Who are the greatest live poker tournament pros in history? We put together a comprehensive scoring system that ranks players based on metrics such as longevity, major wins, and overall earnings. From there, we compiled a list of the 10 best ever.
There have been many extremely talented tourney grinders over the years. From Doyle Brunson and Johnny Chan in the 1970s and 1980s to Phil Hellmuth and T.J. Cloutier in the 1990s, Phil Ivey and Daniel Negreanu in the 2000s, and now all the GTO-obsessed high rollers of today — Stephen Chidwick, David Peters, and Isaac Haxton, just to name a few.
So, how could we possibly narrow it down to the 10 best? By using the tried and true method of throwing darts at random names. Just kidding. We took biases and subjective rankings out of it and, instead, used a points system to rank the players.
Objectively Ranking the Pros
Each player was graded based on their Hendon Mob all-time overall earnings ranking (3-12 points possible), Hendon Mob all-time earnings for events with buy-ins under $50,000 (3-12 points), WSOP bracelets (4 points each), WSOP cashes (0.25 points each), WPT titles (3 points each), WPT final tables (2 points each). And then we gave bonuses for longevity (minimum 10 years winning at a high level, 5 points), and winning the WSOP Main Event (8 points) or Poker Players Championship (3 points each).
Our thought process was to reward players for winning the most important events, but also for crushing it for a long period of time, winning a ton of money, and winning consistently and not just piling up Hendon Mob earnings in high-rollers. The stats we accumulated were based on results prior to the 2020 WSOP Online Bracelet Series.
10 Tournament Players Who Just Missed the Cut
(points in parentheses)
- #11: David Peters (45.75)
- #12: Stephen Chidwick (45.5)
- #13: Brian Rast (37.75)
- #14: Bryn Kenney (36.0)
- #15: Dan Smith (33.0)
- #16: Steve O’Dwyer (32.75)
- #17: Jason Koon (30.5)
- #18: Isaac Haxton (27.0)
- #19: Fedor Holz (24.0)
- #20: Dan Colman (21.5)
While the scoring model is subjective — it would be impossible for it not to be — the players were ranked objectively. We input the numbers into a spreadsheet and determined our list based on the highest scores. And those poker tournament superstars are:
10. Justin Bonomo (58.0 Points)
Justin Bonomo has more than $49 million in live poker tournament cashes, the second-most ever behind Bryn Kenney ($56.4 million). His absolutely ridiculous run in 2018, which included a Super High Roller Bowl title, two WSOP bracelets, and $25.4 million in cashes, may never be topped.
“ZeeJustin” has earned three WSOP titles, reached three WPT final tables, and proven to be a consistent winner rather than a one-trick pony. Despite his massive cashes in high-rollers, most notably $10 million for winning the 2018 WSOP $1 million buy-in Big One for One Drop, he ranks fourth all-time with $18.2 million in cashes in tournaments with buy-ins less than $50,000.
9. Johnny Chan (65.75 Points)
Some younger players might see Johnny Chan on this list and laugh. After all, he hasn’t won on the live poker tournament scene in years. But this isn’t a list of players who are hot right now. It’s a collection of the all-time greats, and it’s difficult to put together such a list without including a two-time world champion who dominated the game in the 1980s.
Chan won back-to-back Main Events in 1987 and 1988, and finished runner-up to Phil Hellmuth in 1989. He’s tied with Phil Ivey and Doyle Brunson for second all-time with 10 WSOP bracelets. And he’s a member of the Poker Hall of Fame — inducted in 2002.
8. Doyle Brunson (71.25 Points)
Doyle Brunson is arguably the most legendary poker player in history. He didn’t officially retire from the live poker tournament scene until 2018. But he’s been absent from the circuit for much of this century due to his age. “Texas Dolly” is an old-school great who, like Chan, went back-to-back in the Main Event (1976, 1977).
Also, like Chan, he is tied for second all-time with ownership of 10 gold bracelets. In addition to his World Series of Poker success, Brunson won the 2004 WPT Legends of Poker, marking the first of his three WPT final table appearances. In 1988, he was a slam-dunk induction into the Poker Hall of Fame.
7. John Juanda (72.0 Points)
John Juanda has done it all (almost) as a live poker tournament player. He’s a Poker Hall of Famer (2015) and a five-time WSOP bracelet winner. He’s reached seven WPT final tables, recorded 66 WSOP cashes, and earned more than $25 million in live tournaments, putting him at 18th all-time.
The former Full Tilt Poker pro is often overlooked, however. But the numbers posted by the Indonesian poker legend prove he’s one of the all-time bests. In nine years since 2004, Juanda cashed for more than $1 million. He ranks 10th in earnings in under-$50,000 buy-in events with $15.8 million. He’s been a successful poker player since the late-1990s.
6. Chris Ferguson (76.75 Points)
There were no point deductions for being despised by many in the poker community. Love him or hate him, Chris Ferguson is one heck of a poker player, and has been for more than 20 years. The 2000 WSOP Main Event champion has six gold bracelets, 140 WSOP cashes, two WPT final tables, and nearly $10 million in lifetime earnings despite only having competed in WSOP events since 2011.
Following Black Friday in April 2011, and due to his affiliation with Full Tilt Poker, Ferguson avoided the poker scene until returning to the WSOP in 2016. The following year, he won his sixth bracelet and, to the dismay of many in the poker community, earned the World Series of Poker Player of the Year award. He still hasn’t provided details on his involvement in the FTP Black Friday scheme, nor has he given a formal apology for his alleged role. But, man, can he play cards.
5. Michael Mizrachi (85.25 Points)
Michael Mizrachi might be a controversial inclusion on this list, but he shouldn’t be. He may not crush the high rollers regularly like Stephen Chidwick and Justin Bonomo. But his career has been filled with major wins and big scores.
“The Grinder” is the only player to have won the prestigious $50,000 WSOP Poker Players Championship multiple times. He’s won that difficult event an improbable three times, giving him nine bonus points. Mizrachi has five WSOP titles overall, along with two WPT championships and seven World Poker Tour final table appearances. In total, he’s cashed for more than $17 million, and he’ll be a lock for the Poker Hall of Fame when he’s eligible next year at age 40.
4. Phil Ivey (100.75 Points)
It’s difficult to find a better overall poker player than Phil Ivey. He’s won in live tournaments, is the winningest online player ever, and he crushes the nosebleed cash games. As a live poker tournament pro, he’s one of just four players with 10 WSOP bracelets, and he dominated the game for nearly a decade earlier this century.
Short of winning the Main Event, Ivey has accomplished darn near everything in this game. He’s reached 10 WPT final tables and shipped the WPT LA Poker Classic for $1.6 million in 2008. The popular, mild-mannered pro joined the Poker Hall of Fame in 2017, and was one of the least controversial selections ever.
3. Erik Seidel (106.5 Points)
Erik Seidel just keeps on winning. He’s done that for 30 years at a high level, and his steadiness has earned the New York native more than $37 million in cashes, good for fourth all-time. The long-time high-stakes pro is considered one of the classiest players in the game. He rarely engages in heated arguments on the felt and keeps his emotions in check as well as anyone.
Statistically speaking, Seidel has eight WSOP bracelets, a WPT title, and eight WPT final table appearances. He’s also cashed in 114 World Series of Poker bracelet events. He famously finished runner-up to Johnny Chan in the Main Event in 1988, which you may have learned from the popular poker flick, Rounders. Seidel is a 2010 Hall of Fame inductee and, arguably, the most consistent tournament pro over the past 25 years.
2. Daniel Negreanu (111.75 Points)
Daniel Negreanu’s poker resume is one of the most impressive in history. Aside from being one of poker’s top ambassadors over the past 20 years, he’s crushed the tournament circuit for longer than many of today’s highest rollers have been alive. “Kid Poker” is arguably the most familiar name and face in the game, and he’ll long be remembered as one of the greatest to have ever lived.
Negreanu has collected six World Series of Poker bracelets, won the WSOP Player of the Year twice (2004, 2013), racked up 131 cashes in bracelet events, shipped a pair of World Poker Tour events, and reached nine WPT final tables. The 2014 Hall of Fame inductee ranks third all-time with $42 million in cashes, and we could continue on for days writing about his accolades.
1. Phil Hellmuth (135.75 Points)
Phil Hellmuth is arguably the most polarizing figure in poker history. Many new-school pros don’t respect his game because he doesn’t believe in GTO principles. But the numbers don’t lie, and they tell a different story about the “Poker Brat’s” talents.
Hellmuth holds nearly every meaningful WSOP record. He’s the only player with more than 10 bracelets — he has 15. And his 151 cashes in bracelet events are more than anyone else has achieved. The 1989 world champion hasn’t won a WPT title, perhaps the only thing missing from his resume, but he has reached five World Poker Tour final tables. The younger generation might have stronger poker fundamentals than Hellmuth, but his accomplishments over 30 years are tough to beat.