC, the Fine Sam affair, the bookies at the mechanical horse, Peter and the Hoon sharing a room, the great poker robbery, reporting on PokerNetwork, the APA championships and the raid in Adelaide, Kiwi’s bad luck stories, the Dazzler and the revolver, and the stick up in the Mahogany room all contributed to the fascination of the game in the golden years of 20th century casino poker. Poker in these years (much like the USA guns, cars and cards), was still an art passed down from father to son, mate to mate. It was a measure of manliness so to speak, much like cigarettes, booze, slow horses and bad habits. It was good fun with an occasional rainbow at the end. The calm and collected, intellectual side of poker, the text books, the Internet and mega-million dollar prizes were yet to arrive.

The Hall of Fame in Australia, as we know it now, began with the creation of the Casinoz Magazine poker awards made annually from Crown, which were designed to honour those who gave outstanding service to the game in its growth era and contained such stalwarts as Keith ‘Bendigo’ Sloan (2001), John ‘The Baptist’ Beagle (2002), Danny ‘The Rock’ McDonagh (2003), John ‘Casino’ Parker (2004), Joe ‘The Judge’ Meissner (2005) and ended with Mike ‘The Professor’ Comer (2006). The casino executives were also due to be recognised - Ron Hurley, Andrew MacDonald, Sean McCreery, Arthur Pitcher, Dr Bob Crossman and Richard Longhurst, however could not accept due to restrictive gaming legislation.

By 2008, I was on my last poker legs, having sold PokerNetwork and shut up all other poker activities. I was anxious to repay poker for all the fun and excitement that the game had given me over the years and with the help of Crown and a number of enthusiasts, the idea of a Hall of Fame to establish our own Australian and New Zealand poker celebrities in the eyes of their public, was born.

I had another good look at the American WSOP Hall of Fame and its tantalising history of establishment, contention and continuance. What a story that is. I proposed that the initial inductees for 2009 should be based on skill and service to poker over an extended period. These criteria were accepted. The subsequent analysis was based on all time cash lists and a study of proposed inductees’ service to poker since 1987. For a few reasons, numbers inducted had to be restricted in 2009. The resultant inductions were all outstanding and beyond popular dispute, except my own, which was made as a gratuitous gesture to age and solidarity by the powers that be. Thank you all.

We now come to the 2010 APHOF awards where the 2009 inductees will be running the show with a little help from consultants Jonno Pittock and Sean Callander. The inductees will be decided by a vote from all 2009 inductees who will jointly nominate and select future members of the Australian Poker Hall of Fame. Please note that for the purposes of selection all New Zealanders are honorary Aussies. The criteria for selection will continue to be skill (50%), service (30%) and credit to poker (20%). Entry to the Hall of Fame has not, nor will ever be decided by skill alone. Various tournaments and cash prizes can reward that outstanding skill. Associated service and bringing credit to the poker game must remain an equal partner.

It will be a tough job for the current inductees. The standard must remain high to maintain integrity but there are so many worthy candidates who would qualify. It is much like war. For every medal awarded there are ten others who should have been honoured.

I see a number of names floated around in Croc’s article and on the web. They are all out of poker history and all of them worthy; Graeme Putt, Jason Gray, Leo Boxell, Marsha Waggoner, Mike Guttman, Mike Comer, Martin Comer, Sammy Khouiss and Tino Lechich.

There are others I am sure, who will appear before the committee, who are yet to be selected. Perhaps one day we will also see overseas stars like Mike Sexton, (who with Party Poker did so much for our International image in the 1999 Tournament of Champions and the 2005 Aussie Millions), entered into the APHOF? And Andy Glazer who put us on the International reporting map? Maybe, we will also see prestigious individual awards or special one off tournaments in honour of the APHOF? Already an honour board is scheduled for the Crown Poker Room. I would like to see other casinos come on board in due course. They are all expanding poker rooms and joining the tournament circuit. The APHOF belongs to all of us. Today’s casino tournament stars headed by Vos, Levy, Tahtouh, Marcus and Scott are below the ten year bracket but will no doubt be on the stage in the not too distant future. I hope they continue to serve the game and bring credit to themselves. It is a good game and worthy of a long term interest.

The Hall of Fame is not commercial and relies on the goodwill of the poker industry and players. I hope it will grow in stature and remain a worthy memorial to the game and those who made it great. In the meantime let’s hold onto what we have and make 2010 another great year for the Aussie Millions, the Hall of Fame and for the “Grand ole Game of Poker”.

Who will be the next inductees and legend to the Australian Poker Hall of Fame? Rest assured, whoever they may be, they will be worthy.

- Maurie "The Master" Pears


Poker Legends
"Where it all began"
(From left to right) Paul Pederson, Fred Longano, Val Saunders, Frank Agostini, "Amarilo Slim" Preston, Marco Conjir, Keith "Bendigo" Sloan, Fred Palumbo, John "The Baptist" Beagle

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