For those poker enthusiasts out there, many of the names on this list will be well known. Whether they draw your ire or you admire their money, (almost) all the guys on this list are there for good reason, and through the combination of skill and some well-timed luck have landed in the upper echelon on tournament winnings.
It’s worth noting, before we go gallivanting off down six-figure lane, that the financial situation of these players can fluctuate wildly. It’s no secret in poker circles that many pros ‘sell off’ their action, basically letting investors buy part of their buy-in in exchange for a piece of potential winnings. Generally this is dependent on the player’s financial situation, since no good pro worth his salt would sink $1 million into the new ‘Big One for One Drop’ event if it was a large portion of his bankroll.
These deals usually favor the pros, since they tend to get more money in their investment than they will pay out for wins. A proven winner professional might sell off 50% of his buy-in but only have to pay out 45% of that, essentially a win-win so that the pro gets some value from his buy-in and the investor is happy to bet on a horse (gambler lingo for a poker player in a tournament) that they believe will win more often than not.
It’s hard to know the hard numbers of what the players actually took home after these staking arrangements and taxes, but usually there’s some information to be gleaned from the rumor mill and secondhand accounts of pros’ selling-off action. Regardless, these are the top tournament winners of open and invitational events, local recurring tournaments excluded.
10. Jonathan Duhamel – Career Winnings: $12,137,991
As you will find, many of the guys on this list will be WSOP Main Event winners. That’s no surprise, given the size of the payout in the past two decades. Jonathan Duhamel is one of two Canadians on this list, buoyed largely to #10 by his 2010 WSOP ME win of $8,944,310. It seems likely that he sold off action given his very small amount of tournament cashes before this gargantuan win. He definitely sold off a tiny 1% of the action to his friend Pascal Turcott who started playing poker with him originally. However, he has said that he had set aside a ‘sizable chunk’ of money for the WSOP ME buy-in, and he’s sure glad he bet on himself, no doubt. He was also involved in one of the strangest scandals among Main Event winners, when his ex-girlfriend Bianca Rojas-Latraverse and a few men broke into Jonathan’s home and mugged him, stealing a Rolex Submariner watch, his one-of-a-kind WSOP Main Event bracelet, and an indeterminate amount of cash. In a stroke of stupidity, she reportedly texted him telling him she was going to rob him before it occurred. She later plead guilty to a number of charges including armed robbery and assault.
9. Jamie Gold – Career Winnings: $12,245,468
Another Main Event winner, probably the most infamous of them for all the wrong reasons, Jamie Gold won the 2006 World Series Of Poker Main Event despite some extremely questionable (let’s face it, just plain bad) play. To his credit, his gamesmanship with his table chatter was actually somewhat effective in getting opponents off their game, but he is regarded as one of the worst poker players skill-wise ever to win. 98% of his career winnings comes from this one cash, the biggest recorded WSOP main event in history, a first place of $12 million. He too is embroiled in scandal of the more underhanded variety. He was sued by Crispin Leyser, a poker coach that agreed to coach him before the tournament in exchange for half of Jamie’s winnings. Jamie later reneged on the deal claiming they had never made any arrangement, but after it was clear he would lose to the evidence presented in court, he and Leyser settled out of court for an undisclosed amount. Gold plays like an amateur, and he conducts himself like one off the table. Rumor mill has it that he lost much of his winnings and has been seen many times playing low-stakes cash games and small tourneys in Las Vegas.
8. Michael ‘The Grinder’ Mizrachi – Career Winnings: $14,537,352
Michael Mizrachi fits his title well, having played an inordinate amount of tournaments, the biggest being for $2.3 million. The sheer volume of his entries and cashes has lead to his large total winnings. Like him or not, you have to admire his commitment. No one can say he hasn’t earned his place on this list, the first on it who hasn’t won the WSOP Main Event. Despite the numbers, the fact that he publicly stated he nearly declared bankruptcy in 2010 before winning the 2010 WSOP Poker Player’s Championship says he’s not doing so well. Extravagant spending and unpaid taxes supposedly nearly made him bankrupt before winning the tournament in the nick of time. He likely sells off much of his action to investors, given the facts. Let’s hope that he didn’t sell off too much since he has cashed about $6 million since that 2010 tournament. Get a good accountant, Mike.
7. John Juanda – Career Winnings: $15,401,768
Depending on how you look at it, one of the more inspiring or more boring players on this list is John Juanda. He’s a great poker player with five WSOP bracelets, no small feat, one of which was the European WSOP main event in 2008. Only one of two non-North American players on this list, he came to United States in 1990 to attend the University of Oklahoma and has lived there since. The quiet, well-mannered Indonesian will methodically take all your chips if you give him the chance. He has undoubtedly earned his place on this list. His favorite celebrity? The Dalai Lama. Way to let California change you, buddy. How could anyone not like this guy?
6. Phil Ivey – Career Winnings: $17,669,367
Phil Ivey is everybody’s favorite. But for quite a while he’s also been regarded as one of the best, if not the best player in the game. Anyone who knows poker is aware of not only his skill but his penchant for incredible reads. He had certainly fallen off the map somewhat after the dreaded Black Friday government shutdown on April 15th, 2011 which closed down Full Tilt Poker, an online poker site he was strongly connected to. He’s won nine WSOP bracelets, all of which he captured past the turn of millennium when bracelets became much harder to win based on larger fields of competition. He’s famously known as ‘no-home Jerome’ as he used a fake ID with that name to get into Atlantic City casinos and slept under the boardwalk after going broke (long before he made his millions). Ivey may be #6 on this list, but most of the poker world still sees him as the truly best player out there.
5. Phil Hellmuth Jr. ‘The Poker Brat’ – Career Winnings: $17,978,409
Whatever your opinion on Phil Hellmuth, he’s got 13 WSOP bracelets, and is undoubtedly one of the best tournament players in the world. He won the WSOP Main Event once in 1989 (albeit against a much smaller field than we’re used to) and a European WSOP Main Event bracelet in 2012. These facts are easily ignored because of his extremely grating ego at the poker table. He is loudly self-aggrandizing, and weirdly pre-brags about how he’s going to beat his opponents. He has been known to spring into tantrums and long rants from bad beats, earning himself the dubious nickname ‘The Poker Brat’. All things considered, many of the other pros claim he is a totally different person away from the tables, regarding him as the quintessential mild-mannered good guy. Most of America never sees this, and there’s plenty of Poker forum drivel recorded on the internet of people either thinking he’s a genius or the worst person to ever sit at a table of any kind. A family man, married with two kids, he is one of the most iconic poker players outside of Doyle Brunson and Johnny Chan. Take from that what you will.
4. Erik Seidel – Career Winnings: $19,274,783
The best poker player you have probably never heard of. Only people who follow poker closely know Erik Seidel. For a long time he was most famous for losing to Johnny Chan in an epic final hand of the 1988 WSOP main event, but the truth is you could make an argument that he, not Ivey or Hellmuth, is the best tournament player in the world. His analysis, skill level and discipline are unmatched. This extremely quiet, soft-spoken eight-time WSOP bracelet-winner absolutely destroyed the fields of competition winning $6.5 million in 2011 alone, giving it the title of ‘The Year of Seidel’. Having been quietly inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame in 2010, he proved his worth by taking everyone’s money in ’11. Seriously, did anyone else win that year? Leave some for the rest of us, Erik.
3. Daniel Negreanu – Career Winnings: $19,638,770
A real fan-favorite, Canada’s other representative on this list is probably most famous for his ‘soul reads’ on television, where on several occasions in WSOP Main Events he names his opponents’ cards exactly, and watches them sweat. (To be fair, I’m sure Daniel benefits a goodly bit from editing here; there’s plenty of tape of what happens when his reads are wrong. See: any episode of High Stakes Poker.) Digressions aside, Daniel has plenty of talent and great poker analysis and certainly isn’t here by accident. He has six WSOP bracelets, two of them in 2013. Like the other big name professionals on this list, he has an impressive tournament resume, having won $19 million without ever cashing more than $1.8 million in a single event. Many have speculated about his financial status, some rumors flying around that he is broke, but given his success, poker fame and lack of any well-known degenerate habits, that seems unlikely.
2. Sam Trickett – Career Earnings: $19,877,332
Sam Trickett along with our #1 player have been boosted up to these top two spots by one giant tournament that went down in the summer of 2012: The WSOP Big One for One Drop event. With an unprecedented $1 million buy-in, this mega-high-roller event had only forty-eight entrants. Sam placed second, winning $10,112,001. I highly doubt Sam ponied up $1 million to enter this event, given that it would’ve been a tenth of his total tournament winnings up to that point, pre-taxes and investor payback. It’s likely that he sold off a great deal of his action in this tournament, as almost anyone in their right mind would outside of the wealthiest poker amateurs who are in it for the gamble. All this aside, the near ten million Sam made before this event is extremely impressive, and I’ve watched enough of his play to say that he is both disciplined and very skilled. Largely unknown outside of the poker world, the lone Brit on this list might have bull-rushed his way to the top of this list, but he is not to be underestimated.
1. Antonio Esfandiari – Career Earnings: $26,219,676
Antonio Esfandiari himself downplayed his place at the top of this list, saying he doesn’t think his record will stay there long. Despite the humility, and winning the aforementioned WSOP ‘Big One’ for a mind-numbing $18,346,673, Antonio is a very, very good tournament player. Slightly unorthodox at times, he makes moves that make you scratch your head but seem to work more often than not. Despite being an expert of the tried and true winning methods of poker, his talent lies in his instincts. He is great at the old cliché of poker, reading your opponent, and isn’t afraid to pull the trigger if he thinks his read is right. Granted, this can lead to some big swings, but I’ve watched enough of his play to say I believe in his game. Certainly, he’s had enough long-term success to say that he’s a very profitable professional. One could argue that his #1 spot on this list is an aberration, given his tourney winnings outside of that one huge WSOP score amounts to only about $8 million. It’s hard to mention Antonio without mentioning his super-best-friend and partner in crime Phil Laak. So, yeah. Phil Laak.
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