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When I received an email from the WSOP letting me know that I could nominate someone for the Poker Hall of Fame, I asked myself, “Who was deserving?”
There are players who should be in the Hall of Fame; however, when I thought of where poker is today versus where it was when I started playing seriously (back in 1999) the big difference is the growth of online poker.
And one man is primarily responsible for this: Isai Scheinberg, the founder of PokerStars.
Compare poker today to poker at the turn of the century. In 2000, just 512 people entered the WSOP main event; this year, there were 6,352 entrants. In 2000, the WSOP fit comfortably in a banquet room at Binion’s Hotel; today, it fills three cavernous convention halls at the Rio. In 2000, almost all tournament poker was played in the United States; today, there’s an alphabet soup of poker tours throughout the world (many of which are owned by PokerStars).
If we examine what has led to this fantastic growth we see the imprint of Isai Scheinberg and PokerStars throughout.
First, Chris Moneymaker’s victory in 2003 was clearly a springboard for much of that growth. Mr. Moneymaker entered through a satellite on PokerStars. While satellites into major poker events have been around since the 1980s (Tom McEvoy in 1983 won a satellite to enter the WSOP main event), the ability for players to enter a satellite for less than $100 to have a chance of entering a $10,000 buy-in event was new.
Second, PokerStars fed the growth of poker not just in the United States but throughout the world. PokerStars marketed poker on every continent (save Antarctica), created poker tours in the Far East (the Asia Pacific Poker Tour, APPT), the European Poker Tour (EPT), the Latin American Poker Tour (LAPT), and the United Kingdom/Ireland Poker Tour (UKIPT). While there are now rival poker tournaments in many of these locales, PokerStars led the way in this area.
Third, PokerStars showed that it is possible to have both a profitable enterprise and a customer-focused business in online poker. Unlike many of its competitors, PokerStars uses sound business practices (i.e., segregated accounts and high quality customer service) not found in many of its competitors (see, for example, Lock Poker). PokerStars flies some of its customers to its headquarters and listens to their comments and concerns.
Contrast that to the façade that most large enterprises have with customer service. It’s not a surprise to me that Ultimate Poker looked toward veterans of PokerStars in filling many of its key positions.
The stated qualifications for entrance into the Poker Hall of Fame for a non-player is, “…[C]ontributed to the overall growth and success of the game of poker, with indelible positive and lasting results.”
That’s exactly what Isai Scheinberg has done. And that’s why I nominated him for the Poker Hall of Fame.