Who belongs on the Mount Rushmore of Poker?

Jon Sofen
Published by:
Posted on 01/23/2021

Mount Rushmore is a massive sculpture in South Dakota carved to depict four of the greatest or most polarizing American presidents in history. What if poker had its own version of Mount Rushmore, perhaps carved into the mountains overlooking the Las Vegas Strip? Who are the greatest poker players in history?

If so, who would be on it? There are many poker players over the years who belong in the conversation.

Johnny Chan won 10 WSOP bracelets including going back-to-back in the Main Event in 1987 and 1988, and also runner-up in 1989. The late great Chip Reese was considered one of the top cash game pros in the 1980s and 1990s, and he also had some success in tournaments. Stu Ungar, a three-time WSOP Main Event champion, was the most feared poker player in the 1980s.

You can add legends such as Johnny Moss, Mike Sexton, and “Amarillo Slim” to the list of those who belong in the Poker Mount Rushmore conversation. But only four players can make the cut for the best poker players of all time.

The requirements, in my opinion, include being a talented poker player with an impressive resume in tournaments and/or cash games, reaching the Poker Hall of Fame, and contributing to the overall growth of the game.

That leaves the skilled high roller superstars of today as most aren’t old enough for the Poker HOF (40 years old) and, quite frankly, don’t do much to grow the game like the stars of yesterday.

Phil Hellmuth (2007 Poker HOF)

Love him or hate his whiny demeanor at the poker table, but it’s tough to leave Phil Hellmuth off this list. The “Poker Brat” holds records for most WSOP titles (15) and cashes in bracelet events (162), and was the 1989 world champion.

Overall, he has more than $21 million in live tournament cashes. But he’s also one of the most popular and polarizing figures in poker history. No doubt he’s helped build the game of poker, promoting the game to a casual audience.

Daniel Negreanu (2014 Poker HOF)

Daniel Negreanu is arguably poker’s greatest ambassador ever. No one has a larger fan base, and he’s been the face of two major poker sites — PokerStars and GGPoker. The fact of the matter is when “DNegs” is on TV, the poker community watches.

As a player, he’s also one of the best ever. The six-time WSOP bracelet winner has over $43 million in live tournament cashes, third most all-time, and has won two World Poker Tour titles.

Doyle Brunson (1988 Poker HOF)

Doyle Brunson is poker’s greatest living legend. He is one of the most recognizable players in history. And he’s also one of the best at both cash games and tournaments.

As a tournament player, he won 10 WSOP bracelets, tied for second all-time. He took down the 1976 and 1977 Main Events. “Texas Dolly” appeared in numerous televised cash game shows during the poker boom era, and still crushed the games in his 70’s. Today, he’s still grinding away the high-stakes cash games in Las Vegas at the ripe age of 87.

Phil Ivey (2017 Poker HOF)

I went back and forth between Phil Ivey and Chip Reese for the fourth spot. In a sense, they are similar players in that they both were so dominant in cash games and have a similar quiet demeanor at the poker table.

But I gave the edge to Ivey because he is the winningest online poker player ever on Full Tilt Poker, whereas Reese was only a live player. Ivey dominated online in the highest stakes cash games, in live tournaments, and in the nosebleed live cash games in Macau and Las Vegas. He won 10 WSOP bracelets long before he turned 40 and is one of the most beloved poker players ever.

Featured image source: Flickr