On Sunday, November 9th, just one day before the epic final table of the 2014 WSOP Main Event was to play out, the Poker Hall of Fame induction ceremony took place at Binion’s Gambling Hall. Situated in the heart of Downtown Las Vegas, the location couldn’t have been more appropriate, having been the original home of the World Series of Poker introduced by fellow inductee (1990) Benny Binion in 1970 (then known as Binion’s Horseshoe). Two new recipients were honored that day as Daniel Negreanu and Jack McClelland were awarded recognition in the Poker Hall of Fame.
Most poker enthusiasts are aware of 40 year old Daniel Negreanu’s professional poker career, netting the highest live tournament winnings in history of near $30 million, 6 WSOP bracelets and 2 WPT titles, but today’s younger poker players may not be so familiar with the accolades of Jack McClelland. He’s not just a professional poker player, but one of the most influential characters of our time in the progression of the game.
Originally from Ohio, McClelland first began organizing small poker games in his hometown of McConnellsville to support his sister and ailing mother. From there, he moved his family to Las Vegas where he began a menial job at Sahara’s where he did everything from dumping ashtrays to setting up tables. They taught him to deal and within a year, he had been promoted to shift manager. He continued to work for the Vegas Strip casino until it closed down in 1980. That was when McClelland gained an interest in playing live poker tournaments.
For the next few years, he had success at low buy-in events throughout Las Vegas, but he was discontent with the way the tournaments were being organized. Upon the sarcastic suggestion of his then-wife, Alma (now deceased), who said, “If you are such a genius, why don’t you run them?”, Jack sought a position with the World Series of Poker in 1984. The next year, he was promoted to Assistant Tournament Director, and he’s been shaping major live poker events ever since.
Within a few years, he had gained a fantastic reputation and was soon considered the most sought-after tournament director in America. After organizing the Grand Prix of Poker at the Golden Nugget, he was hired to start up a poker tournament venue at the Commerce Casino in Los Angeles. His impressive resume also includes running the very first international poker tournaments in places like Aruba, Cyprus, Isle of Man, Russia, St. Petersburg and Vienna.
From 2002 to 2013, when he officially retired, Jack McClelland has been directing poker tournaments for the Bellagio, where kicked off the inaugural event for the World Poker Tour in 2002. He continues to play in live poker events throughout the years, his most recent cashes coming in the 2009 WSOP Senior NLHE World Championship, where he finished 132nd for $2,414, and the 2010 WSOP Casino Employees event, where a 19th place elimination earned him $2,212. The largest win for McClelland came in September of 2000 when he emerged victorious at the Heavenly Holdem tournament in Los Angeles for $33,966.
Record-bearing 13x WSOP bracelet winner Phil Hellmuth Jr. offered the introduction speech for Jack at the Poker Hall of Fame ceremony, speaking fondly of the legendary tournament director’s accomplishments, and of course his own memories of winning the 1989 WSOP Main Event under Jack’s capable direction.
“Being inducted into the Class of 2014 Poker Hall of Fame is a very exciting prospect and I am sure it will be a very humbling experience,” McClelland told the crowd after taking the ceremonial stage. “I thank everyone involved in this process and to the WSOP, WPT and all of the great people I have met and the wonderful people I have worked with throughout the years. Thank you for bestowing this honor upon me. I am very grateful.”