The Top Six US Poker Pros
Poker is part of the American psyche, so it’s no surprise that some of the all-time best poker players have hailed from the United States.
In fact, six out of the top 10 all-time money-earners are American, and the USA consistently tops the bracelet winners’ table at the annual World Series of Poker (WSOP) in Las Vegas.
While some of the young US Internet bucks may have come up on the rails in recent years (that was, until Black Friday, when many American online pros were forced to emigrate to find better games) some of the all-time best USA pros are stalwarts of the brick-and-mortar cardrooms and casinos.
In no particular order, then, let’s take a look at who deserves to be in LegalPoker.com’s Hall of Fame 2018:
1- Phil Ivey
Phil Ivey on Twitter
He’s featured in countless TV poker shows like High Stakes Poker, been the face of Full Tilt Poker (before suing them when things got rough after Black Friday), and even been involved in a court case for allegedly cheating in a casino, but enough of the negatives: Phil Ivey is arguably the best American poker pro living today.
Nicknamed, "The Tiger Woods of Poker," Ivey is the youngest-ever player to win seven WSOP bracelets, but he’s surpassed that total, and in 2018 can count nine in his vaults. As accomplished at mixed games as he is the high-stakes cash games he regularly crushes, the most recent of those nine bracelets came at 2013’s WSOP APAC in Australia, where he took down a $2,200 Mixed Event.
In fact, of the top bracelet winners, Ivey surely has the widest spread of any player - his recent titles include H.O.R.S.E., 2-7 Draw, and No Limit Hold’em. With age on his side, and an ability to crush anyone on a given day, we could well see Phil Ivey take both the top spot in money-earning from Antonio Esfandiari (he currently sits 2nd with $21.2 million) plus the all-time WSOP bracelet table (as of March 2018, he sits fourth, four bracelets behind Phil Hellmuth, Jr.).
2 - Phil Hellmuth, Jr.
Phil Hellmuth on Twitter
"The Poker Brat" needs no introduction, and Madison, Wisconsin's most famous son would probably do the introductions himself anyway.
As famous for his prowess at the No Limit Hold’em tournament tables as much as his legendary blow-ups, Hellmuth continues to be as entertaining to watch at the tables as he does on one of the many TV cash game shows.
Sitting sixth in the all-time money-earners’ list, Hellmuth has almost $18 million in tournament winnings to his name, and sits atop the WSOP bracelets winners’ list too - with 13. The first of those gold bracelets came in 1989, when Hellmuth took down the WSOP Main Event at a then-record age of just 24, but the American pro has proved his longevity by consistently cashing and taking down titles ever since.
If anyone doubted that Hellmuth could compete with the new, aggressive breed of poker player coming through, he well and truly silenced them by bagging the WSOPE Main Event in France in 2012 - who said the old school was dead?
3 - Antonio Esfandiari
Antonio Esfandiari on Twitter
"The Magician" was born in Iran, but moved to the US as a boy, where he spent a childhood thrilling friends with his card tricks. Soon, however, he was thrilling his fellow poker players in California with his skills at the poker table.
One of the “Second Generation” of poker pros who - along with pals like Phil Laak - really benefited from the TV poker boom of the early 2000s, Esfandiari put himself firmly on the map with WPT titles (his first came in 2004 at the LA Poker Classic) and WSOP bracelet wins (a virgin bracelet came the following summer).
Not to be outdone by a new breed of fearless young Internet pros beginning to strut their stuff at the felt in games across the US, Esfandiari followed up his WPT win with another title in 2010, then the win that would catapult him to the top of the all-time money list: first place in the inaugural $111,111-buy-in Big One for One Drop event at the 2012 World Series. For that little win, he won a first prize worth - wait for it - $18.3 million, and incredibly Esfandiari followed it up by hitting the final table of the Big One again in 2013.
With Esfandiari now boasting over $26 million in career earnings, and with major cashes coming to him as easily as they have ever done, it’s hard to see anyone surpassing his haul anytime soon.
4 - Doyle Brunson
Doyle Brunson on Twitter
Although his trademark Stetson hat may not be seen at tournament tables as much as it used to (although he’s still a regular at the big-stakes cash games in Las Vegas), Doyle Brunson deserves special mention here for his place in the history of poker in the United States.
One of the original “road gamblers” who plied his trade through Texas and Nevada, Doyle was instrumental in bringing the World Series of Poker to Las Vegas.
Doyle won the Main Event twice himself - in 1976 and 1977, both with 10-2 - and has even found time to win a WPT title in a career that has spanned decades. Doyle wrote one of the earliest books about poker - Super/System - and his standing in the poker community allowed him to set up a (now defunct) online poker room, Doyle’s Room.
5 - Erik Seidel
Erik Seidel on Twitter
How many members of the “old school” still boast million-dollar cashes in 2018? Probably only one: Mr. Erik Seidel.
A high-school dropout who spent much of his early career playing backgammon in New York City, Seidel was soon discovering better money at the cash games around his home city.
However, it was his runner-up finish to Johnny Chan in the 1988 World Series of Poker Main Event that would announce him to a world stage. (The moment was famously celebrated in the film, Rounders).
Despite the disappointment of losing out to Chan, Erik Seidel went on to win eight WSOP bracelets (putting him sixth in the all-time rankings) and a single WPT title to help him build a career haul of $20 million in tournament winnings.
Seidel was one of the most high-profile members of Team FullTilt, yet unlike some of his fellow Tilt pros who suffered after the site’s collapse, Seidel has survived - and thrived.
And if you thought the young breed of aggressive Internet kids would have put an end to Seidel’s career, think again: the New Yorker has recorded three of his best-ever years in recent times, partly due to his prowess at the High Rollers tournaments at the Aussie Millions in Melbourne.
And the Future Star...
6 - Doug Polk
Doug Polk on Twitter
Doug who? we hear you cry. Well, unlike some of his online contemporaries like Tom Dwan, Polk is just as capable of tearing up the felt live as he is online. And why not include one of the leading lights of the new generation to mix things up a bit in our list?
Playing online as "WCGRider" (the WCG stands for “World Cyber Games”), Polk started out at the micro-stakes cash games online, but now likes to challenge the likes of Phil Ivey and Viktor “Isildur1” Blom at No Limit Hold’em stakes as high as $400/800.
Boasting online winnings in the millions, Polk is one of the steadiest Internet pros around right now, but it’s not just on the web where he is killing the opposition; the American pro has chalked up almost $1 million in live winnings in 2018 already.