A Look at the Highs and Lows of History’s Top Five Players

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With poker being a sport in which risk-taking and a certain element of subterfuge are necessary to play a winning hand, poker legends are not expected to be the squeaky clean role models that, say, cricket players need to be. As a result, the personalities and life stories of these kings of the cards are arguably even more entertaining than their expert game play.

Lets take a look at the most iconic and/or infamous poker players of all time and the rise and fall of their card-playing careers.

Stu “The Kid” Ungar

Born: 8 September, 1953 – Manhattan, New York
WSOP bracelets: 5
WSOP wins: 3
Specialities: Texas Hold ‘Em and Gin

Born Stuart Errol Ungar, the son of a bar owner and illegal bookie, Stu Ungar acquired his lifelong nickname, “The Kid” by becoming the youngest even winner of the WSOP main event at just 27 years old. Not only that; Stu came back to successfully defend his title the following year and won it again in 1997. In his career, he acquired five WSOP bracelets and achieved 15 money finishes. And his talent extended to other games, including gin and blackjack, at which he raked in hundreds of thousands of dollars until he was eventually banned from playing it at casinos.

Sadly, Stu also suffered from a crippling addiction to cocaine and his wins were mostly squandered on drugs and horserace betting.

Shortly before his addiction killed him in 1998, Stu made a miraculous – if short-lived – comeback, using a loan from a friend to win the WSOP main event for a third time. It is estimated that Stu won over $30 million from poker over the course of his career.

David “Chip” Reese

Born: 28 March, 1951 – Centerville, Ohio
WSOP bracelets: 3
WSOP wins: 3
Specialities: Seven-Card Stud and Cash Games

Having developed his skill as a poker player under the tutelage of his mother, Chip Reese was an all-round international poker legend. During his over-three-decade career as a poker player, Chip acquired three WSOP bracelets, 23 WSOP money finishes, and five World Poker Tour (WPT) money finishes.

Chip’s tournament record does not do him full justice, however, since he largely avoided tournaments in favour of cash games, which he viewed as more profitable. In fact, he is considered by many to have been the greatest cash game poker player of all time.

Interestingly, Chip’s career as a poker player only came to be because of a fateful detour he took to Vegas en route to starting Law School at Stanford University.

When Chip died of pneumonia in 2007, his friend and fellow professional poker player, Doyle Brunson called him “the best poker player that ever lived”.

Texan WSOP Pro, Johnny Moss

Born: 14 May, 1907 – Marshall, Texas
WSOP bracelets: 9
Specialities: Seven-Card Stud and Cash Games

The early years of the life of Johnny Moss, who was born near the turn of the 20th Century, could easily have filled the pages of a Louis L’amour novel. Johnny was a classic Texas road gambler, who literally made his way through the American Deep South, outrunning both the law and the outlaws, in search of his next good hand.

Johnny was influential in establishing the WSOP and actually won the inaugural event in 1970, to become the first-ever world champion of poker. His most infamous match was against Nick “The Greek” Dandalos and allegedly lasted five months and won him over $20 000 000.

Johnny kept returning to the card table until the day he died, aged 88, back in 1995.

Phil “No Home Jerome” Ivey

Born: 1 February, 1977 – New Brunswick, New Jersey
WSOP bracelets: 10
Specialities: Both online and land-based play

Unlike the other legends on this list, Phil Ivey is still a relative newcomer to the poker scene, at the age of just 39. And yet, Phil has racked up an enviable record in his short career thus far. This includes 10 WSOP bracelets, 55 WSOP money finishes, one WPT title, 13 WPT money finishes, and three European Poker Tour money finishes, among others.

Not only is Phil the youngest player to ever have achieved 10 WSOP bracelets, he also did it in the shortest ever time. Phil is known for his unusual poker prowess, which extends beyond traditional poker to the new online sphere. He achieved relative notoriety for his role in the 2004-2006 series of matches in which a super poker ensemble entitled “The Corporation” took over $16 million off the hands of billionaire banker, Andy Beal.

Poker Godfather, Doyle Brunson

Born: 10 August, 1933 – Longworth, Texas
WSOP bracelets: 10
Specialities: All rounder

No list of poker legends would be complete without a respectful nod to The Godfather, Doyle Brunson. Like fellow Texan Johnny Moss, Doyle came up in the era when poker was an illicit pursuit enjoyed by gunslingers of the Old West.

He is a much-decorated WSOP mainstay and has even found relative success in the online circuit at the ripe old age of 83.