One of the most legendary poker players of all time, Doyle Brunson tops almost everyone's list of the most influential men ever to play the game--and this list is no exception. The first person ever to win back-to-back WSOP main events, Brunson played from the earlier days of the professional game all the way through the online boom of the early 2000s, remaining incredibly competitive until retiring in 2018.
Throughout, Brunson was more than just a player: he was a successful poker business man, writing not one but two definitive tomes on poker, Super/System and Super/System 2. He founded an online cardroom and continued to cash in huge tournaments all the way through the very end of his career.
Brunson's early poker playing is his most legendary, with one hand in particular closely even being named "The Doyle Brunson" in his honor: 10-2, off-suit. Why is such a seemingly inauspicious hand named after such a legendary player? Because Brunson used that hand to win his back-to-back Main Event titles in 1976 and 1977. But even this is not enough: Bruson has a second hand named after him, Ace-Queen, because Brunson never plays it--he's such a legend of the game that people even recognize the hands he doesn't like!
Brunson inspired not just one, but multiple generations of poker players, and remains the top player of all time, even after retiring.
Daniel Negreanu's winnings speak for themselves: over $40 million to his name, marking him as the current 3rd-winningest player of all time, having risen to the top of the rankings previously. And Negreanu has been doing this over the course of decades, not just burning bright and fading. In 2004, WSOP named him their player of the year--and then they did so again in 2013, marking him the only player in history to have earned the title more than once. He did so by winning multiple tournaments across multiple circuits across multiple games: Texas Hold'Em of course, both limit and no-limit, as well as 2-7 Lowball and a variety of mixed games. As he rose in prominence, so too did the stakes of his play--Negreanu frequently plays cash games where the buy-in exceeds six figures, including the televised poker cash game, High Stakes Poker.
As a businessman, Negreanu has parlayed his likeable personality into sponsorships and poker educational ventures, rising as an amiable fan favorite who nevertheless knows how to take down massive tournaments with precision and skill--and even appearing as an actor, including in X-Men films and Katy Perry music videos. Negreanu is more than just a poker player: he's a true celebrity.
Stu Ungar was one of the best to every play the game--in fact, had his life not been tragically cut short at the age of 42, he might be above and beyond any other without question. He began by playing gin rummy but at 26 years old he entered his first WSOP tournament in 1980--he entered the WSOP Main Event and promptly took it down, besting Doyle Brunson in head-to-head play. He reentered in 1981 and won it once again, only the second player ever to do so back-to-back. His youth and appearance earned him the nickname "The Kid."
Ungar won five WSOP bracelets total, winning over $3 million in poker tournaments. And he also excelled at a variety of other gambling ventures including blackjack, where he was a known card counter who was banned from tournaments where his photographic memory gave him an edge.
Drugs haunted Ungar throughout his life, including a 1990 WSOP appearance where cocaine hampered his performance--if winning just third is considered "hampered." In 1997, Ungar was down and out and unable to enter WSOP on his own, so his friend staked him. Ungar went on to win, making him only the third person in history to win three Main Event titles.
Unfortunately, despite his comeback, Ungar never shook his drug abuse and died in November 1998, cutting his life tragically short. One can only imagine what he could have done if he had not met such an early end.
Poker players are often described as aggressive based of their play--but Phil Hellmuth, the famous "poker brat," takes it to another level by being known for his badmouthing of other players and frequent reactions to bad beat or other players' bad calls. From many other players, this might be all talk: but Hellmuth has won 15 WSOP bracelets, the most of any player ever, so he has the skills to back up his talk.
In 1989, Hellmuth was just 24 when he won the WSOP Main Event, marking him as the youngest player ever to win the biggest tournament in poker. And Hellmuth continued to post big wins, distinguishing himself as one of the very best no-limit Texas Hold'Em players of all time by winning 14 more bracelets. Beyond WSOP, Hellmuth has appeared at multiple WPT final tables, frequent appearances in high-stakes cash games, and especially TV appearances where his big blow-ups draw audiences. An Hellmuth has parlayed that fame into a lifestyle brand, selling Poker Brat gear.
But, even the biggest brats have a soft side: Hellmuth has raised over $54 million for charity, including Heifer International. The youngest player ever to win the Main Event has shown himself to have a grown-up side as well.
Phil Ivey's skills in poker mark him as one of the best ever to play not just Texas Hold'Em, but almost every version of the game--not bad for someone who got his start by defeating the legendary Amarillo Slim to win his first bracelet.
After that win in 2000, Ivery went on to win three bracelets in the year 2002 alone, marking him as one of the only players ever to win that many tournaments in a single year. And Ivey did so across a remarkable number of games: S.H.O.E., 7-Card Stud Hi/Lo, and Pot-Limit Omaha. His versatility is what makes Ivey such a threat: he's not limited to one game, and can instead adapt to a variety of games. It's no wonder he made into the Poker Hall of Fame at just 40 years old.
Ivey's other ventures include charity, poker tutorials, and--of course--crytpocurrency. So it's not just poker where Ivey is a jack of all trades.
Ivey's propensity to play in a variety of games is not without scandal: in 2012, he was accused of cheating at baccarat through a technique known as edge sorting. Is Ivey a cheater, or is he just an advantage player looking to work every angle? His ability to straddle that line is just another reason he's one of the greatest of all time.