Top 5 Best Poker Players in the World

5 years ago
Who are the Best Poker Players in the World
05 Nov

Any list which attempts to list a ‘top 10’ or ‘top 5’ or ‘best’ of anything will generally involve a subjective element. To avoid this, writer’s tend to stick to criteria such as ‘highest earning’ or ‘most wins’ and other such things to formulate their list.

With poker, such a list might focus on the best online-players, the greatest live cash-game players, perhaps tournament successes or some combination of the above. But there will always be those who disagree, so I have decided to simply choose who I think are the best poker players in the world currently, and if you disagree, just post a comment explaining why!

Phil Ivey

Top spot on the list goes to the perennial favourite, and hopefully this won’t be too controversial! The 39-year old Californian-born poker genius doesn’t top many of the individual rankings which can be found on the net, but those who follow poker recognise that his expertise in all forms of poker – indeed gambling of almost any kind – and at the highest stakes, make Ivey a natural choice for overall numero uno.

Although designated as primarily a ‘NLHE expert’ by many within poker, Ivey’s 10 WSOP bracelets have ALL come in non-Hold’em events, ranging from the 2000 $2,500 PLO title to the 2014 $1,500 Eight Game Mix event, with 7-card Stud, H.O.R.S.E and various others thrown in for good measure.

A regular feature of the biggest live cash games, Phil ‘RaiseOnce’ Ivey can also be found tangling with the best online players at the nose-bleed stakes, such as Viktor ‘Isildur1’ Blom, usually at the $200/400 PLO tables. More recently (i.e. last week) Ivey was playing $500/1k 2-7 triple draw, which again shows his prowess across the gamut of poker games.

With winnings estimated at well over $20m online, and an equally impressive $23m+ in live tournament play, Ivey’s net worth must be many times higher through sponsorship, investments and many other gambling ‘duties’ which see him travel world-wide on his private jet.

As a player, the aggressive and psychologically-aware poker star has always occupied top spot among his peers – very few of the other top pros ‘happy’ to tangle with the king of the game. “… flexibility is certainly one of Phil's most effective weapons. It is also very hard to do. Most of us have our own personal styles, ways of playing our games, living our lives. His "anti-style," or "stylistic emptiness" (it's hard to know what to call it) is unusual; most of us would feel uncomfortable with it,” was how pokerlistings described his approach in a deconstruction of Ivey’s playing style.

2. Erik Seidel

The 55-year old Poker Hall of Famer has more the look of a studious chess-player about him than one of the greatest-ever poker pros, and it’s no real surprise to find he spent 8 years as a backgammon pro and stock market ‘player’ before turning to the green felt.

With 8 WSOP bracelets spanning 15 years from 1992 to 2007, and over $25million in tournament winnings, Seidel has shown the highest-level of consistency that only a true genius at the game can attain. For those who look at his most recent bracelet as being 2007 and thinking Seidel is past his sell-by-date, consider that he has won over $4.5 million this year in tournaments alone!

One of his claims to fame came back in 1988 when, in his first major event, he faced Johnny Chan heads-up for the Main Event title at the WSOP. Seidel lost out to Chan, but the moment became enshrined in poker history when it was featured in the cult movie ‘Rounders’.

Like Ivey, Erik Seidel is just as proficient at the mixed games as he is in the big-money NLHE formats – not unexpected from someone who learned his trade playing with the likes of Stu Ungar, Dan Harrington and Mickey Appelman at New York’s famous Mayfair Club.

In a PokerPlayer interview back in 2009, after Seidel had finally won a much-sought after WPT title, he gave an insight into his approach to the game – one which is very different from the majority of the other top pro’s.

Actually, I’m not sure how useful it is for me to be on television. Each time I appear on TV I give out more information about how I play. And it’s questionable to me about the value of being a recognised poker player. I’m not looking for a sponsorship deal and I don’t need people bothering me. I just like living a quiet life.”

A quiet life, maybe – but at the poker table Seidel is one of the most feared players of the last 25 years, with no signs of that changing anytime soon!

3. Daniel Negreanu

Perhaps surprisingly for all of Negreanu’s fans out there (who may be wondering why he didn’t come in at number 1) I imagine this choice will be more contentious for how high I’ve actually placed him! Although a hugely popular public ambassador for the game, his style of play has its detractors.

With over $30million in tournament winnings alone, and 6 WSOP bracelets to boot, the 41-year old Ontarian of Romanian parentage has won almost everything the game has to offer, but still manages to find those who ‘don’t rate’ him!

In part it’s probably because of his ‘small-ball’ playing style, which is at the opposite end of the scale from the modern-day all-out aggression of the younger generation. Perhaps partly because huge success and wealth, with a very familiar and, admittedly, pushy public persona doesn’t always endear one to everybody.

PokerPlayer described his style this way:

In a nutshell, this is the Negreanu thesis – if you can play significantly better than your opponents after the flop, then starting with the worst hand isn’t so bad. Other players like Gus Hansen have come to the forefront with similar tactics, but in Negreanu’s game the focus is more on finesse than brute force.”

In any event, Negreanu’s play has proven itself hugely successful for many years now –and over different games – including a heart-breaking bubble at this year’s WSOP Main Event, so it’s impossible to not having Daniel ‘Kid Poker’ Negreanu in the top 3 in my book.

Barry Greenstein had some telling words to say about him:

His light-hearted nature, good writing, and accessibility to poker enthusiasts have made Daniel one of the most popular players’. But make no mistake: under that facade lies a supremely competitive and focused individual.”

4. Viktor Blom

There will be poker fans screaming at my choice of Blom at number 4, and they may be right! Still, I don’t see why ‘best poker player’ lists have to be focussed on ‘live’ play, or the best live players who happen to be great online too.

Blom, under his pseudonym ‘Isildur1’ is the highest-stakes online player and winner, and has been for a long time. His live career can’t match his virtual one, but he’s definitely no slouch when he does appear on the circuit.

The first 2 years after ‘Isildur1’ burst onto the nosebleed stakes online, his identity was unknown – although the guessing games which followed were almost as impressive as his results!

Taking over $3 million from Tom ‘Durrr’ Dwan in just one week at NLHE on Full Tilt had piqued everyone’s interest, naturally, as it did a week or 2 later when Isildur1 lost the biggest hand in online history, $1,356,946.50 to Patrick Antonius at PLO.

The guesses ranged from Phil Hellmuth to Blom’s fellow-Swede Robert “Gulkines” Flink to Todd Brunson and many more, but in 2011 his identity – already pretty much narrowed down to Blom by this time – was revealed when PokerStars unveiled him on their Team Pro roster at their Caribbean Adventure.

To cut a long and interesting story short, Blom basically dominated the pre-Black Friday online high-stakes game, the only person truly beating him being Brian Hastings in what would become an acrimonious dispute when it was revealed tha Hastings had enlisted the help of fellow pros to work out a strategy based on Blom’s previous online hands - something which was against FullTilt’s ToS.

In any event, Blom’s residence here at number 4 will be another controversial one, but anyone who can take on the world’s best online players – multi-tabling! - over different games and winning deserves huge respect!

5. Sam Trickett

29-year old Englishman Trickett fully deserves his high-spot on this list, being one of the few Brits who can compete at the highest levels with the world’s best. His life-time tournament earnings - $20,566,809 – place him 7th on the all-time list and he has played in some of the biggest live cash games on offer.

Trickett’s story is an interesting one, as he initially wanted to play professional soccer (football) but damaged cruciate ligaments put paid to this dream.

Introduced to poker while working as a gas fitter, Trickett soon realised he could earn a much better living as a poker pro, and within a few years he was making big scores-his first coming at the UKIPT in Luton, England when took down the Main £1K Event for £109,050 ($215,178).

International recognition followed a couple of years later when he narrowly missed out on the Aussie Millions title in 2011, but his 2nd place was worth $1,384,631 and came on the back of $1million-winning trip to Macau alongside the likes of Phil Ivey and Tom ‘durrr’ Dwan.

I never thought I was going to be an international poker star,” Trickett told the Express newspaper in February of this year. “I just saw it as a way to earn up some quick money. It hasn’t been easy and along the way I have lost vast sums of money playing the game.”

Proving himself to be a man for the big occasion, 2011 also saw him scoop the Partouche Poker Tour’s Main Event for $1,364,666 in Cannes, France – but it was 2012 where Trickett would outdo himself.

The WSOP Big One for One Drop featured a $1million buy-in and Trickett found himself heads-up against ‘the Magician’ Antonio Esfandiari. Although he lost out on the title, he won a phenomenal $10,112,001, and followed it up with huge scores in the Macau Super High-Roller (7th for $ 999,186) and the Aussie Millions $250K challenge (which he took down for $ 2,111,397)

Although rarely to be found anywhere other than the No Limit Hold’em tables, such is his talent and knowledge of the game that he fully deserves his place at number 5.

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


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