Putting together a list of the greatest poker players of all-time is admittedly subjective. But you won’t find many poker fans who will disagree that the pros on this list at least belong in the conversation. With dozens of legendary players worth consideration, it wasn’t easy narrowing it down to just five, but these individuals, for reasons explained below, stand out from the competition.
5. Daniel Negreanu
Daniel Negreanu is arguably the most popular poker player ever, and indisputably one of the best. The Canadian-born poker pro has six World Series of Poker bracelets, over $42 million in live tournament cashes (third all-time), two World Poker Tour titles, and two WPT final table appearances.
What makes Negreanu so great is that he’s won big for an extended period of time, with success spanning more than 20 years. He’s also an innovator. He created the “small ball” style of play that became popular in the 2000s. The concept behind “small ball” is to play aggressive with smaller bets. The theory is to risk a little to win a lot.
4. Doyle Brunson
Doyle Brunson is dubbed “The Godfather of Poker” because he’s sort of the leader of the pack. There isn’t a player in history who has competed at such a high-level for as many decades. The Texas poker legend, once a college basketball star and NBA prospect, was among the best players in the game back in the 1970s, and still competes in the biggest games in Las Vegas 50 years later.
Doyle is one of just four players — Phil Hellmuth, Johnny Chan, Phil Ivey — ever to win 10 WSOP bracelets, including two Main Event titles (1976 and 1977). The strange thing about those wins is he’s always been more of a cash game specialist. Yet even though he’s never been a regular on the tournament circuit, he’s still found great success in the events he plays. Brunson, whose son Todd Brunson is also a Poker Hall of Famer, also wrote the most famous poker strategy book ever, “Super System. That book that has stood the test of time.
3. Erik Seidel
He doesn’t get much attention on poker Twitter or on the internet forums because he isn’t an attention seeker. But Erik Seidel is a world-class pro. The New York native has somewhat quietly dominated the game of poker for 30 years. All he does is win, and he’s done so for a very long time.
Seidel ranks 4th all-time, with $38 million in live tournament cashes. He’s also been a consistent performer on the high roller circuit for years. While most old-school pros have crashed and burned, Seidel has continued to win into his 60s. The 1988 WSOP Main Event runner-up to Johnny Chan is an eight-time bracelet winner, which ranks him 5th all-time. Chan, who has 10 bracelets, is the only player in the top five who didn’t make this list. His shortfall is mostly because his overall body of work simply wasn’t on par with Negreanu’s.
2. Phil Hellmuth
Phil Hellmuth is one of the most polarizing poker players ever. You either love him or hate him for his bratty behavior on the felt. But despite his bristly attitude, it’s silly to rip on his game. That doesn’t stop poker players from doing so — especially the young GTO-minded pros. But despite the jibes, the “Poker Brat” is one of the best ever to play the game, and the numbers back that statement up.
Hellmuth has completely dominated poker’s most prestigious event — the World Series of Poker. No other player has more than 10 WSOP bracelets. Hellmuth has 15. He also holds the record for the most cashes in bracelet events (162). As another impressive feat, he was the 1989 world champion, beating the two-time defending champion, Johnny Chan, heads-up for the bracelet. The University of Wisconsin graduate also owns the 2005 NBC National Heads-Up Poker Championship title and has over $24 million in live tournament cashes.
1. Phil Ivey
There simply has never been a better all-around poker player than the great Phil Ivey. During the poker boom era (2000s), he was the most feared player in the game. The competition isn’t even close. He won 10 WSOP bracelets before he even became eligible for the Poker Hall of Fame (age 40). But he’s accomplished so much more than just winning a stack of bracelets.
Ivey’s the only player ever who has crushed the online high-stakes cash games, the live tournaments, and dominated the highest stakes live cash games. His Full Tilt Poker account turned more than a $20 million profit. That’s the most of any online poker account in history. Despite having only played the occasional tournament the past five years or so, he has over $21 million in live tournament cashes. If Ivey gets motivated again to chase bracelets, there’s a good chance he’ll eventually catch up to Hellmuth’s record.
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