Monday, Aug. 11, 1997 | 9:12 a.m.
The Hall of Fame Poker Classic is like a faucet that Binion's Horseshoe turns on and off depending on the ebb and flow of the casino's needs.
Thrice canceled and four times reinstated, the tournament begins today at the downtown resort where it was born nine years ago as a complement to Binion's World Series of Poker, which is held each May.
"This is a new time of year for us, and we are very low-keyed about this tournament," said longtime tourney director Jim Albrecht, noting the event traditionally has been a winter classic that draws nowhere near the interest of the 28-year-old World Series.
"The new pavilion (used for the first time this year for the World Series) is a plus for bringing the Hall of Fame Classic back, and we had a very good World Series this year."
The Hall of Fame Classic, which began in 1988 to generate casino revenues during the slow Christmas season, was canceled for the first time in 1992 following a dispute with the Internal Revenue Service, which accused players of not reporting all of their gambling income.
After negotiations that involved Nevada's congressional delegation and top casino industry officials, the event was reinstated three days later with the compromise that W-2G forms be issued in lieu of withholding cash winnings. All major tournaments have since followed that suit.
The Hall of Fame was canceled again in 1993 because the tournament, in the shadow of the World Series of Poker, did not generate enough attention to warrant the amount of work it took to put it on.
The tournament again was reinstated in 1994 because Horseshoe officials needed to attract customers in the wake of the construction of the Fremont Street Experience, which caused a drop in revenues at most downtown casinos because gamblers avoided the then-torn-up Fremont Street.
The Hall of Fame Classic enjoyed its greatest success the years it was held in December -- the same month the National Finals Rodeo comes to town.
But that factor also led to its third cancellation last year, when Horseshoe officials said the expansion of the rodeo resulted in the need for a lot more of its hotel rooms -- rooms that are essential to operating a successful international poker tournament.
That problem was avoided by moving this year's 16-day Hall of Fame reincarnation to August.
"This is a stepping stone tournament between the many lower buy-in tournaments ($100-$500) out there and the World Series (where no open event buy-in is less than $1,500)," Albrecht said. "The Hall of Fame will satisfy the serious gambler whose bankroll may not be as big."
The buy-ins start at $1,000 and escalate to $1,500. The $5,000 buy-in no-limit Texas hold 'em championship (Aug. 26-27) and the $500 buy-in women's limit Texas hold 'em events are the only exceptions.
The events will be conducted in the same two-day format used at this year's World Series, with the final table qualifiers playing the following evening while a new contest is going on. The women's game, however, will be a one-day event, Albrecht said.
There will be eight Texas hold 'em games, four variations of 7-card stud and four Omaha hold 'em events, with limit, pot-limit and no-limit formats. Each event will feature freeze-out style play where a player is eliminated after losing all of his chips.
About 3,000 entrants are expected -- players generally enter more than one event -- and between $2 million and $3 million will change hands. By contrast, the World Series, the world's largest poker tournament, had $12.5 million in player-generated purses earlier this year.
The defending Hall of Fame champion from 1995 is Phil Hellmuth Jr., the 1989 world champion. Other past classic champions are Dr. Barry Schwartz (1994), 1993 world champion Jim Bechtel (1992), Lyle Berman (1991), David Mosley (1990) and two-time former world titlist Johnny Chan (1988, '89).
As part of the festivities, the $5 poker chip honoring this year's Poker Hall of Fame enshrinee Roger Moore will be introduced.