PokerListings Most Inspiring Player 2016

Update: It's official! The 2016 winners of the PokerListings Spirit of Poker Awards are set. And they are:

  • Most Inspiring Player: Felipe "Mojave" Ramos
  • Rising Star: Silje Nilsen
  • Living Legend: Konstantin Puchkov

A big thank you to all who voted and congratulations on our very worthy winners! We hope to see all of you at the 2016 Battle of Malta!


To be nominated for our signature PokerListings Most Inspiring Player Award you've got to have something extra.

It helps to be at the peak of your game with results to match. But being "inspiring" at the poker tables means a lot more than just binking a few big tournament scores.

In short: Watching you play poker makes other people want to play poker. You're innovative (or even groundbreaking) in your game play. Your personality makes sitting at a poker table with you for a few hours a joy.

You bring a sense of gratitude and light-heartedness whenever you play. And, maybe most importantly, you don't stop thinking about, talking about and sharing the game of poker with those around you.

The poker world needs you to survive and thrive, and we're all the better for your presence at the tables. Our eight inspiration-evoking nominees for Most Inspiring Player in 2016 are profiled below.

Back to the 2016 PokerListings Spirit of Poker Awards main page here.

Daniel "Jungleman" Cates (USA)

Dan Cates

Who doesn’t love the Jungleman? From the highest of high-stakes pros to the most casual microgrinders, everyone has a soft spot for the enigmatic, occasionally salty but always entertaining and endearing Cates. One of the game’s most brilliant minds and universally considered one of the best heads-up players ever Cates has been a mythical feature in poker circles for years.

He’s won extraordinary amounts of money, battled with the best in the biggest games and consistently come out a winner. But Cates has also spent the past few years travelling to any and all poker spots around the globe, from Manila and Macau to more obscure stops like Georgia and Marrakech, and shown he’s a grinder non-pareil online as well.

Now part of the Global Poker League, offering coaching and opening up like never before, Cates’ personality is starting to shine and his heads-up performances in the GPL are already legendary. The more the poker world gets to know Jungleman, the better we are for it.

Hui Chen ‘Kitty’ Kuo (Taiwan)

Kitty Kuo

They say the secret to making poker resonate with the average TV or online viewer is personality, and Kitty Kuo has it in spades. Maybe even hearts, clubs and diamonds, too. Brash, bold, bling-y and, perhaps most of all, endearing, Kuo has exploded onto the international poker scene over the past couple of years after getting her start crushing on the smaller Asian tours.

A truly unforgettable personality – and Twitter feed – has left the poker world desperate for more and Kuo is providing it on cam as a member of the Global Poker League. If you didn’t know, she’s already #1 on Taiwan’s all-time money list and, now under the tutelage of a few of the game’s best in Doug Polk, expect more huge results like her 6th at the 2016 Aussie Millions to follow fast and furiously. If you're not a Kitty fan, just 'go your side' already.

Mike Leah (Canada)


What describes the understated Canadian Mike Leah better than “he’s a true card player.” Online, live, heads-up, mixed games, MTTs … whatever the format Leah just sits down and goes to work. More often than not he comes out on top, too. After a career year and his first WSOP bracelet in 2014 Leah has just kept on crushing, putting up result after result on the WPT, EPT and WSOPC.

One of the game’s most truly dedicated players Leah just loves to play poker, as evidenced by his most recent WSOPC ring in a $365 buy-in event in Montreal. A former member of Team Ivey Poker Leah was a fourth-round GPL pick of Fabrice Soulier of the Paris Aviators who, without even knowing Mike too well, knew he couldn’t pass up on that kind of talent and dedication. Leah is an inspiration to grinders everywhere and, even though he’s too humble to say it himself, one of the biggest beasts out there.

Fatima Moreira de Melo (Netherlands)


There are so many great things to say about Fatima Moreira de Melo that it’s hard to pick just one to start with. Truly funny and unafraid to speak her mind, de Melo has lit up the EPT commentary booth whenever she’s stepped in over the past couple years. Not just a talented commentator de Melo has really started to knock off consistent results over the past year herself while playing a wide range of buy-ins, including the biggest on the EPT and smaller standalones like the Battle of Malta.

Her talents don’t stop at poker, though, as the multiple-medal Olympic Field Hockey star has also won the Dutch version of reality show Survivor and sang on an American Idol style show. We’d be happy to have just one of her talents, let alone the swiss army knife of life skills she seems to have. If you’re at a table with her we can guarantee you’re in for a fun day, and that’s a rare and wonderful thing in poker.

Dominik Nitsche (Germany)

dominik nitsche

Our only repeat nominee from last year's Most Inspiring Player category, here’s what we said about Dom last year:

“Global poker nomad before he turned 19; soft-field tournament connoisseur; newest member of Team 888poker, 3-time WSOP bracelet winner. As November Niner Joe Cheong put it Dominik Nitsche is an “efficient poker machine” and truly one of the game’s best MTT minds (despite his own claims to the contrary). That he’s also one of its most approachable/light-hearted is icing on the cake. Maybe it’s time spent among the denizens of his adopted Edinburgh home but Nitsche has found the right balance of talent and temperament to make the game of poker seem like the Life of Riley. And that’s not easy to do.”

Yep. Still holds. Add to that a career year with his best results ever, winning the 888 XL Mini Main event and playing the $300k Super High Roller the same week and it’s also easy to see why Nitsche was a unanimous nominee again this year.

Luca Pagano (Italy)

Luca Pagano

One of Italy’s first and truest poker stars, Pagano is the perfect role model for anyone who wants to take what they’ve done in poker and turn it into something bigger. Much, much bigger. The founder of Pagano Events and a driving force in the expansion of both the IPT at home and the EPT to Malta, Pagano is quite literally the face of Italian poker in many ways and one of the most integral player/industry reps in one of poker’s most important markets.

He also hasn’t seemed to lose much of his game, either, as he stepped in after a long layoff to finish 17th at this year’s EPT Dublin Main Event. If Italy had a Poker Hall of Fame, Pagano would be one of its first inductees. He’s not so far off the list for the International HOF, either.

Felipe 'Mojave' Ramos (Brazil)

Felipe Ramos

When we think of Brazilian poker the first thing that comes to mind is a whole lot of joy, and Felipe Mojave Ramos is at the top of the joy charts - even for Brazil. Without a lot of widespread coverage of the Brazil Series of Poker (BSOP) the world hasn't caught on to Ramos’ game but thanks to the Global Poker League we’ve got to see Ramos share his poker thoughts and vibrant personality on stream.

He’s been even more of a delight than expected. He’s racked up a ton of points for his beloved Sao Paulo Mets and shown exactly why he’s such a treasured character in the booming Brazilian poker scene. Being good pals with Neymar doesn’t exactly hurt, either, but Ramos has proven he has more than enough game and personality to make his own impact. The only thing left to say about Ramos and the new wave of Brazilian talent sweeping through poker? Vamoooooooooo! 

Vladimir Troyanovskiy (Russia)


It’s hard to get a true sense of the Russian poker scene, given the language gap, but thanks to the presence and push of last year’s MIP Anatoly Filatov and the Global Poker League we’re seeing a lot more light shone on Russia’s poker heroes these days. Vladimir “vovtroy” Troyanovskiy is clearly one of those heroes. A regular on the live high-stakes scene the stoic Troyanovskiy was obviously a solid player but hard to get a peg on personality-wise.

Thanks to the GPL we’ve begun to see more of Troyanovskiy’s persona come to life and what an engaging and cool guy we’ve seen. Always a dominator online, Troyanovskiy just finished in the Top 10 of the overall SCOOP leaderboard with five final tables in four different variants. As if that’s not enough, his live game is equally tight as he finished fifth in the 2016 PCA Main Event and won the 10k 6-Max Turbo at the EPT Grand Final.