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Best Poker Players of All Time

Shane C

Dec 22, 2023

Phil Ivey

It might seem like an easy task, to put together a list of the best poker players of all time. With half a century of modern tournaments behind us, there are quite many celebrated poker players that spring to mind without thinking too hard about it.

The problem is, what qualities should you look for in deciding who the best poker players are? Some would say tournament victories are the main factor, while others might see consistency over time as the defining trait, or career earnings. One or two of you might even factor popularity into the equation.

With so many variables to consider, the easiest (and ultimately fairest) way to define the best poker players is to look at total winnings to date. However, the problem with that approach relates to the various eras over time. The best modern players can pick up 8 or 9 figures in a single season, while the best players of the seventies would not earn close to that in their whole career.

Perspective

With that in mind, we have tried to use a little nuanced perspective. By using a combination of career earnings with the general competition around during the player's era - while also allowing a few calculations for inflation - we have arrived at a list that is quite balanced.

You will notice we have recorded career winnings to date next to each poker player on this list, although we need to stress that this does not equate to ordered rankings. We do not believe that Bryn Kenny, for example, is the best poker player of all time. He just happens to have won the most money to date and, therefore, is at the very top of our list.

So, after a whole week of collective debate, argument, and general squabbling here at the Natural8, we are proud to present our ten of the best. 

Bryn Kenney: $65 million (USA)

Bryn Kenney

Currently, the number one tournament winnings earner on our list, Bryn Kenney has pulled in over $65 million in live tournament winnings, regularly facing off against the world's biggest killers through live tournaments and online poker. Las Vegas seems to be his most natural hunting ground, which is the setting of his most memorable moments, with many of his victories coming at the World Series of Poker and on the World Poker Tour.

In 2019, Kenney got tongues wagging and heads turned at the Triton Poker Super High Roller Series in London, securing a huge payday of $20.5 million, locking in his place at the top of the poker world's all-time money list in the process. This rather handsome win came on the back of several dominant performances in poker tournaments around the globe in which it seemed he just couldn't lose.

His consistency in reaching final tables and his ability to square off against the best poker players are what make him a force of nature in his own right. As of October 2023, Kenney's name continues to dominate the poker scene, with numerous achievements and top finishes in tournaments like the European Poker Tour.

Known for his sharp mind and uncanny determination (he rarely rattles or loses composure), Kenney demonstrates a killer instinct against the world's top poker players. Ultimately, when Kenney's at the table, expect fireworks.

Check out: Bryn Kenney Wins $250K Triton London Invitational Event

Justin Bonomo: $62 million (USA)

Justin Bonomo (right)As something of a superstar in the poker world, Bonomo has racked up an impressive $62 million in tournament winnings. For the most part, he has earned this hefty fortune playing in elite high-stakes poker tournaments, competing against the world's finest poker players.

In the summer heat of June 2018, he grabbed the title in the $10,000 No-Limit Hold'em event at the World Series of Poker (WSOP), raking in $185,965. This victory awarded him his second WSOP bracelet a mere few days after he triumphed in the $300,000 Super High Roller Bowl, netting a rather nice $5 million.

But Bonomo wasn’t done yet, as he followed that particular success by conquering the $1 million Big One for One Drop at the WSOP, adding another $10 million and change to his impressive growing list of live tournament cashes.

Known for quite a sharp, analytical, and almost quite strategic mind, Bonomo consistently outplays some of the best poker players in intense heads-up battles, making him seem virtually unbeatable on some tables. Since 2016, he's secured titles in an impressive 18 major poker tournaments.

His track record extends further, with numerous appearances at final tables across various tournaments. Going head-to-head against Bonomo? Think twice, maybe. This guy has a reputation for being impossible to read and is a killer bluffer.

Check out: Justin Bonomo: From Magic Cards to Poker Millions

Image Source: Pokernews.com

Stephen Chidwick: $51 million (UK)

Stephen ChidwickCommonly known in the poker world as "stevie444," Chidwick comes from the incredibly aptly named town of Deal, down on the southeast coast of England. Over recent years, Chidwick has made a name for himself as one of the best poker players of all time, locking down a spot within the top 5 on the all-time money list and boasting just over $51 million in live tournament cashes.

Having launched his poker career in the niche world of online poker, Chidwick made headlines in 2009 with a notable runner-up finish, earning $142,000. Not limiting himself to online poker tournaments, Chidwick moved over to live poker tournaments in 2008. A victory in a $1,000 PCA event announced his entry with something of a bang, earning him $88,760.

The World Series of Poker saw him grab a huge six-figure sum in 2011, securing fourth place in a $10,000 Pot Limit Hold'em tournament, adding just short of $200,000 to his accolades in additional winnings.

2013 saw another impressive accomplishment, with Chidwick nailing third in a €5,300 European Poker Tour event, adding a rather useful $517,992 to his tournament winnings. This ballsy high-rolling poker player kept up the momentum, winning a €25,500 event in Barcelona in 2017 and taking $813,144 in prize money.

He has continued to dominate in subsequent editions, amassing a total of $2.6 million in the following year before 2019 brought him a WSOP bracelet from one of the $25,000 high roller events, swelling his coffers by another $1.6 million. As poker fans worldwide will vouch, Chidwick is a regular force among the other players and has a reputation for studying the art of poker in quite analytical detail, constantly refining his skill set in the process.

Daniel Negreanu: $50 million (Canada)

A professional poker player known affectionately as "Kid Poker," Daniel Negreanu is far more than just a known face in the poker world – he's a respected poker icon. Flirting among other celebrated pros like Bonomo and Bryn Kenney, Daniel Negreanu is firmly on the career money list, with an impressive stash toppling $50 million from live poker tournaments alone.

A regular face on the biggest poker platforms, be it the World Series of Poker (WSOP), the World Poker Tour (WPT), or the exciting high-stakes televised duels, Daniel Negreanu is certainly no fluke player. His uncanny knack for accurately predicting his opponent's hands has allowed for a successful poker career and lots of poker fans.

Daniel Negreanu, or Kid Poker as he is more widely known, is the proud owner of six WSOP bracelets and a duo of WPT titles. His status in the game was further acknowledged when he won the WSOP Player of the Year title in both 2004 and 2013, along with a similar nod from the WPT for their 2004-05 season.

Negreanu’s influence isn't just limited to playing poker on felt. A huge voice in the poker scene, Kid Poker has a broad digital footprint, ranging from vlogs and podcasts to interactive live streams. He isn't just a media magnet, though: his forward-thinking poker game strategies have helped place him among the best poker players of all time, and rightly so.

Phil Hellmuth: $29 million (USA)

Phil Hellmuth

Often referred to as the "Poker Brat," Phil Hellmuth is arguably one of the more famous figures on this list owing to something of a unique personality. With a massive 16 WSOP bracelets under his belt, Phil Hellmuth has the proud distinction of winning both the WSOP main event in Las Vegas (1989) and its European counterpart (2012).

1993, in particular, was a memorable year for Hellmuth, bagging three poker bracelets in just one summer, and while he has claimed the World Poker Tour with eight final table appearances, a WPT championship title continues to evade him, although he did come close at the 2017 Legends of Poker event in Las Vegas.

Aside from his poker game, the Poker Brat is a bestselling author and a familiar face in televised cash games. Even with his notorious table attitude and sometimes quite boisterous demeanour, there is no escaping the fact that Phil Hellmuth is one of the greatest poker players of all time; love him or loathe him!

Image Source: Pokernews.com

Doyle Brunson: $6 million (USA)

Doyle BrunsonDoyle Brunson, a figure who lived well into his very late eighties, was renowned for playing some of the world's biggest cash games. His old-school knowledge spanned from Texas road games to high-stakes Vegas showdowns. With 10 World Series of Poker bracelets (including two WSOP Main Event titles in 1976 and 1977), his tournament success is nothing short of incredible.

This legend of the game still dazzled our tables at the age of 84 when he won a WSOP final. His poker career includes a record as the oldest champion of a World Poker Tour event, claiming victory at the Legends of Poker in 2004 when he was 71. Incredible.

Widely recognised on televised cash games, Doyle Brunson combined a razor-sharp intellect with a deep understanding of poker, having witnessed millions of hands throughout his poker career. Brunson also authored the popular poker strategy book "Super/System," which is treated like a poker bible among many. In 1988, the Poker Hall of Fame honoured this legendary poker player with an induction, a status we believe he easily deserved.

Image Source: Pokernews.com

Phil Ivey: $38 million (USA)

Phil Ivey

Dubbed by many as the "Tiger Woods of Poker," Phil Ivey is an established legend in the world of poker players. With 10 WSOP bracelets to his name, Ivey's presence at any poker table sends shivers down any and all poker players gracing the same table. Born in California but raised in Las Vegas, he has etched his name firmly into poker history.

In his early years of playing poker, Phil Ivey snared his first WSOP bracelet at the ripe age of just 23, and just like that, one of the finest poker players of his generation had arrived.

Phil Ivey does not have skills restricted to tournaments alone, however. He is a giant in cash games, notably the high-stakes cash games that attract the world's elite professional poker players. His total live tournament winnings easily exceed $30 million, indicating his grip on both the WSOP main event and other global tournaments.

This Tiger Woods of poker has a ranking that often lingers somewhere near the top on the Global Poker Index, while the poker community frequently debates his place among the greatest poker players of all time, with many placing him right at the very top.

Away from the green felt, Phil Ivey has become rather shrewd in business, with his poker training site being popular among rising players. As a true professional poker player, Phil Ivey's legacy is one of skill, determination, and a genuine passion for live tournaments.

Image Source: Pokernews.com

Stu Ungar: $4 million (USA)

Stu Ungar, often regarded as the world's biggest-ever raw talent in poker history, shone beautifully bright but tragically briefly. He is next to Johnny Moss as one of the only players to nail the WSOP main event three times, and joins an elite group, including Doyle Brunson and Johnny Chan, as champions of consecutive main events.

Interestingly enough, his initial game of choice was gin rummy before he effortlessly transitioned to playing poker, displaying an uncanny ability. In 1980, Stu Ungar became the youngest WSOP champion by claiming the main event title - a feat he repeated again in 1981 and 1997.

Sadly, the lights of Las Vegas cast a dark shadow on Ungar's personal life, and in 1998, the poker world mourned as he tragically passed away in a modest, rather run-down Las Vegas hotel. His passing, which was linked to nagging health issues made worse by substance misuse, left him financially broken. So much so, in fact, that his friends had to contribute to his funeral expenses.

With career earnings of almost $3.7 million and five WSOP bracelets, this absolute legend of the game eventually received a spot in the Poker Hall of Fame. He actually became the first player to receive a posthumous nod from the poker hall with an induction in 2001, three years after his passing.

Johnny Chan: $9 million (USA)

Johnny Chan

One of the most iconic poker players in the world, Johnny Chan, has an impressive record of 10 WSOP bracelets, with a general cunning on the poker table that is quite startling at times. His achievements include winning the WSOP Main Event titles consecutively in 1987 and 1988 - a feat that has become legendary in poker history.

Known globally by most as one of the top players in the world, Chan's keen intuition and strategic gameplay have earned him close to $9 million in winnings. Outside of tournaments and poker bracelets, he has become known for mentoring budding rising talents, sharing the wisdom he has accumulated from decades at the poker main event and high-stakes tables.

Jamie Gold: $12 million (USA)

Jamie GoldJamie Gold rose to global poker fame in 2006, winning the World Series of Poker Main Event title in a huge field that remains the largest in all of WSOP history. Bagging a $12 million prize, Gold's victory was not just about the money but also the skillful (and quite cunning) way he dominated the poker table. Just that one victory alone would probably warrant classing him among the most memorable poker players in the world.

Although Gold has hardly collected a mountain of WSOP bracelets (like some poker legends on this list), his Main Event wins and his unique style of play is celebrated by both fans and fellow players. Surely a question of time before he begins to amass more WSOP bracelets, though.

Wrap-Up

Onto the final, burning question. Just who is the best player of all time, taking into account everyone we have covered in this list?

To be honest, most of us at Natural8 see it as a no-brainer - although it did take some convincing with one or two stubborn guys in our team. Either way, it has to be the legend that is Phil Ivey.

From 2004-2013, Ivey reigned supreme in all poker formats, from tournaments to live and online cash games. He quite frankly dominated in a way that was almost quite intimidating and has never been seen before or since. 

As Daniel Negreanu once put it, Ivey possesses a unique ability to intuitively approach new games, effectively making him a "human solver." His dominance year after year - coupled with an impressive tournament record - makes him an easy choice as the best poker player ever to have existed in our book.

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