The Decade's 25 Most Influential People in Poker

31 December 2009, Created By: Matthew Showell
The Decade's 25 Most Influential People in Poker

This is it, the end of the decade.

The final installment in our look back at the last ten years is a study of those people and groups that most impacted the poker world so far in the new millennium.

The movers and shakers, the bigwigs (no smallwigs). The 25 biggest, without whom we wouldn't be where we are today.


#25 - Norman Chad

Norman Chad

The voice of the World Series of Poker, Norman Chad has been cracking bad jokes and inducing tilt in television audiences since 2003.

Along with straight-man Lon McEachern, Chad has commentated on the biggest poker tournaments in history and interviewed every world champion since the poker boom.

When you hear Chad’s voice, and it’s hard to miss, it immediately brings to mind the WSOP. For that he gets a spot on the list.

Essential Reading:

  • Norman Chad’s Sports Illustrated article archive.


#24 - Lee Jones

International Man of Mystery Lee Jones

From 2003 to 2007, effectively spanning the poker boom, Lee Jones was the cardroom manager for PokerStars. If you made the final table of a major online tournament it was likely Lee Jones who was moderating it.

Spearheading PokerStars’ efforts to provide their players with the best games possible, Jones helped grow Stars into the behemoth it is today.

Since leaving PokerStars in 2007 Jones has taken his expertise to Cardrunners and, currently, Cake Poker. Few have worked as closely and effected more change in the online poker world than Lee Jones.

As if all this wasn’t enough, Jones also penned Winning Low-Limit Hold’em, a must-read for the small-stakes grinder.

Essential Reading:


#23 - Brian Balsbaugh


During the poker boom and the advent of televised poker, Brian Balsbaugh saw an opportunity.

He was working as a golf agent and, faced with the difficulty of selling endorsements for players who had to be photographed and filmed walking around a four-mile golf course, he realized poker players made the perfect billboards.

Soon brokering deals for players like Daniel Negreanu and Phil Hellmuth, Balsbaugh became the biggest poker agent in the business.

Essential Reading:


#22 - John Duthie

John Duthie

It’s no secret now that Europeans love poker but at the beginning of the decade few were willing to invest as much in that idea as John Duthie.

Founder of the European Poker Tour and an accomplished player in his own right, Duthie’s brainchild brought tournament Texas Hold’em to television screens across Europe.

Essential Reading:

#21 - Dan Harrington

Dan Harrington

Perhaps the oldest person in the world to sport wide-brimmed baseball caps, Dan Harrington trained a generation of tournament players with his series Harrington on Hold’em.

He’s been at the final table of the WSOP Main Event four times, winning in 1995, and has over $6.6 million in tournament earnings to date. He’s also got a WPT title under his belt, thanks to taking down the Bike’s Legends of Poker in 2007.

A proponent of sensible strategy and responsible money management, Harrington represents the opposite end of the spectrum to poker’s stereotyped gambler.

Essential Reading:


#20 - Steve Lipscomb

Steve Lipscomb

Lawyer turned film maker turned poker luminary, Steve Lipscomb was among the first to bring Texas Hold’em to household televisions around the world.

Hundreds of millions of dollars have been won on the World Poker Tour and it’s been watched in over 150 countries worldwide.

Lipscomb sold his audience, and a bourgeoning poker world, on million-dollar tournament scores and television celebrity, spreading the game across the globe in the process.

Essential Reading:


#19 - James McManus

james mcmanus 2

In the first year of the new millennium James McManus was sent to Las Vegas on an assignment for Harper’s Magazine, ostensibly covering women at the WSOP and the trial surrounding Ted Binion’s murder.

Upon arrival he promptly used his advance and entered a satellite to the Main Event, going on to make the final table.

McManus gave the world an inside look at how an amateur player can compete, and succeed, against the best players in the world.

Since then he’s written extensively on a variety of subjects including poker. His work has appeared everywhere from Esquire to the New York Times.

Essential Reading:


#18 - Tournament Directors

Jack McClelland

For every final table we see on television there’s a tournament director behind the scenes from Day 1, organizing the event and enforcing law and order on a field of unruly poker players.

Luminaries like Jack McClelland, Johnny Grooms, Jack Effel, Matt Savage and Thomas Kremser put together the biggest poker events in the world.

If you think it’s an easy job consider the 2009 WSOP. Jack Effel and his team coordinated 61,016 individual tournament entries and a grand total of $174,275,842.

Essential Reading:


#17 - Annette Obrestad

Annette Obrestad

Despite still being too young to play poker legally in North America, Annette Obrestad is regarded as one of the very best tournament players in the world.

Obrestad started when she took down a single freeroll on UltimateBet, worth $9 and her first online bankroll.

She won more than a million dollars online before ever stepping foot in a casino. Once she was old enough to play live tournaments, however, it didn’t take long for her to make a few million more.

She won the 2008 WSOP Europe main event, becoming the youngest player to win a WSOP bracelet, and the first woman to win a main event. Months later she narrowly missed an EPT title, losing heads-up to Reuben Peters in Dublin.

Obrestad is one of tournament poker’s most aggressive players, bar none. It remains to be seen how many women will try to follow her example.

Essential Reading:


#16 - Barney Frank

Barney Frank

The House Representative for Massachusetts’s 4th congressional district, Barney Frank is a fierce proponent of civil rights.

Online gambling is one of the issues he champions, along with gay and lesbian rights, medical marijuana, abortion and military spending.

Having penned a number of pro-poker bills in Congress, Frank sees online poker as an individual right and a viable source of cash at a time when the U.S. government needs every penny they can get their hands on.

If and when the UIGEA is amended it will be because of the hard work done by people like Barney Frank.

Essential Reading:


#15 - Mike Sexton

Mike Sexton

This decade’s last round of inductions to the Poker Hall of Fame included one Mike Sexton, the face of Party Poker and the World Poker Tour.

It was his catch phrase that capped one of poker’s most-watched television shows.

On the felt he’s amassed almost $4 million in wins, including one WSOP gold bracelet. Whether playing cards or commentating on them, Sexton’s biggest role in poker has been that of an ambassador.

Essential Reading:


#14 - Annie Duke

Annie Duke

Arguably the most recognizable poker player in mainstream culture, thanks to appearing on Celebrity Apprentice, Annie Duke has done a lot to increase poker’s visibility.

She’s appeared on The Colbert Report, 1 vs. 100, Deal or No Deal and a number of poker shows. She wrote an autobiography and has an endorsement deal with

Duke also organizes the annual Ante Up for Africa charity event, at the World Series of Poker. Along with actor Don Cheadle, Duke has raised $2.5 million since the event’s introduction in 2007. Funds raised go towards humanitarian efforts in Darfur.

Essential Reading:


#13 - Jeffrey Pollack

Jeffrey Pollack

Jeffrey Pollack’s first joined the World Series of Poker in 2005 but it was just one short year before he made the jump to Commissioner.

Bringing an impressive skill set from top-level marketing and communications positions with the NBA and NASCAR, Pollack is credited with innovations like the players advisory council and the November Nine delayed final table.

Shortly after the conclusion of the 2009 WSOP Main Event Pollack announced his resignation as Commissioner. Whether this will mark the end of his involvement with poker entirely remains to be seen.

Essential Reading:


#12 - Party Poker and Anurag Dikshit


Post poker boom a lot of people made a lot of money playing on Party Poker. Consequently a lot of people lost a lot of money on Party Poker but we prefer to focus on the positive.

Nowadays we look back on the days of Party Poker as a golden age, a time when online poker was an ATM for anyone with even a modicum of skill.

The upshot of this period in the game’s history is that many of today’s successful mid- and high-stakes pros not only cut their teeth on Party, but built their bankrolls there as well.

The UIGEA put a stop to all that but Party has positioned itself well should the legislation change.

While other sites simply pulled out of the U.S. market, Party’s co-founder Anurag Dikshit agreed to pay the Department of Justice $300 million for violations of the Federal Wire Act, a gesture that will only help Party’s ability to operate safely in America when the legality of online poker is finally determined.

Essential Reading:


#11 - Full Tilt Poker

Color Coding on Full Tilt

Just like PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker continued doing business in the American market after the UIGEA was passed.

While Stars became the place to play tournaments online, Tilt identified itself as the place to play for high stakes.

Hosting the biggest games on the Internet, Tilt successfully grew its player base on the backs of its high-stakes regulars.

Essential Reading:


#10 - PokerStars


The few short years since online poker got big can be separated into two distinct periods, the golden years before the UIGEA, and everything that came after.

PartyPoker made the decision to respect America’s new legislation by pulling out of the American market. PokerStars did not.

Filling the massive void left behind, Stars enters this millennium’s second decade as the undisputed heavyweight of the online poker ring.

Essential Reading:


#9 - The Poker Players Alliance

John Pappas

The Poker Players Alliance was formed in 2005 "to speak with one voice to promote poker, and to protect the players' rights."

The PPA’s chief goal is to fight the UIGEA (Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006), which currently places poker in the same legal category as online blackjack or roulette.

Over 1 million members strong, the PPA is likely America’s best hope for a legal and regulated environment in which to play online poker.

Essential Reading:

#8 - Daniel Negreanu

Daniel Negreanu

Compare Daniel Negreanu to the fedora-wearing, card-riffling picture of a hustler you have in your mind and you’ll see some marked differences.

This bright-eyed, courteous Canadian looks more like the guy cheerfully greeting you at Kinko’s than the all-time leading tournament money winner.

In the final months of the decade he finished second to Barry Shulman at the WSOP Europe main event and overtook Jamie Gold on the all-time money list.

It's players like Kid Poker who are helping to change the public's perception of what poker's all about.

Essential Reading:


#7 - Tom “durrrr” Dwan

Tom Dwan

If the world of online poker was praying for a poster boy, Tom Dwan must have been the name they whispered each night before bed.

Tom “durrrr” Dwan started his online career with a meager $50 buy-in, reportedly given to him as a birthday present from his father. From those humble beginnings he went on to become the most talked about online player in history.

To date he’s won and lost millions of dollars and inspired a generation of online poker young guns. For all of this he takes his rightful place on our list of influential poker people.


#6 - Phil Hellmuth Jr.

Phil Hellmuth

No one has marketed themselves and their poker image like Phil Hellmuth. From irrational blow-ups to thematic entrances, Hellmuth plays the egomaniacal champion to a tee. But is it an act?

He is truly the man people love to hate and his popularity must be, at least in part, due to the fact you’re not quite sure whether he is a jerk, or just plays one on TV.

One thing is for sure, he’s a master of the big-field, low buy-in donkament. Eleven WSOP bracelets can’t be wrong.­­­­

 Essential Reading:


#5 - Doyle Brunson

Doyle Brunson

“Texas Dolly” has been one of the most influential people in the game for almost half a century. In the first decade of the new millennium Brunson hasn’t lost a step.

Playing the big game at Bellagio, founding an online poker room that bears his name and acting as a figurehead for the game’s great heritage, Doyle Brunson truly is the Godfather of poker.

At age 76 Brunson was making a living playing the game decades before most of us were even alive. From road gambling to internet gaming, Texas Dolly’s seen it all.

#4 - Phil Ivey

Phil Ivey

The pro’s pro, the untouchable, no one embodies mystique like Phil Ivey.

In 2002 he smashed the World Series, winning three bracelets in Stud and Mixed Games. In the next seven years he would finish in the top 30 of the Main Event four times, bubbling the final table in 2003 and finishing seventh in 2009.

Even more impressive was the fact that in ’09 he took down two bracelets in the weeks leading up to his ME finale run.

A principle owner of Full Tilt Poker, Ivey gambles for millions of dollars on a daily basis, plays for the highest stakes in the history of poker and travels the world on a fleet of private jets.

To put it simply, he’s the f***ing man.

#3 - Two Plus Two Forums

two plus two

One of the biggest forums on the Internet bar none, Two Plus Two has given a voice to pre-adolescent poker players the world over.

In seriousness, while it may seem like these forums are nothing but flame wars and shit-talking, they offer so much more.

It’s no coincidence that the most successful players online and the biggest strategy posters on Two Plus Two are so closely aligned.

Learning from books is all well and good but a book won’t respond to your questions and discuss the reasons behind their answers. Two Plus Two will.

Essential Reading:


#2 - Bill Frist and the UIGEA

Frist for Web

What started as two separate bills introduced by the House of Representatives in 2006, the Leach and Goodlatte Bills, was ultimately passed as a joint bill before being sent on to the Senate.

Bill Frist, the Republican Majority leader hailing from Tennessee, managed to make an end run, tacking the Bill onto the SAFE Port Act.

Now attached to a piece of virtually indestructible Homeland Security legislation the Unlawful Internet Gaming Enforcement Act was a sure bet.

The UIGEA was a major bump in online poker’s road to legitimacy. Right now organizations like the PPA and politicians like Barney Frank are working to provide a legal option for the millions of poker players living in the USA.

Essential Reading:


#1 - Chris Moneymaker

Chris Moneymaker

It’s hard to diminish Chris Moneymaker’s impact on poker. His 2003 WSOP Main Event victory is widely regarded as the spark that ignited the poker boom.

Moneymaker showed the world that you could become a world champion with nothing more than a $40 online satellite, and that an average Joe could beat a world-class player heads-up on poker’s biggest stage.

In the years following his win Moneymaker became a brand of his own, wielded by the mighty PokerStars to sell the dream of poker stardom.

Essential Reading:





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