Poker Legends and How They Got Their Nicknames

4 months ago
Poker Legends and How They Got Their Nicknames
03 Sep

What’s in a name? Or more relevant to poker players out there, what’s in a nickname? Any poker player or gambler worth their salt has one and today we’re going to look at the most famous and where they came from…

Let’s start with one player who has been in the headlines this week, Antonio 'The Magician' Esfandiari, whose World Series of Poker bracelet was swiped in a recent robbery. Formerly a professional stage magician, Esfandiari’s nickname is about as good as they come for a card player.

A natural follow-up to that would be Barry Greenstein, known to the poker and gambling community as the ‘Robin Hood of Poker’ – the philanthropist known for donating much of his winnings to charity.

Sometimes a nickname reflects the person’s most obvious characteristics – as with Chris Ferguson and his ‘Jesus’ moniker, the long-haired resemblance quite stark.

Jack ‘Treetops’ Strauss was, as you may have guessed from the name, was a 6 foot 6inch giant of the game, and incidentally gave his name to the ‘chip and a chair’ poker saying during his 1982 WSOP Main Event victory.

Other times it will come from what the person does as a hobby, former WSOP champ Greg ‘Fossilman’ Raymer taking his for a love of collecting small fossils.

Just as Raymer used his fossils as card protectors, Humberto ‘The Shark’ Brenes took his nickname from a small toy shark that he would place on top of his cards.

Country and place names have always been a popular reference for nicknames, Johnny Chan known as ‘The Orient Express’, Gus Hansen taking ‘The Great Dane’, while Marcel Luske and Patrik Antonius taking ‘The Flying Dutchman’ and ‘The Flying Finn’ respectively.

Less well-known outside the USA would be John ‘Miami’ Cernuto, Tom ‘Grand Rapids’ McEvoy and Chad ‘Downtown’ Brown, but almost who has stepped inside a casino or watched classic movies should know who 'The Cincinnati Kid’ was.

Other famous players have been given their nicknames based on outstanding poker results, with Layne Flack taking his ‘Back to Back’ from winning two consecutive Legends of Poker events in 1999.

Renowned poker author Dan Harrington became ‘Action Dan’ based on a joke about his rather conservative playing style, and John Juanda happily accepted ‘Luckbox’ as his, despite being one of the most skilled all-round stars of the game.

Most nicknames are, of course, flattering to the holder or recipient – 'The Master' (Men Nguyen), 'The Professor' (Howard Lederer), 'The Prince of Poker' (Scotty Nguyen) and even 'The Grinder' (Mike Mizrachi), but some are perhaps less appealing than others.

Mike Caro might quite like 'The Mad Genius of Poker' tag, though others wouldn’t, while Mike ‘The Mouth’ Matusow and Phil ‘Poker Brat’ Hellmuth have accepted, even cashed in on, their less-than-attractive nicknames.

Others fully deserve the praise that goes with their titles, Jack ‘Gentleman’ Keller, Johnny ‘The Grand Old Man of Poker’ Moss and Mike ‘The Ambassador of Poker' Sexton.

We’ll finish with one of the most famous names in the game of poker, Doyle Brunson, who became known as ‘Texas Dolly’ when a reported got it all wrong.

Jimmy ‘The Greek Snyder’ started calling him 'Texas Doylee' to hide his exact name, Doyle as with other road gamblers of the age preferring some anonymity.

Doyle became Doylee became Dolly, and that’s how history is made. What’s in a name indeed!

Articles 1992

Andrew from Edinburgh, Scotland, is a professional journalist, international-titled chess master, and avid poker player.Read more


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