Ranking the All-Time Best Players in Poker
One of my favorite discussions in sports is ‘Who is the best player of all-time?’ The reason I’m so fond of these discussions is two-fold: first off, I like to argue, and secondly, I come at these discussions from a different perspective than most. While most people like to debate the issue of how players today are bigger, strong, faster, I instead take the view that you compare each player to their era, since transporting Babe Ruth or Mickey Mantle into 2012 would mean they have access to all of the training, nutrition, and other advancements that have been introduced since their time.
For me, the same holds true for poker players. Obviously Johnny Moss from 1950 is not going to be much of a match for one of today’s stars thanks to the strategic and theoretical changes to the game, but if we were to assume Johnny Moss was born in 1985 then I see no reason why he wouldn’t be a dominant force in today’s game; basically if you dominated your era it shows you were at the top of the game and outworked your opponents, so there is no reason why this wouldn’t hold true in a different era.
So with that in mind I have compiled the following list of the 10 best poker players of all-time, based on their dominance during their heyday. In addition to their skills I’ve also taken into consideration their reputation, longevity, and things like bankroll management. You’ll also notice that there are no One-Trick Ponies on this list; if you are a beast in tournaments and a fish in cash-games you simply don’t make the cut!
#10 — Patrik Antonius
Patrik Antonius is the closest thing to Phil Ivey there is in poker. A professional in every sense of the word, Antonius has dominated live poker games, online poker games, and is one of the most respected and consistent players in the modern poker era. A few more years and Antonius shoots up this list.
#9 — Jennifer Harman
The only female player to make the list, Harman has competed with the big boys in the poker world since she was in her early 20’s, and the notion that she is a woman disappeared many, many years ago. Harman is never mentioned as one of the best female poker players, simply because she makes the best POKER PLAYERS list!
#8 — Stu Ungar
Ungar was the idiot savant of the poker world. His appearance on the Las Vegas scene in the late 1970’s was an absolute game-changer for poker. While he had a reputation as a being a bit of a fish in cash-games this had more to do with his boredom issues than any skill deficiency.
#7 — Tom Dwan
“durrrr” is the modern day Stu Ungar, a true revolutionary figure in poker history. Dwan was first seen as the luckiest man on the planet, but now even Doyle Brunson gives him the utmost respect: Doyle once said, “I used to think durrrr was a fish,” but he knows better.
#6 — Barry Greenstein
Greenstein has been at the top of the poker food chain for a lot longer than people realize. His abilities in tournaments and cash-games are the stuff of legend, and his reputation is such that Barry is often called in to mediate conflicts between players.
#5 — Johnny Chan
Chan was THE poker player in the late 1980’s and 1990’s. The Orient Express has been immortalized as one of the faces on poker’s Mount Rushmore thanks to the movie Rounders, and although Chan may not be at the top of his game now, for 20+ years he was a fearsome player.
#4 — Johnny Moss
Moss was considered the best player of his era, but this was an era when “legal” poker was far from a popular endeavor and there was no press coverage of any kind. Because of this it’s really hard to understand just how good Moss was.
#3 — Phil Ivey
The best description of Phil Ivey at a poker table is a stone cold killer. Only in his mid-30’s he has already accomplished more than anyone on poker history. 10 years from now he is a shoe-in for the #1 spot on this list.
#2 — Doyle Brunson
Only his good friend Chip Reese keeps Doyle out of the #1 spot on this list. A force in the world of poker for 50 years, Brunson is the consummate professional, with a fearsome reputation as a tournament and a cash-game player.
#1 — Chip Reese
By all accounts David “Chip” Reese is the greatest cash-game poker player in the history of the game. And judging by the success he had playing a very sparse tournament schedule over his career, had the tournaments been more lucrative I would bet Chip would be the all-time bracelet winner at the WSOP.
- Phil Galfond
It was extremely hard leaving Galfond off the Top 10 list above, but as the only up-and-coming player in the Honorable Mention section he has plenty of time to land on the Top 10 list. Considered one of the sharpest minds in poker, Galfond is the guy that the rest of the guys go to for advice on difficult hands!
- Ted Forrest
Forrest is a long-time high-stakes pro, who many consider the best Stud player of all-time. Forrest has been a bit incognito in the poker world over the past few years, but he did win a $2 million weight bet from Mike Matusow.
- Daniel Negreanu
Before sponsorship dollars and endorsements caused Negreanu to focus away from the poker tables, Kid Poker was a force in tournaments and cash games. Had Negreanu stayed focused on poker throughout the boom (instead of building his brand) there is no doubt in my mind he would be on the Top 10 list.
- Chau Giang
One of the ultimate high-stakes grinders, Giang has managed to keep a very low profile in the poker world, focusing almost exclusively on cash games.
- Howard Lederer
Many people don’t realize this, but Lederer was a major force on the cash-game scene before Full Tilt poker occupied most of his time. Unfortunately, Lederer’s reputation could be forever damaged by his involvement with Full Tilt Poker.
- Erik Seidel
Seidel is one of the most accomplished tournament players in poker history, and in his prime was a feared cash-game player as well. Seidel was inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame in 2010.
- Puggy Pearson
One of the old “Road Gamblers” Pearson won the 1973 WSOP after finishing second in 1971 and 1972! Pearson is a gambling legend around Las Vegas, not only for poker but also for his golf prowess.
- Brian “Sailor” Roberts
Doyle considers Sailor Roberts one of the greatest players so that’s good enough for me. A former WSOP Champion, Roberts, like Stu Ungar, had his own personal issues to deal with.
Thoughts or opinions on players who made my list, or players you feel should be on the list? Feel free to argue below!
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