People love—and hate–the sudden-death quality of tournaments. To get great results, you have to seize the moment rather than building up winnings gradually as in the cash game. Unfair, perhaps, but that’s part of what tantalizes us about gambling and gaming, right?
Here, then, is a list of the 10 best current poker players, an intrepid near-dozen who are skilled, gutsy, and successful over the long haul.
- Johnny Chan
The Orient Express would’ve been near the top of the list in 1990 or so; he’s the guy to go to for advice on how to win bracelets, with ten overall.
- Vanessa Selbst
Selbst’s winnings during a mid-length career are pretty impressive. She plays an aggressive style, often weeding out players before showdown. We fully expect her to add to her winnings, final tables, and championships over the next year and beyond.
- Mike McDonald
Here’s another player who has packed a lot of money into a short period of time. Timex starting cashing in ’06 and now has 132 career cashes and 10 wins. He took home one-point-seven in the 250K buy-in event at the Aussie Millions, 2014.
McDonald started as an online kid but became a hybrid, growing adept at soaking in all the energy at the table. And it has worked.
- Tom Marchese
Sometimes players look at another player and think his results might outpace his skill. This is not the case with Tom Marchese, a very successful and very skilled craftsman.
Marchese told Cardplayer.com he was drawn to tournaments from cash games for the thrill of being able to make a lot of moves in deep-stack play.
A year ago, Marchese took down back-to-back Aria high roller events. Those two are a part of his 93 career cashes, worth, to date, 12 mils.
- Jason Mercier
The former high school basketballer took the tournament world by storm in ’08 and ’09, a sort of wunderkind on an amazing tear. Mercier has kept it up, having a few huge years since then, and has emerged as a player’s player. Many of his wins have come in high-roller events with packed final tables. That ability to win against the best has made him very respected in the poker world.
- Scott Seiver
He’s never at a loss for words and looks like the president of a business fraternity, but Seiver has proven himself at the tournament felt.
He won plenty of skrilla over a period of years and then began really filling the armored car in 2013 by taking down the Super High-Roller at the Pokerstars Caribbean Adventure. But his biggest cash was still yet to come, for a second-place finish at a 500K buy-in event. It netted him $5M.
Seiver can boast 127 career cashes and 10 titles. This is probably due to his understanding of no-longer-new-fangled poker theory characterized by math concepts.
- Erik Seidel
Seidel has won a lot of money in a lot of different poker games over decades. He has shown he can win against the old-schoolers, the fish, the mathematical whipper-snappers, anyone.
You may recall his incendiary 2011, in which he took down the LA Poker Classic, The Five-Star WPT Classic, the NBC Heads Up Championship, and the Super High Roller at the Aussie Millions. Yes, he won all those. In the same year. That streak alone puts him in the realm of never having to say you’re sorry, but he’s amassed a nose-bleed 238 career cashes, with 28 wins and 26.5 million in career winnings.
- Phil Ivey
Ivey has long been known to have amazing instincts and uncanny discipline. He’s unemotional and very consistent. His name has often been near or at the top of the list when the subject of “best there is” comes up.
As a tournament player, he ain’t bad. Ivey continues to run a race for most lifetime bracelets, presently sitting pretty with ten. He’s made an ME final table in addition to his 26 overall career wins, which figure into his 136 cashes. His overall winnings are $23 M.
Ivey’s career is a model of longevity and consistency.
- Phil Hellmuth
Maybe it’s his self-promotion or his petulance, but Hellmuth has been bad-mouthed a lot. His skill has been called into question. But no one plays to lose money, so Hellmuth’s bottom line gets to speak for itself.
Two hundred sixty-six cashes.
Hellmuth gets into a lot of hands and builds up a stack. He’s not quick to pay off a value bet, and he has a knack for staving off the final-table blowup. The man knows success.
- Daniel Negreanu
If you build a reputation for telling your opponents what they’re holding—on national TV—you’re going to have a psychological edge. Toronto’s pride is also known for playing a wide range of hands and trying to take down small pots.
Like Hellmuth, Ivey, and Seidel, he gets there an awful lot. His career started in the old-school era, but he’s embraced young players and their young-playing ways. That has kept the graph hitting high peaks.
Negreanu isn’t far behind Hellmuth in cashes and titles, and is way in front of him for lifetime winnings ($31 M). Famously, he bubbled the ME final table in ’15 (not a bad payday) and scored big as the runner-up of the 2014 Big One for One Drop.
Poker’s chief ambassador backs up his style with substance, bringing home the bacon in tournament play.
There are dozens of others who could easily make the list. But these ten present a nice mix of theory and instinct, studying ICM factors and their opponent’s faces. If you get a chance to sit with any of them, beat them in that one pot and feel good about yourself.