How Poker's Top Earners Stack Up Against Sport, Music, CEO Kingpins

12 September 2014, Created By:

In just eight weeks or so, one out of the nine players at the final table of the WSOP main event will win $10m.

Getting that kind of money - basically for playing cards for a week, wrapped around a four-month break -  is a pretty unique thing.

The famed winner shots of the happy player standing behind a wall of cash also contributes to the general image of poker players as guys who live the good life without doing much for it.

It's true to some extent. Top poker players make millions of dollars. And the $21m Dan Colman has earned so far in 2014, which has spurred much debate about both the glory and realities of tournament poker, is an impressive number to say the least.

But, truth be told, top poker tournament players are miles away from what top earners in other businesses cash out every year. PokerListings Germany's Dirk Oetzmann breaks it down.

By Dirk Oetzmann

Ryan Riess Wins 2013 WSOP Main Event 14

There is always a winner in a poker tournament, sure. And the 85%-90% of players who get nothing are quickly forgotten.

But even that winner  - and the most profitable tournament players who win the most - don’t make half as much as counterparts in other professions.

Let’s look at the biggest live poker tournament earners of 2013 to demonstrate the differences. The Top 10 winners in tournament poker were:

  • 1. Ryan Riess, USA, $8,440,813
  • 2. Anthony Gregg, USA, $5,827,170
  • 3. Jay Farber, USA, $5,201,728
  • 4. Philipp Gruissem, GER, $4,605,400
  • 5. Niklas Heinecker, GER, $4,546,619
  • 6. Scott Seiver, US, $4,085,453
  • 7. Amir Lehavot, US, $4,062,210
  • 8. Sorel Mizzi, CAN, $3,915,130
  • 9. Jeffrey Rossiter, AUS, $3,824,069
  • 10. Igor Kurganov, GER, $3,362,109

As we said Dan Colman has already won an incredible $21m in 2014 but even that doesn’t change much in comparison to other top earners. The $1m BIG ONE that Colman won for $15m this year also didn't run in 2013 so we can put it aside as it only distorts the results.

Ryan Riess and Jay Farber came first and second in last year’s WSOP main event, which is always good enough for top three spots in the yearly ranking.

Anthony Gregg pushing into the second spot in 2013 is particularly impressive as he only needed two results to get there – a win in the $111k One Drop and a second place in the EPT Grand Final high roller.

The three Americans are followed by two German players who both specialize in High Roller tournaments. The EPT in London was by far the lowest buy-in of the 12 tournaments Gruissem cashed in, and we are talking about the main event.

Heinecker only needed one tournament to secure fifth place – he won the GuangDong Asia Millions in Macau. But all of them put plenty of money on the line to win what they did.


cristiano ronaldo

“Playing cards is not a job," is a phrase we sometimes get to hear when we tell people about the industry we work in. But rarely do we hear people questioning the achievements of David Beckham, for example - as if running after a ball makes more sense.

The fact of the matter is, though, that poker is the most popular "game" in the world. Football is the most popular sport. If you're good at either, it can make you a lot of money.

Sponsors also tend to line up at your doorstep with suitcases full of money - at least in sports.

Top 10 Highest-Earning Football Players in 2013 (Source:

  • 1. Cristiano Ronaldo, POR, Real Madrid, $73 million ($49m salary, $24m endorsements)
  • 2. Lionel Messi, ARG, CF Barcelona, $65 million ($42m salary, $23m endorsements)
  • 3. Zlatan Ibrahimović, SWE, Paris St. Germain, $34 million ($30m salary, $4m endorsements)
  • 4. Neymar, BRA, CF Barcelona, $28 million ($12m salary, $16m endorsements)
  • 5. Radamel Falcao, COL, $26 million ($23m salary, $3m endorsements)
  • 6. Gareth Bale, Wales, Real Madrid, $24 million ($15m salary, $9m endorsements)
  • 7. Wayne Rooney, ENG, ManU, $22 million ($18m salary, $4m endorsements)
  • 8. Sergio Aguero, ARG, Man City, $21 million ($17m salary, $4m endorsements)
  • 9. Yaya Touré, Ivory Coast, Man City, $21 million ($18m salary, $3m endorsements)
  • 10. Fernando Torres, Spain, Chelsea London, $20 million ($17m salary, $3m endorsements)

Pretty much the usual suspects, right? Of course players like Ronaldo and Messi make a lot more money with other things than playing football.

The regular salaries these players receive from their clubs are between $20m and $30m per year.

Not too bad for a 90-minute game, you might say, but of course it’s not that simple. With every single game, with every single public performance, football players’ values vary and that’s not even taking into account circumstantial injuries.

Just as in poker, every year, football players disappear from the big leagues in the world and are never heard of again. Just as it happens in poker.



If poker is not by definition a sport, maybe it sometimes transgresses artistic boundaries. In some cases, when you follow how high rollers make decisions, you can see they clearly think on levels different from the ordinary player.

Yet, if you’ve just had your new album out or went on a successful World Tour, chances are you have made a lot more money than the last November Niners.

Top 10 Earners in Music in 2013 (Source:

  • 1. Taylor Swift, $39.7 million
  • 2. Kenny Chesney, $33 million
  • 3. Justin Timberlake, $31.4 million
  • 4. Bon Jovi, $29.4 million
  • 5. The Rolling Stones, $26.2 million
  • 6. Beyoncé, $24.4 million
  • 7. Maroon 5, $22.3 million
  • 8. Luke Bryan, $22.1 million
  • 9. P!nk, $20 million
  • 10. Fleetwood Mac, $19.1 million

Pop and country rule, apparently. And the 86 stops that Taylor Swift did on her global Red Tour generated a rough profit of $30m.

This means she earned about $350k with every single performance. Poker players dream of such margins.

But the most money is – you guessed it – at the top level of skyscrapers in New York and similar places.


elon musk

These were the best paid CEOs in 2013 (Source:

  • 1. Elon Musk, Tesla Motors, $78.2 million
  • 2. Larry Ellison, Oracle, $77 million
  • 3. Mario Gabelli, Gamco Investors, $69 million
  • 4. Robert Kotick, Activison Blizzard, $64.9 million
  • 5. Leslie Moonves, CBS, $62.2 million
  • 6. John Hammergren, McKesson, $51.7 million
  • 7. David Zaslav, Discovery Communications Class, $49.9 million
  • 8. E. Hunter Harrison, Canadian Pacific Railway, $49.2 million
  • 9. Richard Bracken, HCA Holdings, $46.4 million
  • 10. Gerald Rubin, Helen of Troy, $41.6 million

Tesla Motors, by the way, is the inventor of PayPal, among other things.

So, while there are always a few poker players in the spotlight who make ridiculous amounts of money for sitting at a table it's a lot more lucrative to run back and forth on grass, sing songs about exes or – well, we really don’t know what the Tesla CEO does all day.

The good thing is, however, that even if you don’t have the body to play professional football, the voice to make people pay to hear it, or the brains to lead a global company (sorry!), your next poker tournament could already be your personal breakthrough, no matter who you’re playing against.


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