There is a great deal of speculation and argument regarding who is the best, smartest, richest poker player at the WSOP. Today I wanted to put the spotlight on a slightly different category. I'm talking about the players who bring the most fans to watch their tables - the biggest "celebrities" of poker so to speak. Here are the players who'd get my vote:
10. Clonie Gowen
Since the majority of poker fans are males, it's no surprise this Maxim pin-up brings out the crowds. Gowen has been placing better and better in WSOP events this year, so she will probably be carrying herself and her fans deeper and deeper into the tournaments. She's definitely not just another pretty face.
9. Joe Hachem
The 2005 Main Event winner is another one of poker's people champions. His charismatic personality gives him a magnetic quality, and he always has a good crowd cheering for him. The smiling Aussie does a great job being an ambassador of poker by lending his presence to a number of events even when he's not even playing. With the 2005 WSOP event still on people's minds, he's easy to recognize.
8. Greg Raymer
The "Fossilman" is an inspiration to many people. The 2004 World Champion and former patent attorney is another great ambassador for poker. He's a spokesperson for PokerStars.com and can often be seen telling people that anybody could be the next world champion. With his trademark hologram glasses, he's very easy to make out in the crowds. Raymer is a true fan favorite.
7. Jennifer Harman
Poker's leading lady is one hell of a card player. She's usually the last female left, so it's easy to spot her. As the constant underdog, she's a crowd favorite. Fans are always disappointed when she busts out, and they all seem to be waiting for the day when she takes another bracelet.
6. Johnny Chan
Names don't get much bigger than Johnny "Orient Express" Chan. With a cameo in the poker movie "Rounders," Chan is one of poker's true celebrities. You could also argue that he's the world's greatest player. With a total of 10 WSOP bracelets to his name, it'd be hard to disagree with that assessment. Only Doyle Brunson has the same number of bracelets. When Chan walks into a room, people always take notice.
"Kid Poker" is one of poker's most approachable characters and can be seen regularly on TV and in magazines giving advice on how to play the game. All the other pros respect him, and the fans love him. "Look! It's Daniel Negreanu!" has got to be one of the most common phrases at the 2006 WSOP thus far.
4. Phil Hellmuth Jr.
The "bad boy" of poker, Hellmuth is hard to ignore. He's often seen berating his opponents and throwing tantrums although most of the time he's just plain winning. Everybody wants to see the "Poker Brat" play. So far this year, he's been somewhat of a gentler, kinder Hellmuth if that's possible. We'll see how long it lasts.
3. Chris "Jesus" Ferguson
How many people at the WSOP wear a cowboy hat, dress entirely in black and have long flowing hair? Not very many, in fact if you see somebody that looks like that, there's a good chance you're looking at Chris "Jesus" Ferguson. Ferguson is also an incredible poker player, the 2000 World Champion in fact. Ferguson could play $2/4 Hold'em games at the Gold Coast, and people would still flock to see him.
2. Doyle Brunson
People come hundreds of miles to be able to say they saw the "Texas Dolly" play. Brunson is poker's living legend, and he's been a mainstay at the WSOP since the very early days. Doyle Brunson is poker and, to a degree, poker is Brunson.
1. Phil Ivey
It's impossible to escape the buzz that is Phil Ivey. Ivey is usually mobbed by fans when he makes trips down the hall. He's easy to recognize with his trademark baseball cap and headphones. He's also got the skills to go with this celebrity status. No one would be surprised to see Ivey take down a few bracelets this year.
A lot of people say Phil Ivey is the game's best player. That may be true, and Ivey is also poker's biggest celebrity right now.