Darren Elias capped off yet another impressive run in a WPT event at the L.A. Poker Classic on Monday with a third place finish. Few will argue he isn’t the G.O.A.T. of the World Poker Tour as the stats don’t lie. But who are the other beasts of the various mainstream poker tours?
Elias holds the record with four WPT titles, 33 career cashes, and is among the all-time highest winners on tour at $3.7 million. He’s the only player among the top 15 money earners who has won most of that cash in the post-Black Friday era when buy-ins and prize pools are typically lower than earlier WPT Main Tour tournaments.
Carlos Mortensen, the 2001 WSOP Main Event champ, is the top pre-Black Friday performer on the World Poker Tour. He’s a three-time champion and his $6,738,000 in earnings is exceeded by no one.
The WPT is one of the most prominent tours in poker. But there are many other mainstream series that deserve attention. And for those tours, we have compiled a list of the greatest players in history.
Partially Subjective Criteria
Bill Russell won 11 NBA titles. Michael Jordan won six and LeBron James, thus far, has three. But few basketball fans, at least nowadays, consider Russell, the Boston Celtics legend, the best of all-time. Instead, most argue Jordan, LeBron, or perhaps Kobe Bryant are the greatest NBA players in history.
What that tells us is winning the most championships isn’t the only measure for assessing a player’s greatness, although it certainly does help. So, we are using the same type of criteria in selecting the top poker player on each tour.
It’s impossible to determine the best players without being somewhat subjective. We can use all the data we want but there’s some subjectivity to which data sets are given preference and which are considered less important. With that said, we hold no bias in favor of or against any players on any tour. We didn’t pre-select winners before pulling the data. Our selections are entirely data-based.
Criteria Used to Determine Winners
- Titles (highest preference)*
- Cashes (third highest preference)
- Earnings (second highest preference)
- Final Table Appearances (fourth highest preference)
*For tours such as MSPT and HPT, we gave this category a lower preference.
Major Versus Mid-Major
Much like when it comes to the different conferences in college sports, not every poker tour is of equal caliber, not just in average player skills but also in terms of pageantry. Some tours don’t generate as much attention internationally as others do.
So, we separated the various tours into major and mid-major, and then split the tours within each category based on their significance to poker globally.
Top Major Poker Tours
The cream of the crop in tournament poker is the WPT and WSOP. They are the longest-running major tours in the game. Players from all over the world compete in these events each year.
You already know our choice for best World Poker Tour player ever – Darren Elias. And you can probably guess who we selected to represent the World Series of Poker. That’s right, the “Poker Brat” himself, Phil Hellmuth.
When it comes to the WSOP, the ultimate goal – other than winning a ton of money – is to collect gold bracelets. No one has done that better over the years than Hellmuth. He owns a record 15 bracelets and won the 1989 Main Event, the most prestigious and important annual poker tournament in the world.
Hellmuth’s dominance at the WSOP has spanned four decades. He won his 15th title last summer in $5,000 No-Limit Hold’em (30-Minute Levels) for $485,082.
The “Poker Brat” also holds the record for most cashes (123) and has $14.5 million in lifetime earnings. He’s so far ahead of the competition that if the 52-year-old never wins another bracelet, he’ll likely still hold the record when he dies. No other player has more than 10 WSOP titles. He is the Darren Elias of the World Series of Poker.
WPT: Carlos Mortensen (three titles, 21 cashes, six final tables, $6.738 million earnings)
WSOP: Phil Ivey (10 bracelets, 60 cashes, $6.7 million earnings)
Tier Two Major Poker Tour
Although there isn’t an official name for it, Las Vegas has played host to a major high roller circuit the past few years. Most events – some of the priciest tournaments in the world – take place at Aria Resort and Casino and live-streamed on PokerGo.
Las Vegas High Roller Circuit Events
- Super High Roller Bowl ($300,000 buy-in)
- US Poker Open (series on PokerGo)
- Poker Masters (series on PokerGo)
- Aria High Rollers (non-televised series)
We narrowed down our list to three players – Stephen Chidwick, David Peters, and Justin Bonomo, and ultimately decided on Peters as his stats are slightly superior.
He finished fifth in the inaugural Super High Roller Bowl in 2015 ($1.5 million), won the 2019 US Poker Open including shipping the $100,000 Main Event, has two Poker Masters event titles, and 20 Aria High Roller Series cashes.
Chidwick is a close second and it was difficult to differentiate between the two. Stephen is the 2018 US Poker Open champion and finished that performance up with a third place finish in 2019. In 18 USPO events, he has four titles and nine cashes, both records. He also scored a third place cash in the $300,000 Super High Roller Bowl V in December ($1.5 million) and has 15 cashes in Aria High Roller Series events since 2016.
Why did we give Peters the edge? Chidwick doesn’t have any Poker Masters cashes. Otherwise, it’s a dead-even race.
Bonomo also deserves recognition. He’s the all-time winningest tournament player. But we’re specifically ranking players based on results in Las Vegas high roller events. “ZeeJustin” shipped the 2018 Super High Roller Bowl for $5 million but has just two Poker Masters cashes and one USPO cash. Impressive, but not great enough to top this category.
Top Mid-Major Poker Tour
The WSOP has a secondary Circuit series with cheaper buy-ins and, with that, less glitz and glamour. But it’s still quite an accomplishment to perform well in these events.
Valentin Vornicu holds the record for most Circuit rings (12) and has 81 cashes. But we gave a slight edge to Maurice Hawkins because his earnings in Circuit events are far greater.
Tale of the Tape
- 12 Circuit rings
- 81 Cashes
- $673,564 Earnings
- 11 Circuit Rings
- 79 Cashes
- $1,503,761 Earnings
WSOP Circuit tournaments are hosted throughout the year at Caesars Entertainment properties all across the country. These events are popular among mid-stakes pros and recreational players who can’t afford to grind a full summer WSOP schedule.
Tier Two Mid-Major Tours
If you just love the game of poker and aren’t concerned with international accolades, the Heartland Poker Tour (HPT) and Mid-States Poker Tour (MSPT) are right up your alley. Each stop at various casinos around the US have a Main Event buy-in that typically ranges from $1,100 to $1,650. So, they are ideal for mid-stakes and recreational players.
Starting with the MSPT, we had to be a bit extra subjective here. There are three pros – Pavel Plasuv, Richard Alsup, and Kou Vang – who are in the conversation.
Plasuv, although his $681,212 in earnings is most all-time, was first eliminated from contention. Those earnings are inflated by a $640,062 cash in an unusually high $3,500 buy-in event in June 2018 at the Venetian in Las Vegas. He has just two additional MSPT cashes.
Alsup is second in earnings ($667,614) and Vang eighth ($400,111). Both players have one Main Event title. But Vang has the edge in cashes (30 to 24), while Alsup leads in final table appearances (11 to 10). So, who wins? Alsup, due to higher earnings and that one extra final table appearance gets him over the hump.
Greg Raymer, the 2004 world champion, and Cord Garcia, the 2015 WSOP Colossus bracelet winner, are among the best players in HPT history. But we give the nod to Craig Casino, and not just because he arguably has the greatest name in poker.
Casino is the all-time HPT money leader ($801,413) and finished runner-up (2015) and seventh (2016) in the Player of the Year standings.
Other Notable Tour Dominators
It would be irresponsible of us to make it seem like the only poker tours that matter are the ones already listed. That’s far from the case. There are many epic annual events around the world, more than we could possibly include in one article, that were difficult to group into the major or mid-major categories. So, for some of those, we present to you an honorable mention section.
Top Performers in Other Popular Tours
Aussie Millions: Phil Ivey. Three-time Super High Roller champion (2012, 2014, and 2015).
European Poker Tour: Jason Mercier. Tied for most titles (2), second in final tables (6), 10th in cashes (18), and 16th in earnings ($2,263,183)
PokerStars Caribbean Adventure: Bertrand “ElkY” Grospellier. Won 2008 Main Event ($2 million) and 2009 high roller ($433,500).
WPTDeepStacks: Jeff Fielder. Two titles and fourth all-time in earnings ($252,689)