World Poker Tour CEO Adam Pliska stood on a small raised platform in front of an intimate group of people. A bright amber spotlight lit what could have just as easily been a judge’s robe if it hadn’t been hanging on the shoulders of the WPT’s top executive.
“You are in a room of extraordinary people,” Pliska said.
The room had been rowdy, chatty, irreverent, and respectful, and to the dinner servers who ran in and out of the glass-walled private dining space, the people on the dias and seated around the room likely looked like any other semi-formal corporate party.
But Pliska couldn’t have been more correct. This was no normal crowd. Around that room sat the hyper-rich, the very famous, and the minds behind the very building blocks of modern poker’s bedrock.
Pliska and his WPT held the Saturday night ceremony to honor Isai Scheinberg and Vince Van Patten, the WPT’s latest inductees into the World Poker Tour Honors Award and the two most extraordinary people in a room full of extraordinary people, Isai Scheinberg and Vince Van Patten.
The World Poker Tour introduced the prestigious WPT Honors Award in 2017, acknowledging outstanding individuals who have made notable contributions to the poker community. Honorees include Bruno Fitoussi, Linda Johnson, and Mike Sexton (2017); Lyle Berman and Steve Lipscomb (2018); and Deb Giardina and Matt Savage (2019). The annual accolade celebrates excellence and dedication in shaping the World Poker Tour and inspiring poker enthusiasts worldwide.
And, yes, Pliska was in a robe, because no matter how firmly-planted the tongue was in cheek, the ceremony of induction is serious business. The inductions require nominations, evidence of worthiness, documentation, and a voice vote of the assembled dignitaries. There are plaques and signatures. It’s not quite Roberts Rules of Order or Parliamentary procedure, but it’s as close as poker gets. Saturday night, that ceremony ended with two of poker’s most humble icons receiving the WPT’s highest honor.
Isai Scheinberg: Poker’s humblest billionaire
Though many players in modern poker might have forgotten what happened between the WPT and PokerStars 20 years ago, the people behind the WPT Honors Award had not. The history and success of both companies began when Scheinberg and his marketing team began to buy ads supporting the upstart WPT show. That led to the companies partnering to create the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure in 2004, a relationship that would last for years as a tournament and TV show and longer as a friendship and respect between the two companies.
As he prepared to officially induct Scheinberg, Pliska looked out at the assembled group and said, “I’d like you to stand up if Isai Scheiberg has affected your career positively.”
Within five seconds, 90% of the people in the room were standing and applauding.
Lance Bradley, now a member of the WPT crew, was the first journalist to interview Scheinberg. He told the audience what every former Scheinberg employee had always wanted to shout from the rooftops: no matter how mysterious and reticent Scheinberg had been in public over the years, the PokerStars founder was always looking out for his customers and employees first. Even in the darkest days around Black Friday, Scheinberg was a leader for his staff and the entire poker community.
“(He is) a visionary, a leader, a mentor, a loyal friend, a loving father, and a doting husband,” Bradley said. “He was all of those things during his time at PokerStars and is what allowed the company to enjoy the success that it did. He loved the game so much that he wanted to find a way to share it with the rest of the world.”
Jeffrey Haas, one of Scheinberg’s many former employees, spoke at length about Scheinberg’s relentless pursuit of fairness for the game and his customers, about Scheinberg’s cardinal rules to never steal and never lie, and about the PokerStars founder’s deep empathy for everyone in his charge.
“Isai is not a man who walks lightly upon the world. Though he is humble, he leaves deep lasting impressions,” Haas said.
Onetime PokerStars Poker Room Manager and current PokerOrg contributor Lee Jones was one of Scheinberg’s earliest hires and was one of Scheinberg’s invited guests at the awards ceremony.
“He taught me how to be a good manager and how to be a good friend. I can’t overstate the impact Isai has had on my growth as a human being and the growth of my career,” Jones said.
Vince Van Patten, poker’s selfless clown prince
There was a time long ago when Vince Van Patten was known for a lot of things: he was a child actor, the son of the legendary Dick Van Patten, and a world-ranked tennis pro who beat John McEnroe. By the time the World Poker Tour found Van Patten, the future color man was hosting high-stakes Hollywood home games. He credits his father–a charmingly-degenerate gambler–with starting him on the road.
Nevertheless, when he showed up for work the first day at the WPT, neither he nor his, longtime co-host, the late Mike Sexton, believed the TV show would last for more than a couple of episodes. In the end, they proved themselves wrong in the best way.
At Saturday’s Honors Award inductions, Van Patten’s contemporaries feted him, and to a person, described Van Patten with one word: humble. Each one acknowledged Van Patten’s trademark loud and crazy personality but insisted they were all byproducts of Van Patten’s innate desire to think about everyone else’s happiness before his own.
“He has built a life in this game while putting life into the game in so many ways,” said WPT presenter Lynn Gilmartin. “He is one of the most spectacular ambassadors for our game. We are so lucky to have him in our orbit.”
WPT founder Steve Lipscomb echoed Gilmartin’s sentiment, telling the audience that no matter how tired Van Patten gets or how much work there is to be done, Van Patten never lets up. He shows up for work every day with notes to make the product better, and no matter how many people stop him for a photo or an autograph, Van Patten “gives them that piece of himself,” Lipscomb said. “That is the reason this World Poker Tour is 21 years old and counting.”
Veteran poker tournament director and WPT Honors Award member Matt Savage said Van Patten always made going to work feel like hanging out with his friend. Through all the late nights on the set and, according to Savage, all the prop bets Van Patten paid off, it never got old and kept Savage happily in the game. “That made my career what it is today,” Savage said.
As is his wont, Van Patten took his time on the stage to talk about everyone in his life, except himself: his father, his co-hosts, his bosses, his friends, and his family. “You brought me to tears tonight,” he said. And then with a smile, “I had no idea people liked me.”