Running good, playing great: the hottest tournament players of 2023

Mo Afdhal
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Posted on: December 29, 2023 11:05 am EST

The clock’s ticking on 2023 and, with all the major tournament stops, festivals, and series finished, it’s time to look back to see which players rose above the rest to stand out as the hottest tournament players of the year.

Let’s be clear about a few things–this list isn’t definitive, merely one writer’s opinion and earnings are important, but don’t tell the whole story.

Now, with that out of the way, let’s dive in.

Isaac Haxton – $16,939,031

There’s a point right around the $12,000,000 earning mark in a calendar year where everybody has to start paying attention. When a player racks up those kind of results, heads turn and mirrors of the runs of Fedor Holz in 2016 and Daniel Colman in 2014 come to mind.

Image Courtesy of PokerGO

To be fair, the high roller circuit currently presents more opportunities for massive scores, but Isaac Haxton’s nearly $17,000,000 in earnings throughout 2023 can’t be ignored–a run like this has to go down as one of the all-time best.

Haxton got off to a hot start in 2023. In the span of fifteen days, he won the following tournaments: the $50,000 NLH at the PokerGO Cup for $598,000; the $100,000 Super High Roller at the PCA Bahamas for $1,082,230; and the $100,000 7-Handed NLH at PCA Bahamas for $1,555,360. Oh, and lest we forget his third place finish in the $25,000 NLH 8-Handed at PCA Bahamas for $491,550.

It’s barely February and Haxton’s already got nearly $4,000,000 in earnings.

Image Courtesy of PokerStars

The rest of the year saw the results continue–a win in the $25,000 NLH at the U.S. Poker Open for $432,000; a runner-up finish in the EPT €50,000 NLH for $269,338 followed by a first place in the EPT €25,000 for $296,264; and a first-ever bracelet victory at the WSOP in the $25,000 NLH High Roller 8-Handed for $1,698,215.

Still not impressed? Well, hang on, we’re only about halfway there.

Image Courtesy of Joe Giron Photography

After the WSOP, Haxton took his skills abroad in August–a fourth place finish in the $125,000 NLH Main Event at Triton London earned him another $1,582,000–only to return to Las Vegas in September to put on a dominant performance in the $300,000 Super High Roller Bowl VIII. The victory at SHRB VIII–Haxton’s second SHRB win–saw him take home his biggest score of the year: $2,760,000.

Less than a month later, Haxton would make waves in the Super High Roller Bowl $100,000 Pot-Limit Omaha. The back-to-back SHRB win wasn’t in the cards, but a runner-up finish for $836,000 still counts for something.

After a year like that, no one would fault Haxton for taking his foot off the gas, but it was pedal to the metal in the homestretch. On Halloween, the “Prince of Darkness” made an appearance at Triton Monte Carlo, finishing runner-up in the $50,000 NLH 8-Handed for $1,070,000.

The final gem in Haxton’s crown of winnings came came in the $1,000,000 Big One For One Drop at the WPT World Championship. The event’s steep buy-in guaranteed big money for those who managed to cash and Haxton was one of them, walking away with $1,224,800.

That’s seven seven-figure cashes in a single calendar year. You can go back and count them if you like, they’re all there.

Heater.

Oh, one more great thing about Haxton’s 2023 run? The on-going trolling via winner’s photo post on his Twitter.

Bin Weng – $6,642,046

Bin Weng doesn’t lose poker tournaments often. That’s a sentence that makes zero sense mathematically or logically, but, then again, neither does the run that Weng has been on this year.

The number next to his name might not be as large as some of the other names on this list, but, to be fair, Weng tends to play smaller buy-ins than those other names. If anything, it’s a testament to his abilities.

Like Haxton, Weng came out the gates swinging. In early January, he took home the top prize of $1,000,000 in the $5,000 The Return Borgata Championship Event. Then in February, a win in the $1,700 Main Event at the WSOP Circuit stop in Las Vegas saw him add $227,344 and a WSOP ring to his year’s tally.

In April, Weng netted his second seven-figure cash of the year–$1,128,250 exactly–with a win in the $3,500 NLH WPT Showdown Championship at the Seminole Hard Rock in Hollywood, Florida.

Image Courtesy of World Poker Tour

Weng’s biggest score of the year came somewhat quietly, over the summer, amidst the chaos of the World Series of Poker, but not at any of those events. Instead, it was at the Wynn Summer Classic that Weng picked up $2,227,054, winning the $10,000 WPT Everyone For One Drop.

Image Courtesy of World Poker Tour

These are just some of the highlights in a year that also includes several five-figure and six-figure scores, nearly half a dozen runner-up finishes, and even more top tens finishes. Weng’s Hendon Mob list of cashes runs long–a few mouse scrolls worth at least–and places him squarely in 24th on the 2023 earnings tally, impressive alone, but even more so when you realize that the majority of the other top twenty-five play for much higher stakes.

Wait, did you think we were done? No–Weng strikes again.

In December, at the WPT World Championship, he takes his shot at one of the biggest buy-ins on the schedule: the $25,000 NLH High Roller. And…well, you can probably guess how that went. He wins it, of course, for $958,279 to cap off a legendary run and all but guarantee himself victory in the race for 2023 GPI Player of the Year.

The Year of Bing.

Jason Koon – $13,374,382

The year started a little later for Jason Koon–his first cash didn’t arrive until March–but once he got going there was no stopping him. Currently, Koon holds a firm grasp on the claim to best living tournament player. His schedule of high rollers, super high rollers, and ultra high rollers means he’s operating within a relatively small circle of players, making his long list of accomplishments in 2023 all the more impressive.

In March, Koon made his way to Vietnam to take part in what has now become his unofficial home turf–a Triton Poker Super High Roller Series. There, he cashed in four events–each for six figures plus–including a win in the $50,000 NLH Turbo for $574,000.

The next Triton stop, in Cyprus, came in May and Koon was there, ready to battle. In Cyprus, Koon outdid his prior performance in both regards, cashing in five events and winning two. His first win came in the $20,000 NLH 7-Handed event for $663,000 and the second came in the $100,000 Main Event, adding $2,451,082 to his Triton earnings.

Jason Koon playing at Triton
Image Courtesy of Joe Giron Photography/Triton Poker

In July, London became the latest destination to which the Triton regulars descended to battle at the highest of stakes. Koon, of course, made his way there and conjured a repeat performance of his time in Cyprus–another five cashes, another two wins. In the $60,000 NLH 7-Handed event, Koon finished at the top of the pack, winning $1,570,000 in the process. Then, he utilized his talents in a another poker variant, winning the $60,000 NLH Short Deck for $828,000.

The final stop on the 2023 Triton schedule came complete with glitz and glamour as players made their way to Monte Carlo. There, Koon found three cashes, along with a win in the $25,000 Pot-Limit Omaha Turbo for $365,000–marking his record-setting tenth Triton title.

Jason Koon wins his tenth Triton Poker title
Image Courtesy of Joe Giron Photography/Triton Poker

The year wasn’t over for Koon there, however, as he jetted off to The Atlantis Resort in The Bahamas for the WSOP Paradise series. In Paradise, Koon cashed in three events, highlighted by his runner-up finish in the $100,000 Ultra High Roller for $1,817,000.

Koon’s list of cashes for the year isn’t as long as Bin Weng’s, but the dollar amounts are eye-watering–only five of his twenty-six cashes were for less than six figures.

End-boss, crusher, top dog, insert any poker superlative of your choice. They all apply.

Kristen Foxen – $1,199,606

Kristen Foxen continued to raise the bar she’s set for herself in years past and looks set to claim a well-deserved fourth Female GPI Player of the Year Award. The number next to her name isn’t as large as the others on the list, but this kind of dominance just can’t go unmentioned–and we’re just getting started here.

Foxen began the year with two final table appearances at the PokerGO Cup in $10,000 events, finishing third for $99,600 and sixth for $54,000. In March, she followed up on her success in the PokerGO Studio with a fourth place finish in the U.S. Poker Open $10,000 NLH for $93,000.

Kristen Foxen at the WPT World Championship

Over the summer, Foxen made history as the first woman to win four World Series of Poker bracelet events. Foxen’s win in the $888 Crazy 8’s Online Event saw her break the four-way deadlock tie for most bracelets won by a woman and added $92,142 to her year’s total. Across the entire WSOP schedule Foxen cashed eight times, including a tenth place finish in the $100,000 NLH High Roller for $187,069.

In August, Foxen earned her largest score of the year–$216,079–with a runner-up finish in the $10,000 NLH 8-Handed Deepstack event at the Seminole Hard Rock Poker Open.

The Female GPI Player of the Year Award race was fairly tight headed into the final frame of the year. Foxen held a slight lead over Nadya Magnus, but managed to add to it considerably with a deep run in the $10,000 WPT World Championship. Foxen’s thirty-third place finish added 345.07 points to her GPI total–more than enough to hold the lead over Magnus–and $132,500 to her year’s earnings.

Foxen’s year of results might not jump off the page like others on the list, but her accomplishments–first woman to win four WSOP bracelets, four-time Female GPI Player of the Year Award winner–speak to her talents and standing within the community more than any numbers.

Chris Brewer – $14,350,029

Chris Brewer’s introduction to the highest stakes of tournament poker might have left a sour taste in his mouth–a couple of seven-figure bubbles will do that to anyone. Brewer took his lumps in 2021 and 2022, there’s no denying that, but the resolve he displayed, to come back and put his money back on the table, proved Brewer a consummate professional. The results hadn’t come yet, but he knew they would.

In February, Brewer won two high buy-in events at EPT Paris. The first, a €25,000 NLH event, saw Brewer earn $380,748 and the second, a €50,000 Super High Roller, brought him an additional $1,026,159. Victory in Paris surely felt well-deserved to Brewer and may have had him thinking the nightmare downswing was over.

From there, a smattering of top ten finishes and six-figure cashes across a mix of Triton and PokerGO events kept Brewer’s momentum rolling headed into the World Series of Poker.

Image Courtesy of Joe Giron Photography

In Las Vegas, Brewer continued with his two-for-one theme by winning a brace of WSOP bracelet events. The first–a big score, Brewer’s largest live cash–came in the $250,000 Super High Roller for $5,293,556. The second proved his chops aren’t limited to No-Limit Hold’em as he found victory in the $10,000 No-Limit 2-7 Draw Lowball for $367,599.

After the WSOP, Brewer again went to work on the Triton and PokerGO tours, adding ten cashes and seven top ten finishes–nearly all for six-figures. At Triton Monte Carlo, Brewer notched his third seven-figure cash of the year with a fourth place finish in the $125,000 Main Event for $1,450,000, along with a fourth place finish in the $50,000 8-Handed event for $585,000.

Chris Brewer at the 2023 Triton Monte Carlo
Image Courtesy of Joe Giron Photography

2023 surely put an end to the painful stretch of run-bad Brewer was on and the future looks bright for him–if the cards continue to fall in his favor. If not, well, he knows how to weather the storm.

Honorable Mentions

Jeremy Becker won countless Las Vegas daily tournaments in 2023, many for five figures. If you played daily or nightly tournaments at either The Venetian or The Wynn this year, you were essentially drawing dead against Becker, maybe without even knowing it. The run of victories–the largest for $48,231–he pulled off this year in the low to mid stakes arenas earns him an honorable mention.

Maria Ho deserves a spot on this list for her performance in the year’s breakout hit show Game of Gold. Ho outmaneuvered a stacked field of contestants to win the entire game and the winner-take-all prize of $456,000. Additionally, on the heels of her victory’s airing, Ho finished in third place in the WSOP Paradise $1,500 Mystery Millions event for $200,000.

Mikita Badziakouski set a new career high score at the close of the year with a win in the WPT World Championship’s $1,000,000 Big One For One Drop. The $7,114,500 score came in the year’s biggest buy-in and that alone deserves mentioning.

Jose Ignacio “Nacho” Barbero cashed for $11,804,493 in 2023. There’s really not much more that we need to say, is there? Barbero notched three seven-figure cashes this year–$1,551,300 in the PSPC Main Event; $3,445,807 in the Triton London $200,000 NLH 8-Handed event; and $2,190,000 in the Triton Monte Carlo $100,000 NLH 8-Handed event. The Year of Nacho.

Dan Sepiol put on the performance of a lifetime this year at the WPT World Championship final table–an event that is quickly becoming one of poker’s biggest stages. The 29-year-old came into the final frame of play as one of the shorter stacks at the table, but maneuvered expertly at a table of seasoned professionals to win the title and $5,282,954.