The popularity of poker reached new heights during the boom of the mid-noughties; with a surge of players taking to online poker, its growth skyrocketed magnificently. Once the spotlight illuminated the game, questions were inevitably asked as to who were the best players ever. As with most competitive games, there will always be subjective views involved. There are many criteria to consider when evaluating the quality of a poker player. Do you just look at the prize money earned or WSOP bracelets won? What about their ability to read opponents or control emotions? Since there is no definitive answer, let’s look at three players widely regarded amongst the best of all time.
Top poker players
Phil Ivey is a true modern day legend. There is no doubt he is amongst the top poker players who are currently active. Known for his absolute professionalism to the game of poker, many see him as the best all round player in the world. The New Jersey phenomenon was taught five card stud by his grandfather at the tender age of eight. He soon made a name for himself in the Atlantic City circuit, enjoying massive success at a young age. Phil has won an outstanding ten WSOP bracelets, and is one of only a few players to be successful in both large cash games and online poker.
Stu (The Kid) Ungar was an immense talent. Having already conquered the worlds of Gin Rummy and Blackjack, Stu took to poker. The ease at which he learnt the game was astounding, and his hyper-aggressive style of play was way ahead of its time. Ungar’s uncanny instinct for reading the game saw him become the youngest ever winner of the WSOP main event in 1980. After successfully defending his title the following year, The Kid’s life took a disastrous turn. Cocaine addiction and bankruptcy saw his life spiral out of control. And despite winning another WSOP main event in 1997, Stu Ungar was found dead the following year.
You cannot have a best poker players list without The Godfather of Poker, Doyle Brunson. A true legend on and off the table, with vast experience and knowledge. He is widely admired, not only for his poker expertise, but his kind and gentle manner and enthusiasm to guide younger players. Doyle’s highly treasured book, Super System, has had more influence on the game of poker than any other book. The aggressive style of play he taught was rare at the time, and he gained admiration for revealing how the professionals made poker decisions.
A professional poker strategy
Whether you are new to the game or perhaps have been playing poker for a while and want to take that next step towards success; what is the best way forward? Take notes from top players and absorb their approach to the game. Let’s go deep into the mind of Phil Ivey and see how this modern day genius pummels his opponents in tournaments.
A key ingredient to Phil’s tournament game is aggression. Plenty of pre flop raising allows him to dictate game play in pots and makes it extremely difficult to put him on a range of hands. You have to be confident in your post flop play to be able to take this approach, and Ivey certainly excels in that area.
His low risk approach is also critical to his tournament success. He typically builds up his stack by claiming a fair number of smaller pots that others have no interest in fighting for. He is reluctant to risk his whole stack unless he is a huge favourite.
Phil Ivey’s considerable strength lies in his abilities to read opponents. He is able to work out what they are doing, and ascertain exactly his position in the hand. Using vast experience, Phil evaluates betting tells and body language to put rivals on a precise range. This kind of ability only comes with playing a lot of poker. Phil Ivey strongly advises to concentrate on playing the opponent and not the cards. Developing the skill of being able to read someone is far more important than specific strategies, odds and probabilities. He advocates absorbing all tips and information learnt from others, but discover how to play your own game instead of mirroring someone else. This is strong advice from a top player.