Poker is dramatic and exhilarating. But it can also be tedious during long hours at the table. And it takes a lot of concentration for the players. Not everyone wants to chatter and patter and entertain their table mates and any televised audience that may apply. So here are some of those with more than enough personality who provide some comic relief or other kinds of entertainment.
- Jean-Robert Bellande
He’s kind of like a Charles Barkley of the felt, a guy with thick skin who can play the role of the goofball, letting others poke fun at him.
- J. J. Liu
Joanne J.J. Liu has a lot of large hats and some cool outfits to provide some class at the table—if you’re completely surrounded by sweat pants, depression will set in.
- Gus Hansen
This Dane is often melancholy at the table. He makes great pained faces, talks to himself, and sometimes talks into a tape recorder.
He’s also fun to watch because of his loose play and his risk-taking. Creative players are often the most entertaining.
- Luke Schwartz
Entertaining means a lot of different things. It comes in varied shapes and sizes. It doesn’t have to mean charming or funny. There’s some of that farther down on the list. Admit it: you enjoy trash talk.
Schwartz is often angry, frequently boastful, and not afraid to mount a full-blown tantrum. I mean, I’ve seen Phil Hellmuth sitting at the same table as Schwartz sitting there behaving himself, waiting for the fireworks to end.
When a player uses a phrase like “in your eye, David Benyamine” or literally falls on the floor after a bad beat, it’s entertainment, by very definition.
- Rob Salaburu
Silence very well may be golden, but it’s only so entertaining. If you’re into chatterbox players, you like Salaburu, who made a deep run in the 2012 ME. He has an uber-confident, alpha-male presence that is hard to ignore. “You lost, bro!”
- Antonio Esfandiari
The first Big One for One Drop champ comes across as a genuinely nice guy. He’s known to have worked with a life coach, and it has yielded at peace. He seems very at peace, and not just because he plays barefoot.
Esfandiari is truly friendly and always pretty high strung. He’s good TV in the best way.
- Tony Dunst
Sometimes he wears a suit and sometimes he doesn’t, but Tony Dunst is always cleaned up and put together at the table. During games, he can be affable and charming.
But let’s admit that a lot of Dunst’s entertainment comes from his interviews and commentaries. Dunst tells it like it is, except that he also colors it with heavy sarcasm.
- Daniel Negreanu
Negreanu pulls something off that isn’t easy. He’s often the table captain and the unofficial emcee, but he doesn’t come off as pushy, egotistical, or boorish.
He smiles more in one televised segment than many players do in their lives. Throw in his Scotty Nguyen impersonations and related comedy bits, and he’s plenty entertaining.
But over the years, many poker fans have gotten plenty of joy from watching the Canadian tell his opponents what they’re holding or correctly guess the next community card.
When the Poker Brat is at the table, you have reality TV in its purest form. A lot of people suppress their nervous breakdowns in the presence of others, much less on TV. But Phil is the real deal, venting his spleen for all.
He has as many famous blowup catch phrases as bracelets: idiot from Northern Europe; the guy can’t even spell poker; if it wasn’t for luck, I’d win every time.
And that’s just getting started.
For the price of admission, you also get to watch Hellmuth go into the tank for fifteen minutes before making a bewildering call with middle pair or some such.
Sometimes, you get a multi-tirade, when one blowup leads right into another, and another.
- Phil Laak
In the early stages of his career, Laak burst onto the televised poker scene by doing pushups, shadow-boxing, and making a lot of noise.
In more recent years, he’s shown himself to be a cerebral eccentric, a mad scientist, almost a sorcerer. Laak is entertaining because he’s entertained. He thinks aloud, musing over things that have him perplexed. He’s full of theories, observations, and childlike wonder.
Maybe a lot of what’s entertaining at the poker table is the same as anywhere else. People enjoy enthusiasm and bigness. But to be clear: quiet, contemplative types who fall through the cracks, they also contribute a lot. Too many big personalities make for a claustrophobic table.