A battle to be the king of the felt happens so fast that we often only realize each player’s genius after reviewing the game. That’s why we only rank poker players based on how much we like a player’s personality, their total earnings, and stats.
Daniel Negreanu, Phil Ivey, and Phil Hellmuth are three of the most notorious players at the felt. However, if we rank poker players based on total earnings, only Negreanu will get into the top 10. Some players like Daniel Colman and Jason Koon made a lot of money but aren’t in the Hall of Fame.
There’s a lot of factors that we have to consider when ranking the best poker players. It can be subjective and open for opinions with a lot of room for disagreements and debates as to who deserves the top spot. We’ll provide you with the most comprehensive list of the best poker players, including a bonus list that ranks them based on total earnings.
Johnny Moss – The Grand Old Man of Poker
Johnny Moss is, perhaps, a name you’re not aware of because his reign as one of the best poker players started long before poker games hit the mainstream. He had a total of only $834,422 in WSOP winnings, which may not seem a lot in today’s standards, but this man was the first person to win the WSOP Main Event in 1970!
There’s no way to compare him with other players that we’re apt to see these days. But he won two championships on the current tournament format that we see in WSOP Main Events in 1971 and 1974. From 1970 to 1995, he managed to win nine WSOP bracelets and three WSOP Main Events. Johnny Moss is a poker champion for a third of his career and #3 on the list of players with the most number of WSOP bracelets.
Legend has it that during the first-ever WSOP, Benny Binion asked every player who they think is the best player in the tournament. All of them voted for themselves, which isn’t what Binion intended. After that, he conducted another poll to ask every player who they think is the second-best player—most of them voted for Johnny Moss.
The total amount won isn’t a factor that we considered to have him on this list because he’s winning it all even before the poker boom. He was a dominating force back then, and most players today still can’t match his achievements in poker. That’s why Moss remains one of the best poker players to have ever hit the felt.
Phil Hellmuth – The Poker Brat
Phil Hellmuth’s strong personality at the felt isn’t something that many people admire, but his achievements speak for his skills as a poker player. He’s the only person in the world with 15 WSOP bracelets; the #2 on that list is a tie between Doyle Brunson, Johnny Chan, and Phil Ivey, at 10.
During the 1993 World Series of Poker, he officially became the second person in WSOP history to have won 3 bracelets in one WSOP event that came in three consecutive days. He’s had 57 final table appearances, and 154 money finishes in WSOP tournaments. Hellmuth is the only person in the world to win WSOP and WSOPE Main Events. He won the WSOP Main Event in 1989, then WSOPE Main Event in 2012.
Aside from his impressive WSOP performance, Hellmuth also had five final table appearances in the World Poker Tour. He also came close to winning the Champions Cup when he finished first-runner up at the Legends of Poker in Bicycle Casino.
His book Poker Brat: Phil Hellmuth’s Autobiography, will give you a walkthrough on his life. It includes all the struggles and successes that he went through to become one of the world’s most recognizable poker players.
You may not be a fan, but we can’t deny that Phil Hellmuth remains one of the toughest players with ingenious insights into the game.
Doyle Brunson – Texas Dolly
At the age of 85, it’s surprising and entertaining to watch Doyle Brunson battle wits against some of today’s best poker minds. In 2018, he even made it to the WSOP final table. He’s the oldest poker player to win the World Poker Tour event, and even won the Legends of Poker in Bicycle Casino at the age of 71!
Doyle Brunson holds the #2 spot for most WSOP bracelets, tied with Johnny Chan and Phil Ivey. He also won back-to-back WSOP Main Events in 1976 and 1977, then joined the Poker Hall of Fame in 1988. Brunson is a regular in televised cash games with 26 WSOP final table appearances. Despite his impressive career run, he’s only amassed a total of $2,994,116 in tournament winnings.
Close to $3 million in tournament winnings may not be something that’ll get you excited, but he’s also played some of the biggest cash games. Throughout his career that spans 50 years, he’s become a regular in almost every televised poker tournament.
Aside from being a dominant player that stood the test of time, Brunson also authored two of the best-selling poker books: Super/System: A Course in Power Poker, then followed by Super System 2. Both books serve as a strategy guide for aspiring poker players that’ll allow you to pick the strategies of some of the best poker players today, including Phil Hellmuth, Daniel Negreanu, and Johnny Chan.
Stu Ungar – The Comeback Kid
Stu Ungar was one of the greatest poker players to have ever lived.
His story goes down in history as one of the wasted talents brought down by various challenges in life. Everyone he’s ever played with him remembers “Stuey” as the player with the sixth sense for cards. He’ll display ruthless aggression when at the felt, and he won’t hesitate to run down his opponents who showed weakness.
He’s the only poker player to have ever won the Super Bowl of Poker, the second most prestigious poker tournament in the 1980s, three times. Stu also managed to be one of the only two players to have won three WSOP Main Events along with Johnny Moss. On top of all these, he’s one of only four players to win back to back WSOP Main events, together with Johnny Moss, Doyle Brunson, and Johnny Chan.
Stu Ungar died in November 1998 in a cheap Las Vegas hotel, where he only paid $48 per night. Years of drug abuse is said to be the cause of his unfortunate and untimely death. When asked about Stu’s death, Doyle Brunson said: “everybody felt terrible, but it wasn’t a surprise.”
Despite having 5 WSOP bracelets and accumulated tournament winnings of $3 million throughout his career, he died with nothing in his possession. The only money he had was $800, which was what’s left of his $25,000 cash advance. His friends had to contribute to pay for all the expenses at his funeral.
The Comeback Kid became a WSOP Poker Hall of Famer in 2001. With such achievement in a relatively short poker career, one can only imagine the intensity that he could have brought to the table. That’s why Stu Ungar will always be one of the best poker players to have ever lived.
Phil Ivey – The Tiger Woods of Poker
Phil Ivey is a living proof that hard work pays off.
He took poker more seriously than anyone. At a young age, Ivey was playing poker for up to 15 hours a day. He even kept a journal on players, situations, hands, and everything that he can use to up his game. All of these paid off when he became the first player to win the Jack Binion World Poker Open at only 21.
He got his first WSOP bracelet in 2000 when he was only 23 and received $195,000. Ivey cemented his reputation as one of the best and youngest players during the 2002 World Series of Poker, where he won three bracelets. To this day, Phil Ivey’s WSOP career highlights include 59 money finishes, 31 final table appearances, and 10 WSOP bracelets—tied at #2 with Doyle Brunson and Johnny Chan.
As for his World Poker Tour career, he debuted in 2003. He has yet to win a title but had nine final table appearances and 13 money finishes. One of the biggest scores he had in his career was when he won the L.A. Poker Classic for $1.6 million.
Ivey has an estimated $26 million worth of winnings from live tournaments on top of several high-stakes cash games. Despite his impressive career, his accumulated earnings aren’t enough to put him on the top 10 highest winnings. It’s one of the reasons why we had to create a separate list for the best poker players based on earnings. Ivey is a fierce competitor and has gained admiration not only among his peers but also from millions of poker players worldwide.
Daniel Negreanu – Kid Poker
This list won’t be complete without the fan-favorite, Daniel Negreanu. He’s one of the friendliest poker players and is evident by the number of following that he has. He’s the #3 on the list of highest earnings with a total of $41.8 million in tournament winnings. It’s not surprising, though, because he holds 38 career titles, including six WSOP bracelets and two World Poker Tour titles.
We all recognize Negreanu with his unique “card reading” skills through a combination of his ability to deduce his opponents’ tells and congenial personality at the felt. All of these, combined with his hard work paid off when he received the WSOP Player of the Year award in 2004, WPT Player of the Year in 2005, and WSOP Hall of Fame in 2014.
In May 2008, he released his book Power Hold’em Strategy, which is similar to Doyle Brunson’s book. It includes accounts and strategies from various professional poker players, including Evelyn Ng, Erick Lindgren, and David Williams.
Today, Daniel Negreanu is one of the most active, visible, and recognizable poker players through several social media appearances and vlogs.
Companies consider him one of the most bankable poker players with various sponsorships from different companies. Massive winnings, dozens of titles from different poker tournaments, and an enormous fanbase; these are some of the reasons we consider him one of the best poker players today.
Bryn Kenney – Mega Crusher
Bryn Kenney had a story that resembles another player on this list—Justin Bonomo. At only 33 years old, he has already amassed a total of $56 million in poker winnings. There are two things that he had in common with Bonomo; they both grew up playing Magic: The Gathering card game, and both of them topped the list of the most poker winnings.
His first live cash poker game was at East Coast Poker Championships in 2007. In 2010, he had his first 6-figure poker winnings from WSOP Main Event, where he finished 28th for $255,242. From there, his career took off, winning several high stakes tournaments, including EPT, WPT high rollers, Masters Classics of Poker, etc. In only a few years, he was able to top the other notable poker pros in cash-winnings.
Kenney had his first, and only, WSOP bracelet in 2014. He had seven final table appearances, and 32 money finishes. The first time he received a 7-figure income was in 2016 when he won the PCA’s $100,000 Super High Roller for $1.7 million. That same year, he scored $1.4 million from the Triton Super High Roller. The following year, he had two massive wins from PVA high rollers for $1.4 million and $100,000 High Roller in Monaco for $1.9 million.
In two years, he’s made more winnings than most professional poker players. Kenney belongs to the new breed of poker players focused on participating in the biggest events around the world instead of playing at the prestigious WSOP tournaments. He’s keen on proving that he’s got the skills to back his massive paydays from high roller tournaments.
Johnny Chan – Orient Express
Johnny Chan is the first foreign national to win the World Series of Poker in 1987 and again in 1988, making him one of the only four poker players to win two consecutive WSOP Main Events. He’s on par with Doyle Brunson and Phil Ivey for having the second most number of WSOP bracelets at 10, and one of the only four players with ten or more bracelets.
In 1989, he almost became the only poker player in the world to have won three consecutive WSOP Main Events. He was even so close to being the first, and possibly the only, poker player to get an NBA Championship ring, when Jerry Buss, the owner Los Angeles Lakers, promised him one if he wins three consecutive titles. Phil Hellmuth took it away from him, and only finished second place.
Chan had an estimated income of $4,635,014 from tournaments, excluding all of his cash game earnings. He joined the WSOP Hall of Fame in 2002, and he proved that he’s worthy of the title in 2005, during the $400,000 Poker Superstars Invitational Tournament. He went down from a stack of $3,200,000 chips to only $20,000 but managed a comeback in the game and finished second place.
He became a professional poker player at the age of 21, right after he decided to drop out of the University of Houston. He quickly became one of the best poker players ever and has paved the way for foreign poker players to get into the prestigious poker tournaments.
Justin Bonomo – ZeeJustin
Justin Bonomo is a poker sensation that has earned the second most winnings than any poker player in the world at only 34 years old. He’s a dominating force for anyone who’s faced him at the felt, and it’s evident with his total winnings to-date that reached $45 million! Most of his winnings didn’t come from prestigious tournaments, though.
He’s a regular high roller at the highest stakes table, going against some of the world’s best poker players. That’s one of the reasons why he still hasn’t reached the WSOP Hall of Fame.
He’s a candidate, though, with 1 circuit ring, 3 WSOP bracelets, 19 final table appearances, and 55 money finishes. Still early in his career, Bonomo already won 18 major tournaments since 2016, including the $300,000 Super High Roller Bowl for $5 million and the $1 million Big One for One Drop at WSOP for $10 million.
Bonomo is quickly climbing the ranks of the best poker players ever. He’s still in the early stages of his career but has already solidified his position as one of the players with the most winnings.
Erik Seidel – Sly
Erik Seidel had one of the most exciting career runs that go back years before poker even hit the mainstream. He grew up playing backgammon and worked as a stock trader, so he’s got the analytical wits hardwired. All these skills paid off when he collected eight WSOP bracelets and went head to head with Johnny Chan at the 1988 WSOP Main Event.
Throughout his career, Seidel has amassed an estimated $35.7 million in live poker tournament winnings, and $5,388,532 of it came from WSOP. All of his WSOP bracelets came in between 1992 and 2007. He has a total of 35 WSOP final table appearances, and 92 money finishes.
One of his biggest wins was from his first WPT title, the Foxwoods Poker Classic, for $992,890. He came close to winning his second WPT title in 2011, but only ended up second with $155,103.
In between these achievements, he had been coaching Maria Konnikova, a Russian-American writer and psychologist. She started the game without any knowledge about poker. Through Sly’s mentorship, she became a dominant force and won the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure No-Limit Hold ’em Championship. Seidel shot back up into the mainstream when Konnikova released her best-selling book, The Biggest Bluff, where she featured her coach.
Criteria for Our List of Best Poker Players
We know that this list won’t be taken lightly by other poker enthusiasts. That’s okay; everyone has their own opinion on who the best poker players are, but let us give you a brief explanation of the criteria that we used to rank these players. We didn’t pull these names out of thin air, and it’s, perhaps, the most comprehensive list that you’ll find.
Here are the criteria that we’ve used to have these players on the list of the best poker players ever:
- Tournament achievements are the biggest factor that we used to rank these players. We used each player’s accomplishments in some of the most prestigious tournaments. It’s where the best players in the world meet, and winning it isn’t easy, so we gave it the highest merit when ranking them.
- Votes from their peers is an unusual metric to use when ranking a player. However, when there’s an overwhelming number of votes coming from your opponents, it’s one of the tell-tale signs that you’re a worthy adversary in their bid for a win at the felt. Johnny Moss was the only player where this metric is applicable, which gave him our highest rank.
- Accumulated earnings have the least impact on this list because of the massive difference in media participation from the days of Johnny Moss to what we have today. However, when there’s an overwhelming difference with accumulated earnings, specifically for the case of Bryn Kenney and Justin Bonomo, then it’s a metric that we can’t take for granted.
There’s no denying that ranking by earnings is one of the easiest ways to rank the best poker players. We don’t want to cut you short on your expectations, so we’ve included a shortlist of the ten poker players with the highest accumulated earnings.
10 Best Poker Players Ranked by Earnings
Poker is all about the skills and stacks, so after covering the skills, we’ll provide you with the list of the players with the biggest accumulated stacks throughout their careers. Here are the ten poker players with the highest estimated tournament earnings:
- Bryn Kenney is on top of this list for amassing a total of $56 million. At only 33 years old, and with a career that started only in 2007, his earnings are already enough to put him on the list of the best poker players. He shot up on the top after finishing 2nd in the Triton Million, which netted him $20.5 million.
- Justin Bonomo shot to the top of the accumulated earnings after winning the 2018 WSOP $1 million Big One for One Drop for $10 million, bringing his winnings to a total of $45 million.
- Daniel Negreanu’s $41.8 million is partly because of his 38 WSOP final table appearances and 108 money finishes. His ongoing participation in various poker tournaments might propel him even higher on this list in the future.
- Dan Smith took home a total of $36.7 million from all of his tournament participation. The biggest win he had so far was when he finished 3rd place at Triton Million for $8,765,628.
- Erik Seidel may be the oldest poker player on this list, but he managed to get a respectable spot with total earnings that reached $35.7 million. His largest payout was in 2011 when he won the AMPC $250,000 Super High Roller NLHE event for $2.5 million.
- David Peters has a steady climb towards the top of the all-time money list and currently sits with $33.1 million. In 2019, he added two 7-figure winnings in his list, and could soon be on a higher spot.
- Fedor Holz is the youngest on this list at only 25 years old, but he already has a total of $32.6 million. He made most of that money during the 2016 and 2017 seasons, where he won a total of $21 million!
- Stephen Chidwick doesn’t only have a total of $32.3 million in winnings, he also has the vote for being one of the best poker players in the world, even by his opponents. Aside from his tournament winnings, he has more than $5 million in his online poker accounts.
- Jason Koon is a regular in the Triton tournaments. The Triton Poker ambassador ended 2019 with a massive win of $6 million, bringing his total earnings to $30 million.
- Daniel Colman was the winner of the second-largest payout in history—$15.3 million, which accounts for more than half of his total tournament earnings of $29 million. If that’s not enough, he got that win after beating Daniel Negreanu in the 2014 $1 million Big One for One Drop.
Professional poker gets more competitive year after year with the new breed of players turning professionals. However, others have already solidified themselves as one of the greatest poker players of all time. Here’s our list of who we think should be in the list of the best players of all time:
- Johnny Moss (The Grand Old Man of Poker)
- Phil Hellmuth (The Poker Brat)
- Doyle Brunson (Texas Dolly)
- Stu Ungar (The Comeback Kid)
- Phil Ivey (The Tiger Woods of Poker)
- Daniel Negreanu (Kid Poker)
- Justin Bonomo (ZeeJustin)
- Johnny Chan (Orient Express)
- Bryn Kenney (Mega Crusher)
- Erik Seidel (Sly)