Many people watch poker on TV and dream of becoming huge stars like their favorite players. The allure of making millions from a few lucky hands of cards is an incredible one, though the sad reality is that it’s not likely to happen.
Like any other sport, the true money-making superstars are few and far between and the mega-millionaires are even rarer than that, but that doesn’t mean we can’t dream about and admire those elite few who have made the kind of living that would set the next 20 generations of their family up for life.
We’re taking a look at the 12 most successful poker players in history in terms of how much money they’ve earned in live games over their careers. Not one person on this list has failed to pull in less than 20 million dollars, and if that’s not motivation to dust off your deck of cards and at least try to beat the ballade against joining them, we’re not sure what is!
Since 2005, Justin Z Bonomo has made a name for himself as one of the most successful poker players ever. Now, he IS the most successful, with 161 cashes in his career – six of them being for a million dollars or more. Justin makes the top spot on this list thanks to an incredible 2018 where he earned over 25 million dollars in that year alone, including almost 5 million at a Hong Kong tournament in March, another 5 million at the high roller ball in May, and a staggering 10 million-dollar cash prize for winning the Big One for One Drop in July.
Bonomo probably won’t ever be able to replicate his amazing 2018 run, but even if he only makes a couple million every year going forward, he’s forever going to be considered one of the best.
Daniel Negreanu, aka the ‘Kid Poker,’ isn’t quite appropriate anymore since the man’s in his mid-40s. Nevertheless, he is known as one of the best players in history with a fruitful career that has spanned over 20 years. Throughout this time, Negreanu has earned close to 40 million dollars thanks to his super consistent playing approach.
He was named global player of the decade in 2014 and has raked up 294 cashes since 1997. Each of those cashes has been for a million bucks or more, but his record cash by far is the eight million dollars he earned by winning 2014’s Big One for One Drop at that year’s World Series of Poker. Speaking of the World Series, Daniel is the only player to have won bracelets in Europe, Vegas, and Australia.
Eric Seidel has been around just shy of forever, and he’s been cashing in on poker since 1988. His first cash finish was perhaps his most famous when he came second in the 1988 World Series of Poker Main Event, and his showdown with winner Johnny Jam was featured 10 years later in the hit movie “Rounders.”
Outside of movie fame, Siedel has won over $34 million in his career, along with eight World Series bracelets and a 2010 induction into the Poker Hall of Fame. He’s only had four cashes exceed a million bucks, and none have broken 2.5 million, but somehow, we don’t think he’s complaining! Slow and steady wins the race and makes for a filthy rich tortoise.
David Peters hasn’t been playing live poker as long as some others, but he’s more than made up for lost time. Since 2006, he’s cashed 248 times and won more than $32 million dollars. This unfathomable sum includes an incredible ten cashes exceeding $1 million each and an amazing 56 cashes of over $100,000 each. In short, when Peters wins, he wins big!
Extending past the live table, Peters is active in the online poker world and has earned an additional 6 million dollars from behind his computer between 2006 and 2019 – where he’s already won over $1 million in a game twice. Don’t be surprised if Peters becomes the new number one money maker before long.
German superstar Fedor Holtz has only been in the game since 2012, but he already has over $32 million. Like Peters, this is a poker player who, in due time, will likely top the money-making list for at least a short while. He has cashes worth $7 million-plus dollars to his name (four of which exceeded $3 million), and his top prize came in at 6 million dollars for second place in 2018’s Big One for One Drop – enough to place him among the upper echelon by itself. All in all, he’s only cashed 82 times thus far, and yet, he’s made all these jaw-dropping piles of money!
Since 2007, Bryn Kenny has established himself as one of the top poker players in history. He has over 30 million dollars in earnings to his name, much of it coming from 2016 onwards. In fact, his later career winnings were so strong that he made more money in 2017 than any other poker player that year. He may not be the top dog now, but sixth place in the WSOP isn’t anything to complain about either!
With five million-dollar-plus cashes to his name plus several more just under that milestone amount, it’s clear that Kenny knows how to win and how to win big. What’s amazing is after all these years, he might finally be hitting his prime – in March of 2019, he recorded the absolute biggest win of his career when he came second in the Tritons Super High Roller Series main event, pocketing over $3 million for his efforts.
Daniel Coleman makes this list for one reason only. In 2014, he won over 15 million dollars for coming in first in that year’s Big One for One Drop event, beating out all-time money man Daniel Negreanu in the final round. It costs a million dollars just to enter that event, but if you win, you’re made for life.
Even without that monstrous victory, Coleman would be doing just fine for himself, having pocketed almost 29 million dollars since 2008. Almost $23 million of that came in 2014 alone, which is more than enough to make him the top money earner that year. He’s obviously never won anything close to 15 million since, but he’s had four other cashes for over a million bucks. Today, he’s mostly playing online, so he’s likely focusing more on that as of late. Whatever happens, he’ll always be remembered for 2014.
A heavy online player who’s nevertheless crushed it on the live stage is Jason Koon. He’s earned almost $28 million since launching his live poker career in 2008, and of his 128 cashes, seven were for a million bucks or more – an impressive ratio, to say the least! While Koon has been around a while, he truly came into his own when he won almost 12.5 million dollars in 2018 alone, and he’s on pace to do the same in 2019, thanks to a great showing at this year’s Triton High Roller event in Jeju.
Who knows how successful he’ll wind up when it’s all said and done? No matter what happens, however, Jason Koon will forever hold the top spot in a category no one else is likely to touch. To this day, he is still the undisputed top moneymaker out of any other poker player from West Virginia.
Dan Smith has been around since 2008, and since then, he’s made an absolute fortune in poker after raking in $28 million in winnings throughout his career. Eight out of his 115 cashes have been for over a million dollars, and that includes a two-million-dollar prize, a three-million-dollar one, and a four-million-dollar one which he only won last year. It’s possible he’s prepping for a five-million-dollar pot sometime this year.
Despite his huge success, Dan Smith isn’t exactly the best role model for potential poker players. He was a college kid around the time televised poker blew up in the mid-2000s, and he promptly dropped out to become a full-time poker player. It’s obviously worked out for him, but for the most part, if you’re in school, stay there because the cards aren’t likely to be in your favor!
Steve O’Dwyer is proof you don’t need gargantuan winnings to make a living out of poker. If you’re good enough and prepared to grind away for years, then chances are you’ll eventually make the big bucks. This is how O’Dwyer, who’s never won a World Series bracelet and never won more than 1.8 million dollars at a time, is one of the most successful poker players in history.
It took a while for O’Dwyer to become a true success; however, he started cashing professionally in 2007 but didn’t make much at all for the first few years. By 2011, he was reduced to sleeping on a fellow poker player’s floor and borrowing money for food due to losing what little money he had on Black Friday, or the day when all the major online poker rooms got raided and shut down by the FBI later that year. However, he began to hit his poker stride and has been more than able to afford his own food ever since.
Many successful poker players are fairly anonymous, and you wouldn’t likely notice them if they walked past you. Phil Ivey is not one of those people. With 10 World Series bracelets, a 2017 Poker Hall of Fame induction, and a worldwide reputation as one of the greatest players ever, the Tiger Woods of poker is as much a face of the game as anyone could ever be. Since 1998, Ivey has cashed 157 times for over 26 million dollars in earnings.
Surprisingly, his biggest single cash was a mere $3.5 million, and he didn’t even earn close to that in the years 2011 or 2017. He’s simply that good and that consistent of a player that he can just win and win and win until all of a sudden he’s worth over twenty million dollars, and somehow he has enough bracelets for a family of five!
An Honorable Mention
Let’s wrap this up with one last head nod to Phil Hellmuth. He is easily one of the best poker players ever, with 341 cashes since 1988, nearly 23 million dollars in earnings, an unbelievable 15 World Series bracelets, and a 2007 Poker Hall of Fame induction, evidence that the young poker luminary is certainly as good and lovely as he often says he is.
A big ego knock for him, however, is the fact he’s only the 18th most successful poker player of all time, which doesn’t qualify him for most “richest poker players” lists – sorry, pal!