Daniel Negreanu, Chris Moneymaker and Bryn Kenney are among the world’s best-known poker players calling for PokerStars founder Isai Scheinberg’s induction into this year’s Poker Hall of Fame.
Of the ten finalists announced last week, Scheinberg stands out as the industry figure who many argue has done more for the growth of poker than anyone else. Under his leadership at the online poker behemoth, millions of people found and fell in love with the game of poker.
Up to now, only well-known players have made the Poker Hall of Fame. But Negreanu and others think that should change when the votes are cast for this year’s entry. Indeed, the WSOP states that one of the main criteria for non-players is someone who has “contributed to poker’s overall growth and success, with indelible positive and lasting results”.
Interestingly, Negreanu points out that Scheinberg is a poker player first and foremost, something Scheinberg himself confirmed in his recent exclusive interview with poker.org.
Negreanu also spoke exclusively with poker.org to discuss his long-standing relationship with Scheinberg and his impact on the poker industry.
“I first met Isai in Toronto in the mid to late 1990s playing $10-$20 limit hold’em and the occasional no-limit tourney,” Negreanu reveals. “I remember vividly him being a student of the game and asking me if I liked his shove with 3-3 after I busted him with K-K.
“It was clear he had a passion for the game, and I think his love for poker is a key reason he was so successful in creating the world’s largest online poker site.
“Despite the company growing into a billion-dollar enterprise, it still had a mom and pop feel to it with Isai and Mark (his son) at the helm. They genuinely cared and were always fair with both employees and players.
“And let us not forget how Isai’s decisions saved poker as we know it. When Full Tilt left players’ hard-earned bankrolls in jeopardy, it was Isai who came to the rescue and made the players whole.
“That alone is Hall of Fame worthy. There has never been a more influential decision than the one he made.
“As long as there is a category for a builder in the Poker Hall of Fame, Isai is the obvious choice. He will get my vote until the day he is finally recognised for the contributions he made to the game for all of us.”
No-one more deserving
If having one current Hall of Famer as a powerful advocate is not enough, 2019 Hall of Fame inductee Chris Moneymaker, the man credited with causing the poker boom after winning the World Series of Poker in 2003, having qualified on PokerStars, is also on board.
Moneymaker says: “I don’t know of anyone more deserving than Isai to be in the Hall of Fame. Just consider everything he did for the players and the game and the sacrifices he made.
“I would love to see him inducted. Apart from everything else, he is a big poker nerd, and he did everything in his power to make PokerStars a player-friendly site, giving his customers what they wanted.
“Yes, he was a businessman, and he was at the cutting edge of a monster company, but at the end of the day, he just wanted people to play and enjoy poker.”
Over the years, PokerStars rewarded players with a generous VIP system, including the Supernova Elite programme, which was only axed, controversially, a year after Scheinberg exited the company when it was sold to Amaya in 2014.
The VIP system was one factor in popularising the ambition to be an online poker professional, which became an aspiration for millions of people.
Bryn Kenney is now one of the best-known and most successful poker players in the world and was one of those professionals who loved playing volume at the site. He, too, backs Scheinberg’s Hall of Fame credentials.
“Isai was paramount to the poker boom. You could tell that at PokerStars, they cared so much about the game and their players,” Kenny explains.
“At the beginning of my career, it was the only place I played online. He set the benchmark of what a great poker site looked like in so many ways, and I don’t think online poker would be where it is without Isai.”
There are many hundreds of former employees you could ask for their views on Scheinberg and why he should be inducted into the Hall of Fame (this article’s writer included). Former Chief Operating Officer Guy Templer was hired by Scheinberg in 2011 and spent the next decade with the company through the twists and turns, mergers and acquisitions.
He says Scheinberg prevented online poker from being wiped out by regulators.
“Isai is a man of extraordinary integrity and humanitarianism,” he says. “He was not just one of the key founders of the online poker industry, but he was, quite uniquely, its saviour. I do not doubt that without him, online poker would have been regulated out of existence by now.
“His laser-sharp focus of putting the player first shone through even in the aftermath of Black Friday.
“Despite his personal situation, it was the welfare of players and the industry that was at the forefront of his mind when PokerStars acquired and bailed out Full Tilt Poker and pushed for the creation of a properly regulated online industry in Europe.
“Without those investments, the industry would be unrecognisable today.”
Nolan Dalla was Director of Communications for PokerStars.com for three years until UIEGA passed in 2006. The Poker Hall of Fame has been part of his working life for 25 years thanks to his career with Binions Horseshoe, Harrahs, Caesars and the WSOP, where he was Media Director.
Dalla states: “When I look at the Hall of Fame, the question I must ask is this: where are the pioneers of the online sector? Online poker has made more contributions to the game in the last two decades than any other entity and is almost entirely responsible for what was known as ‘the poker boom’ circa 2003-2009.
“Isn’t it way past time to honour the person who made one of the biggest contributions to poker of anyone in history? Seriously, the Poker Hall of Fame isn’t complete, and dare I say isn’t legitimate until Isai Scheinberg is inducted.”
Dalla had a front-row seat as Scheinberg shaped PokerStars and built a brand that did so much for the game of poker.
“Isai has been one of the most impactful people in the history of the game. With the phenomenal growth of PokerStars, he is directly responsible for introducing the game to millions of new players, especially in countries where poker wasn’t known before.
“Isai didn’t just believe in being the biggest; he always wanted to be the best. Today, poker is much bigger and broader and better for the immense contributions Isai has made to the game.”
Eric Hollreiser, another 2011 Scheinberg hire, was the spokesperson for PokerStars and the Scheinbergs, and spent nearly a decade running communications and marketing for PokerStars. Hollreiser agrees that his former boss deserves recognition.
“Each of the nominees is worthy and have had success at the tables,” Hollreiser says. “But Isai stands out as having the greatest positive impact on the game and positive impact upon millions of players, by creating the aspiration for being a professional poker player and in many cases literally saving their bankrolls. Most of these players will have never known his name but they can appreciate his contributions.”
With the nominations announced, those entitled to vote will do so this week, with the winner revealed during the WSOP Main Event final table next month. Nominations are:
- Isai Scheinberg
- Matt Savage
- Eli Elezra
- Antonio Esfandiari
- Chris Ferguson
- Layne Flack
- Ted Forrest
- Bertrand ‘ElkY’ Grospellier
- Mike Matusow
- Michael Mizrachi
Feature image of Daniel Negreanu: WPT