Picking the greatest poker players of all time is no easy task. There has certainly been an abundance of players who have excelled both from a historical standpoint and looking at the modern game.
The criteria could cover numerous bullet points: major titles, cash winnings, longevity – the list could go on and on.
With all that in mind, here’s a look at seven of the best players in history in no particular order.
12 Top Poker Players Are:
- Justin Bonomo - ZeeJustin
- Doyle Brunson – Texas Dolly
- Johnny Moss – Grandfather of Poker
- Phil Hellmuth – The Poker Brat
- Phil Ivey – The Tiger Woods of Poker
- Stu Ungar – The Comeback Kid
- Daniel Negreanu – Kid Poker
- Erik Seidel – Sly
- Bryn Kenney – Mega Crusher
- Stephen Chidwick – stevie444
- Dan Smith – Cowboy Dan
- Fedor Holz – CrownUpGuy
1. Justin Bonomo - ZeeJustin
A dominating force in the modern game, Bonomo tops all players in cash winnings with $62 million. His earnings come in high-roller tournaments at the game’s highest stakes and against some of the best competition.
In June 2018, he won the $10,000 Heads-Up No-Limit Hold'em Championship at the World Series of Poker (WSOP) for $185,965. That made his second WSOP bracelet and came only days after winning the $300,000 Super High Roller Bowl for $5 million.
If those finishes weren’t enough, the 33-year-old poker sensation followed up his bracelet win with yet another. Bonomo took down the $1 million Big One for One Drop at the WSOP for $10 million.
And his winnings keep rising as he continues to excel on the felt. In 2023, at the time of writing, he is still at the top of the all-time money list with close to $62 million in cashes.
That string of wins also includes numerous other final table appearances. He’s not a player you want to square off against.
2. Doyle Brunson – Texas Dolly
When it comes to standing the test of time, no player has done it better than the late Doyle Brunson. Well in his eighties, he was still playing in some of the biggest cash games in the world before his passing early in 2023. His cash game prowess included lessons learned from old Texas road games and nosebleed games in Las Vegas. Brunson’s tournament success is also unmatched by most – highlighted by 10 World Series of Poker bracelets including the Main Event twice, in 1976 and 1977.
In 2018, Brunson even made a WSOP final table at age 84. His long poker career also includes a record as the oldest winner of a World Poker Tour event when he won the Legends of Poker at the Bicycle Casino in 2004 at age 71.
A regular on televised cash games, Brunson is one of the most recognised players in poker. His career tournament earnings of $6.2 million may be minute compared to his cash game winnings. His instincts for the game came from a sharp mind, natural feel for the game, and seeing thousands of hands.
Along with being a top-notch player, Brunson was an acclaimed author and his poker strategy book, Super/System: A Course in Power Poker revolutionised the game. He had a quick wit and was a frequent Twitter poster.
An idol for many and a gentleman at the table, Brunson was inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame in 1988.
3. Johnny Moss – Grandfather of Poker
While poker has progressed immensely since those early days of the WSOP, Moss was obviously considered a top performer at the table. There were only seven players at that first event at Binion’s Horseshoe in 1970, but his fellow players voted Moss as champion.
A year later, the tournament format was introduced. Moss won that year too and added his third Main Event title in 1974. Moss finished his poker career with nine WSOP bracelets and $1.25 million in tournament winnings.
Like Brunson, Moss was a Texas road gambler, and his cash winnings are unknown. He carved out a stellar career at the tables, however, when finding big-money action wasn’t as easy as it is now.
Moss was inducted in 1979 and passed away in 1995 at age 88. Some of the game’s forerunners and his contemporaries remember him as a keen competitor who was unafraid of aggression.
4. Phil Hellmuth – The Poker Brat
Love him or hate him, it takes significant skill to win 16 WSOP bracelets and amass almost $29 million in tournament winnings. Hellmuth is also the only person to have won a WSOP Main Event title (1989) in Las Vegas and a WSOP Main Event (2012) in Europe. In 1993, Hellmuth had a spectacularly nice summer – winning three bracelets.
On the WPT, Hellmuth has eight final table appearances. He hasn’t yet added his name to the Champions Cup but came close in 2017 when he finished runner-up at the Legends of Poker at the Bicycle Casino. In recent years, a WPT title has become one of his goals.
Along with his titles and winnings, Hellmuth is an author of several bestselling books and a regular in televised cash games. Table antics aside, the “Poker Brat” remains not only one of the biggest names in poker, but also one of the toughest players with a brilliant insight into the game.
5. Phil Ivey – The Tiger Woods of Poker
Growing up on the Atlantic City poker scene, Ivey regularly playing up to 15 hours a day in games at the Taj Mahal and Tropicana with a fake ID. Inspired by players who made a living at the game, Ivey took the game seriously and kept a journal on players, hands, and situations to fine-tune his game.
At age 21, his first major win came at the first Jack Binion World Poker Open for $53,297. In May 2000, he went on to win his first WSOP bracelet at age 23 for $195,000. More final tables and wins followed over the next few years. In 2002, he had a monster summer at the WSOP, winning three bracelets – sealing his reputation as the hottest young player in the game.
When the World Poker Tour debuted in 2003, Ivey found success there as well. He finished runner-up to poker legend Dave “Devilfish” Ulliot in the first WPT Championship for $290,130. From 2002-2007, he had eight final table appearances capped by a win at the L.A. Poker Classic for $1.6 million.
After dominating the game for years, Ivey now has more than $38 million in live tournament winnings, is a regular in high-stakes cash games, and has 10 WSOP bracelets.
He’s a fierce competitor and has plenty of respect and admiration among his peers.
6. Stu Ungar – The Comeback Kid
One of the sadder stories in poker, Ungar was immensely talented at the table but struggled with demons in the game of life. One of only two players to have won the WSOP Main Event three times, along with Moss, he was also one of only four players to win the title back to back, along with Moss, Brunson, and Johnny Chan.
A stellar gin rummy player, he later transitioned to poker and was a natural on the poker felt. In 1980, he became the youngest player ever to win the Main Event at the time.
Ungar won the Main Event again in 1981 and also in 1997. In November 1998 he was found dead in a cheap hotel in Las Vegas. The cause of death was a heart condition attributed to continued drug use. He virtually had no money and friends pitched in to fund his funeral.
After ending his career with $3.7 million in tournament winnings and five WSOP bracelets, Ungar was posthumously inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame in 2001. Friends and contemporaries remember a player who had a sixth sense for cards, who made use of ruthless aggression to run over his opponents.
7. Daniel Negreanu – Kid Poker
Third, only to Bonomo and Bryn Kenney, on the career money list, Daniel Negreanu is the biggest name in poker and one of the winningest players in poker history. In more than two decades on the felt, “Kid Poker” has amassed just above $50 million in live tournament winnings. That includes wins on some of the game’s biggest stages – the WSOP, WPT, and major televised cash games.
With a unique ability to deduce the cards of his opponents, Negreanu has become a fan favourite not only for his skills at the table but also his gregarious personality. Negreanu has numerous career highlights, and that includes winning six WSOP bracelets and two WPT titles. He has the distinction of winning the WSOP Player of the Year honour in 2004 and 2013 and the same title in the WPT in 2004-05 (Season III).
Always quick with an opinion, Negreanu has been one of the most prominent voices in the game. That includes a substantial multimedia presence through vlogs, podcasts, social media, live streaming, writing, and more.
He may be seen a lot in the media, but Negreanu’s more than just a personality. His skills at the table and skins on the wall make him one of the best.
8. Erik Seidel – Sly
After dominating poker for years even before the poker boom, this New Yorker then went on to play at the biggest stakes imaginable in the game’s new era. Seidel always had a keen mind for games and grew up playing backgammon. While working as a stock trader, Seidel began seeking out action as a player at the Mayfair Club in New York. The famous club was the inspiration for the film Rounders and also hosted famous players like Howard Lederer, Stu Ungar, Dan Harrington, and others.
In fact, Seidel was even featured in Rounders, the final hand he played in the 1988 WSOP Main Event in which he finished runner-up. That was his first major tournament – not bad for a newcomer and possibly a sign of the success to come. In 1992, he won the first of his nine WSOP bracelets in a $2,500 NLHE event for $168,000. His most recent bracelet came in 2007, when he won the $5,000 No Limit 2-7 Lowball championship for $538,835. In 2008, Seidel added a WPT title by winning the Foxwoods Poker Classic for $992,890.
Seidel continues to score on some of poker’s biggest stages and can regularly be found in high roller events. In 2020, Seidel again gained some media attention for being featured in best-selling author Maria Konnikova’s book The Biggest Bluff. The best-selling author knew nothing about poker before taking on the challenge of learning the game. Seidel served as her poker coach and Konnikova soon scored a major win at the PCA. She described Seidel as a bit of a renaissance man.
“He may be the only poker pro to boast a membership to the Brooklyn Academy of Music, a willingness to fly across the country to see Dave Chappelle do stand-up, or a near encyclopedic knowledge of the latest in the culinary scene from Los Angeles to Manila,” Konnikova writes of her mentor. “His curiosity is genuine and boundless, his enthusiasm for life entirely contagious.”
9. Bryn Kenney – Mega Crusher
By the spring of 2020, this player from New York had not only made the list but topped the all-time money list with more than $56 million (in the mean time, Bonomo took his place, relegating him to 2nd). Born in 1986, Kenney grew up playing the Magic: The Gathering card game like several other top pros. He transitioned to poker and played in his first tournament in 2007. His first six-figure score came in the 2010 WSOP Main Event, where he took 28th for $255,242. Many more massive scores would follow with wins on the EPT, Masters Classics of Poker, WPT high rollers, and more.
In 2014, Kenney grabbed his first and only WSOP bracelet in a $1,500 10-game event for $153,220 and came close to another a year later with a runner-up finish in Las Vegas. His first seven figure score came in the PCA in 2016, winning a $100,000 Super High Roller for $1.7 million. Kenney is among the new breed of players happy to play at some of the biggest events around. He’s a regular on the Aria high roller scene with a good track record of scoring big.
After the PCA score, he added a $1.4 million score the same year in a Triton Super High Roller. In 2017, he scored a pair of wins in PVA high rollers for a total of $1.4 million and then took another title in a $100,000 super high roller in Monaco for $1.9 million.
That kind of consistency at massive stakes against some of the best in the game continued. In 2019, he won a pair of Triton high roller events for a total of $3.1 million. The same year he finished runner-up in an insane £1 million Triton event for a $20.5 million payday. With Kenney, it’s massive skills and massive paydays.
10. Stephen Chidwick – stevie444
This player comes from a fitting hometown in England – the town of Deal on the country’s southeast coast where the North Sea and English Channel meet. Chidwick has been one of the most successful card players over the last few years and is among the top 5 on the all-time money list with almost $49 million in cashes to his name. Born in 1989, Chidwick began his career at the online tables and scored his first major score in 2009 after finishing runner-up in a an event for $142,000.
Chidwick also began playing live tournaments in 2008 with his first win coming at a $1,000 PCA event for $88,760. His first six-figure score came in 2011 at the WSOP, where he took fourth in a $10,000 Pot Limit Hold’em event for $198,927. More big scores would follow in the coming years. In 2013 Chidwick finished third in a €5,300 EPT event for $517,992.
Big scores and final table appearances continued and he has become a regular on the high roller scene. He took down a €25,500 event in Barcelona in 2017 for $813,144, and then added a runner-up and third-place finish for a total $2.6 million in the same event a year later. In 2019, he added a WSOP bracelet as well, fittingly winning another $25,000 high roller event for $1.6 million. Chidwick remains one of the best players in the world and works to improve his skills to stay on top of his game.
"You always want, as a poker player, to be devoid of emotion and just kind of calculate, think about hands, and play the best you can," he told PokerNews before his WSOP win. "But definitely the closer you get to the bracelet the harder it gets to kind of keep what you're going to say in the winner interview, and all those things, out of your mind. I just try and focus on the cards and each hand as it comes until I've got all the chips."
11. Dan Smith – Cowboy Dan
This player originally from New Jersey has become one of the winningest players in history. Like many players, Smith dropped out of college in 2007 to pursue poker full time. His first major tournament win came in 2008 when he won a $1,650 Heartland Poker Tour title for $101,960. In 2012 he added an Aussie Millions title when he won the $100,000 Challenge for $1 million. That same year, he went on a massive tear at the EPT Monte Carlo, winning three events for $521,580.
In August 2012, Smith won another EPT event in Barcelona for $1.2 million. A year later he registered another massive bullet point by taking down the WPT Five Diamond World Poker Classic at the Bellagio for $1.2 million. Smith added the first bracelet to his resumé after winning the $25k Heads-Up Championship at the 2022 World Series of Poker for $509.717.
Six- and seven-figure scores have become the norm for this player who now lives in Las Vegas. As of June 2023, Smith had $44 million in live tournament winnings. Beyond his skills and winnings, Smith also works in various charity efforts. He created the Double Up Drive as a means for poker players to give to those in need and other causes.
“It has really blown up,” Smith told WPT.com. “I think it is totally embraced by poker players, and I’ve gotten a lot of support. Stephen Chidwick is one of our big partners this year. It’s really special to me to motivate someone, and motivating people with their wallet is great.”
12. Fedor Holz – CrownUpGuy
Million-dollar scores have become a way of life for this German poker phenomenon. A dominating online player, Holz scored plenty of wins in the 2010s including a $1.3 million championship in an online tournament, and was considered one of the best online players in the world.
Holz has also found plenty of success at the live poker tables. That includes finishing 25th in the WSOP Main Event in 2015 for $262,574. Big buy-in events have also been good for Holz. He won a Triton Super High Roller for $3.1 million in 2016 and followed that up the same year with a runner-up finish in the Super High Roller Bowl for another $3.5 million. His WSOP bracelet came in a big way as well in 2016. After topping the field in the $111,111 Big One for One Drop, Holz took home $5 million.
“I played a lot of online poker, so I think I understand the variance pretty well,” Holz told Card Player magazine about his amazing run in 2016. “I think I’m on a heater that will only happen once, to me at least, and I just am trying to appreciate it and enjoy my time while it lasts.”
In 2019, Holz even topped that Big One haul when he finished runner-up in the $1 million version of the tournament – earning a gigantic payout of $6 million. A deeply analytical player with deep focus, Holz is another modern player who moved from success online to success at live events and had accumulated almost $39 million in winnings by 2023. CrownUpGuy has certainly become part of poker royalty.
Everyone has an opinion on who the best players in poker are, and no doubt there will always be plenty of disagreements.
But this list offers some of the game’s greats from past to present.
Originally Published on June 18, 2020