Over the past couple of columns, I’ve been looking at two subjects: the Poker Hall of Fame and the American-centric obsession of the World Series. And now, with near-perfect synchronicity, the two come together. This year’s Hall of Fame inductees have recently been made official: Scotty Nguyen and Tom McEvoy are going in, as a stiff middle finger is again raised to the Europeans on the shortlist.
The Poker Hall of Fame has been going for 34 years, inducting 46 poker celebrities to mingle amid the cigar smoke in its wood-panelled clubhouse. Yet not a single one of them is from Europe, despite the exceptional popularity of poker on this side of the pond and the achievements of some of the players over here.
Take Chris Bjorin, for example. Although you won’t often see him on TV, and almost no casual poker fan will have any idea who he is, Bjorin has amassed 68 cashes in World Series events in his career, more than all but five other people. He has won two bracelets and, remarkably, cashed in four consecutive main events, from 2008-11.
Bjorin also tops the Swedish all time money list, having won more in live poker tournaments than any of Martin Jacobson, Viktor Blom or William Thorson, for example. And he still plays like the proto-Scandi that he is. I remember Annette Obrestad sat on the same table as Bjorin at the World Series one year — her debut, in fact — and her dismay at the granddad who was putting in all the three- and four-bets, running the table instead of her.
I’m prepared to bet, however, that Bjorin will never make it into the Hall of Fame. The aficionados managed to get him on the shortlist this time, but he flies under the radar too effectively to win the glorified popularity contest. It’s a blessing for his bank balance, of course, but a curse for those of us who want to see him celebrated. Perhaps he should start getting drunk, swearing and berating dealers more. It worked for Scotty, after all.
If the poker-voting populace needs a man with more obvious character than Bjorin, then it doesn’t require too comprehensive a search before one alights on Thor Hansen. The Norwegian has now been on the shortlist twice, but has twice come up short.
Hansen is probably even more deserving of a spot in the Hall of Fame than Bjorin, mainly for his incredible influence on poker in Scandinavia. Johnny Lodden considers Hansen to be his mentor, and Lodden himself (once beautifully described by a colleague as “the original spin-up merchant”) has gone on to influence hordes of players cast in his image: huge variance, high octane players, who inject most of the thrills into poker.
Hansen has seen it all. He was one of the earliest Europeans ever to hit the tables in America, and ended up playing with (and for) Larry Flynt in some notorious games in the 1990s. He has continued to live between California and Oslo (more the latter owing to health issues over the past few years) and is still regarded as a godfather by many of the young Scandinavians, against whom he still does battle. He has won two World Series bracelets and also competes with the best of them online, having won both WCOOP and SCOOP titles.
Furthermore, Hansen is the source of the finest poker quote ever uttered — one which, if it was down to me, should be enough to earn him a place in the Hall of Fame. After winning a pretty sizable sum in a televised tournament, Hansen was asked by a reporter what he would be doing with his winnings.
“I’ll pay off some debts,” Hansen said.
“And what about the rest?” asked the reporter.
“They’ll have to wait,” he said.