It is sometimes odd how social media works. Of late, there is a Tweet from 2020 that has come to life once again that has reignited the debate over who is the greatest poker player of all time. The debate is a good one, but there must be some parameters set.
Year Old Debate Continues to Spark Discussion
Back in May 2020, noted poker journalist Remko Rinkema jotted down on Twitter the players that he believed were the “most talented” poker players of all time. He had a couple of players at the top that made plenty of sense – Phil Ivey and the late Stu Ungar – but from there his list took a hard turn towards possibly a “recency bias.” His next five selections were players who predominantly have reached the top of the game in the last decade of action:
Now, nothing against Rinkema, but he has a very recent view of history that he is looking at. Just because some of the online wizards are gambling big amounts and wowing the poker community because of the stakes they’re playing, the recency of their work doesn’t bode well for having the ability to make a career out of the game. Think about it…who from the last 15 years or so do you see still playing the game at a high level when they’re 60? How about 70 or, in the case of Doyle Brunson, well into their 80s?
Longevity is one of the keys to greatness. Larry Brown won a Most Valuable Player award when the Dallas Cowboys won Super Bowl XXX, but what did he do with the rest of his career? In something like poker, you must have had success over a long period of time, longer than a decade or so.
Better Criteria Set to Grade Consideration
Let’s set some guidelines first. The Poker Hall of Fame has a few rules that they set for entry and those are excellent for a ground rule. But let’s go a bit further in one area – the “test of time” rule. Let the rule be established that, if you started playing less than 15 years prior to the date of consideration, you’re not eligible to be chosen. For example, Peter Eastgate won the World Series of Poker Championship Event in 2008 – that’s now 13 years ago. Thus, he shouldn’t be put on any “all-time” list (this is just an example, nothing against Peter!). This would also encompass players like Fedor Holz, Viktor ‘Isildur1’ Blom, or even Stephen Chidwick; they wouldn’t be eligible for consideration.
(Furthermore, this takes all aspects of poker into play – cash games, tournaments, different poker variants, contributions to the game…just to set the rules!)
Without further ado (and partially using my list from when the discussion first raged), here’s some of the players I considered the greatest in the game:
1. Chip Reese – Arguably the consummate poker player. Could play any game, any stakes, cash or tournaments. Perfect demeanor for the game – never got too high, never got too low. If more players were like Reese, the game of poker would be much more enjoyable.
2. Phil Ivey – If there were a contemporary challenger for Reese, it would be Ivey. You could say many of the same things about Ivey that have been said about Reese. Unfortunately, because of the Borgata case, we’ll probably never see Ivey try to pursue Phil Hellmuth on the leaderboard for most World Series of Poker bracelets.
3. Doyle Brunson – You MUST give credit to a player who has made a living at the game for 60-plus years. Can play basically any game that is dealt at a high level and a living history of the game. It’s almost an insult to put him this low on the list – which is a key indicator of how good Reese and Ivey are.
4. Stu Ungar – Hyper-aggressive before it became gauche to do so. Legitimately won three WSOP Championship Event titles (Johnny Moss was chosen the victor at the first WSOP), had an astounding record in $10,000 events (won 10 of 30) and basically was a savant of the game. How would he have aged into the 21st century version of the game? Unfortunately, we’ll never know.
5. Phil Hellmuth – 15 bracelets don’t lie. He’s arguably been one of the best tournament poker players in history and, despite some people’s beliefs, he’s gotten better at cash games. Toss in his business acumen for the game and he’s hard to keep off this list.
6. Michael Mizrachi – Here’s where I am going to get a bit controversial. I pick Mizrachi sheerly on the fact that he is the only player to win three WSOP Poker Player Championship titles. That mixed game tournament brings together the toughest players in the world, challenges you at every phase of the game and brings an intensity that few other tournaments have. He’s deserving of a spot in the Poker Hall of Fame, too.
7. Daniel Negreanu – How could you leave ‘Kid Poker’ off the list? Continually challenging for the top of the all-time money earnings list, continues to play a strong tournament game, not afraid of any challenge (see the current battle with Doug Polk) and is a cash game legend. You might not like his personality (like Hellmuth), but it is tough to deny the player.
8. Johnny Chan – The first player to ever reach the 10-bracelet plateau, Chan was thisclose to making it three CONSECUTIVE WSOP Championship Event wins. He was the runner-up to Hellmuth when he won in 1989. He might not be the player now that he was in his prime, but how many of us are?
9. Johnny Moss – Got to include the legendary master of the game. If it weren’t for his cash game against Nick Dandalos (the Negreanu/Polk battle of the 1940s), we might not have poker at the level we do today.
10. Erik Seidel – Quietly continues to be the master of the game that everyone wants to learn from. He’s done it on the tournament baize, the cash game felt, every game, every stakes. It says something about the quality of the list here that he comes in at #10.
So, who would your Top Ten players in poker history be? Drop a comment and let us know!