The Top 10 Poker Players of All Time

January 7, 2010

Phil Ivey '09 Main Event

Patience, determination, psychological fortitude, and a killer instinct. These are all mandatory traits of a good poker player. But what sets apart the best from the rest? What do these players have that the majority of others don’t? Let’s take a look at whom I consider, to be the most dominating  poker players of all time:

10. Sam Farha- Many may argue this entry, but Sammy Farha possesses all of the attributes listed above, and more. Farha is a fearless and relentless aggressor at the tables that always guarantees him action. Farha’s gambling style is very difficult for top poker pros to counter, due to the high risk and the  difficult decisions Farha forces upon them. Sammy Farha is considered one of the top Pot Limit Omaha players in the world. You will find Farha as a regular participant of the “Big Game” spread at the Bellagio in Las Vegas. The majority of Sammy’s success comes as a cash game player, but here are some of Farha’s major tournament accomplishments: 1996 $2500 Pot Limit Omaha 1st, 2006 $5000 Pot Limit Omaha 1st, 2003 $10,000 World Series of Poker Main Event 2nd.

9. Ted Forrest- Ted Forrest can best be considered as the poker pros pro. Forrest is well versed in all forms of poker, most notably  7 card stud. Ted is widely known for his uncanny  hand reading abilities and when he is playing his best poker, it seems as though his opponents cards are face up on table. Although Ted’s most significant damage is leveled at the cash tables, here is a list of Ted Forrest’s notable tournament accomplishments: 5 World Series of Poker bracelets in 4 different games including Razz, Omaha 8 or Better, 7 card stud(2 bracelets), and No-Limit Hold’em. Forrest has also reached 5 final tables at the World Poker Tour including 1 win at the Bay Shooting Stars event netting him $1,125,000.

 8. T.J. Cloutier- T.J. Cloutier has been an imposing presence at the poker table for many years. Cloutier boasts four top 5 finishes in the World Series of Poker Main Event, but owns the unfortunate distinction as the only player to finish 2nd twice(1985 and 2000) without claiming the title. T.J. is the owner of more than 60 tournament titles, including 6 WSOP bracelets. Cloutier is the only player to earn bracelets in three forms of Omaha, including Pot Limit, Limit, and 8 or Better high/low split. Cloutier’s tournament winnings exceed $9,000,000, which is significant due to the fact that most of his winnings came prior to the poker boom in 2003.

 7. Daniel Negreanu- Daniel Negreanu has become the face of poker over the past 6 years. “Kid Poker’s”  has parlayed his bubbly and magnetic personality into a commercial powerhouse. But don’t let his lovable countenance fool you!  Negreanu is a fierce and unrelenting competitor that will crush all comers with kindness. His understanding of people, tendencies, mathematics, and tournament structure make him one of the most devastating poker players on the planet. His poker accomplishments are too many to list, but here a few: 4 WSOP bracelets including two in limit hold’em. 8 World Poker Tour final tables including two first pace finishes. 33 total first place finishes and tournament winnings in excess of $12,000,000.

 6. Gus Hansen- Hansen’s reputation as a loose, aggressive player has served him well on the World Poker Tour. His relentless aggression has catapulted him to a record 3 WPT titles and an amazing 7 final tables in only 45 tournaments played. Gus Hansen’s style is frowned upon by several of the world’s top poker player’s, but his results speak for themselves. I feel that Gus Hansen’s style of play has transformed the world of poker and has caused the teachings of the old poker guru’s to become obsolete. Hansen’s style has morphed successful tournament play and has given rise to unknown on-line up-starts such as Tom Dwan and Bertand Grospellier. Hansen’s has exceeded $7,000,000 in tournament winnings.

 5. Chip Reese(mar. 28, 1951- Dec. 4,2007) – Widely regarded as the best cash game player to ever grace the felt, David “Chip” Reese’  legacy is rooted in higher education and transformed into huge financial success on the felts of Las Vegas. Reese was the youngest living player  inducted into the poker Hall of Fame at the age of 40. Reese’ respect among the top players in the world can be surmised by his 7-card stud contribution to Doyle Brunson’s Super/System, the top-selling poker transcript of all time. Chip’s tournament results are modest due to the fact that he shunned them for the bulk of his career. Reece found better results in lucrative cash games that have funded a good life for his family. Chip Reese was the winner of the inaugural $50,000 H.O.R.S.E. championship at the 2006 World Series of Poker, widely considered the most prestigious event at the WSOP among top poker pros. The poker world was devastated on Dec. 4, 1997 when Chip Reese passed away. His legacy will continue to grow as one of the greatest players of all time.

 4. Phil Hellmuth- “If it weren’t for luck, I’d win them all!” is one of the classic rants of this powerful poker player. Hellmuth is the holder of, what seems an endless amount of WSOP records. Some of these accomplishments include: 11 WSOP bracelets, all in variants of Texas Hold’em, the first being the 1989 WSOP World Championship. Hellmuth also holds the record for the most all-time cashes of 75. His all-time WSOP earnings exceed $6,000,000. Phil Hellmuth has an eclectic composition of poker skills that have propelled him to dizzying levels of success. At the forefront, are his people skills. This may be a laughable comment to most that have seen the “Poker Brat’s” antics, but in all reality, it makes perfect sense . His ability to psychologically play his opponents into erratic mistakes and to make them think twice about putting “moves” on him, allow him to control the pace and volition of the poker game that he playing. Phil Hellmuth has all the opportunity in the world to grace the #1 position on this list, but he has a lot of work in front of him.  His all time tournament winnings are closing on $11,000,000.

 3. Doyle “Texas Dolly” Brunson Doyle Brunson literally wrote the book on poker. His  book, “Super/System” was self-published in 1978 and provided a collaboration of the greatest minds in poker at the time. The book outlined winning tactics for almost all significant forms of poker, with Brunson authoring the segment on No-Limit Hold’em, the “Cadillac of Poker”. Doyle Brunson holds two World Series of Poker Championships, won back to  back in 1976 and 1977. Doyle’s poker exploits don’t stop there as he shuns the passage of time by continuing his poker success well into his 70’s. Brunson has graced 3 final tables on the World Poker Tour, capturing one title at, befitting, The Legends of Poker Tournament at the Bycicle Casino in 2004. Doyle can be found these days, playing in the “Big Game” at the Bellagio in Las Vegas. If you have about $1,000,000 do buy in, you can play at the same table with this legend.

 2. Phil Ivey- Phil Ivey is undeniably the greatest living poker player on the planet today.  If you ask any poker player today, “who is the best?”, the answer will invariably be, “Ivey”.  Phil’s legend began in 2000 when he won the first of 7 WSOP bracelets in the $2500 Pot Limit Omaha event. He has since gone on to win bracelets in 5 different variations of poker, including one more in PLO. But it doesn’t stop there! Phil Ivey has run unbelievably deep in four of the last seven World Series of Poker Main Events including top 25 finishes in 2002, 2003, 2005, and a final table appearance in 2009. With the mammoth fields entering the WSOP Main Event since 2004, this is a jaw-dropping accomplishment. To give Phil, at the scant age of 33, another year to add to his accomplishments, he can, and probably will, eclipse the #1 poker player on our list…the immortal…..

 1. Stu Ungar(Sep 8, 1953- Nov. 22, 1998)- “The brightest flame burns quickest.” Stuey Ungar is one of only two players  to win three world championships with WSOP Main Event titles in 1980, 1981, and 1997. Ungar’s story runs much deeper than his accomplishments on the felt, however. The 16 years between titles is testimony to the turmoil that afflicted Ungar in a story that we will not discuss here. Stuey’s magical reading ability and ulta-aggressive play was far ahead of its time as he laid the groundwork for future poker stars that we see succeeding today. Ungar holds 5 WSOP bracelets, including the aforementioned 3 world championships. Odds say that no player will ever match Ungar and Johnny Moss with this accomplishment.

The players listed here are arguable, so I am compelled to list a few players that did not make my cut(albeit painfully):

 1. Johnny Chan- 2 time WSOP World Champion, owner of 10 WSOP bracelets.

 2. Eric Seidel- Runner up to Johnny Chan in the 1988 WSOP Main Event. Seidel owns 8 WSOP bracelets and a WPT title.

 3. Mike “The Mouth”  Matusow- A vastly underrated player due to his loud mouth antics at the table, Matusow’s resume speaks for itself: 3 WSOP bracelets in three different forms of poker and four top 5% finishes in the WSOP Main Event including a 6th place finish in 2001 and a 9th place finish in 2005.

 4. Barry Greenstein- Widely known as the “Robin Hood” of poker, Greenstein has donated all of his tournament winnings, in excess of $6,000,000, to charity. Greenstein’s main claim to fame is his regular participation in the “Big Game” at the Bellagio in Las Vegas. Barry owns 3 WSOP bracelets and 2 WPT titles, including 5 final table finishes.

 5. “Jesus” Chris Ferguson- Ferguson won the Main Event at the WSOP in 2000. He holds 5 WSOP bracelets and has 59 money finishes. “Jesus” focuses mainly on tournaments and is known as a highly mathematical and technical player that applies multiple levels of game theory to his play. Ferguson is also credited as one of the pioneers of on-line poker. “Jesus” has won in excess of $5,000,000 at the WSOP.

The fifteen players listed above all have the skill that would consider them as the greatest player of all time. It is quite subjective to list them as 1 to 15. However, there is a particular element that drives the good to the great: Time and consistency. The key factor in listing Stu Ungar as the greatest poker player to ever live, is the short band of time in which he displayed an absolute dominance of the craft. Imagine his accomplishments had he not been diluted and stripped of the focus required to achieve a lifetime of greatness. The funny thing is, he achieved his greatness in less than a lifetime.