10 best poker players of all-time

PokerOrg Staff
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Last updated: April 25, 2022 12:03 pm EDT

Putting together a list of the best 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 ten, but these individuals, for reasons explained below, stand out from the competition.

10. Dan Smith

Chess was the game of choice for young Dan Smith. He even earned a chess scholarship for college. But by that time, Smith was already playing poker online and doing quite well, so he left school and never looked back.

Smith’s first win was on the Heartland Poker Tour. However, he quickly transitioned to higher stakes, even playing the 2012 Aussie Millions Poker Championship $100K Challenge, which he won for more than $1M. He has won tournaments around the world and continues to follow the action wherever in the world it takes him.

Many poker fans on social media know Dan Smith for his philanthropic efforts via Effective Altruism. His Double Up Drive annual fundraiser has raised nearly $25M since 2014. 

9. David Peters

Many poker fans wouldn’t recognize David Peters. He is quiet and prefers to stay out of the media limelight. Despite his love of privacy, his long career in poker is obvious on paper. He is consistently in the top ten worldwide all-time rankings on The Hendon Mob, showing nearly $39M at the end of March 2022.

Chris Moneymaker’s 2003 WSOP victory inspired Peters to play. He started with freeroll tournaments online and built a bankroll from there. He leveraged that into a highly successful all-around poker career.

It started with wins in low buy-in events on the WSOP Circuit and Heartland Poker Tour. Three of his top wins were in the form of WSOP bracelets in 2016, 2020, and 2021. Today, Peters plays mostly high-stakes tournaments and travels the world to find the best opportunities.

8. Justin Bonomo

ZeeJustin first took the poker world by storm when playing online during the poker boom. Justin Bonomo made mistakes early in his poker career, however, by multi-accounting. Since then, he worked hard to overcome his reputation and prove his change of ethics.

Bonomo quickly made his mark in live poker tournaments as well, making final tables in Europe in 2005 and 2006. He won his first WSOP bracelet in 2014 and two more in 2018. The WSOP Big One for One Drop of 2018 also became his largest single event cash of $10,000.

Today, Bonomo plays high-stakes tournaments and has become well-known for his philanthropic efforts. Bonomo is also consistently trading places with Bryn Kenney for the top position in the global online tournament rankings. By the end of 2021, he showed more than $57M in lifetime tournament earnings.

7. Bryn Kenney

American Bryn Kenney was one of many poker players who transitioned from Magic: The Gathering to poker during the poker boom. He began his career online and in low buy-in live tournaments on the East Coast.

Kenney quickly worked his way into the high-stakes world. He demonstrated skills in many poker variants beyond just Texas Hold’em and Omaha, and he competed all over the globe. He racked up wins in Europe and the U.S., claiming his first WSOP win in 2014.

In recent years, he has become best known for his High Roller tournament wins. The largest cash of his career was second place in the Triton Million London series in 2019 for $20.5M. To date he has earned more than $57M, netting him a spot at the top of the all-time money list worldwide. 

6. Stu Ungar

Stu Ungar was known to many as “The Kid” due to his youthful looks. He was an expert gin and poker player — one of the best in poker history. Ungar learned card games at a young age — first gin rummy and then poker. He won his first gin tournament at the age of 10, and his poker career began in the late 1970s.

Ungar’s first World Series of Poker was in 1980. That year, Ungar won the No Limit Hold’em World Championship, also known as the WSOP Main Event. Then he repeated the performance with another win in 1981. Future tournament wins and final tables showed his proficiency in a number of poker variants. 

The player won the WSOP Main Event a third time in 1997, tying only Johnny Moss for most WSOP Main Event wins ever. Unfortunately, Ungar’s career and life stopped short when he died in 1998 at the age of 45.

5. Daniel Negreanu

Daniel Negreanu aka Kid Poker 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 poker 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 greatest poker players of all time, 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, who some have referred to as the Tiger Woods of Poker. 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.

Featured image source: Flickr