They are a role model and living (or dead) legends. They make millions of dollars and win countless games and tournaments but above all – they are the greatest poker players the world has known.
In the poker movie "Rounders", Matt Damon has a line that says:"Why do you think the same six guys end up at the final table at the world series of poker every year? Are they the luckiest guys in Las Vegas? No, it's because they've got skills."
Nothing can be truer. It takes incredible skill, talent, coolness and guts and these legends have it all in abundance. They show up, tournament after tournament, game after game, and show the rest of the poker pros what separates them and makes them even better.
Out of the countless poker professionals and champions, this handful of players stand out as the absolute pinnacle of the poker world – they are poker legends.
Stu "The Kid" Ungar was born in New York in 1953 and was only 10 years old when he won a local gin tournament. By 1974, he was considered to be one of the best players in New York. He eventually had to leave New York and travel to Las Vegas due to gambling debts at the local race tracks and because his reputation as a Gin player made it impossible for him to find anyone who would play against him.
In Vegas, Ungar won so many gin tournaments that several casinos requested that he wouldn't play in them because players were not willing to enter the tournament if they knew Ungar was playing. He is famous for saying: "Some day, I suppose it's possible for someone to be a better no limit holdem player than me. I doubt it, but it could happen. But, I swear to you, I don't see how anyone could ever play gin better than me."
He played in the 1980 World Series of Poker and won the main event, defeating poker legend Doyle Brunson, and became the youngest WSOP champion ever (but he would later be surpassed by Phil Hellmuth in 1989). He also won the 1981 WSOP.
After his early success Ungar wasted all of his winnings on drugs, sports betting and horse racing. He went from broke to a millionaire four times.
In 1997, after years of battling drug addiction, Ungar was deeply in debt. He managed to get the $10,000 to enter the WSOP main event from a friend. Ungar clearly had suffered physical damage from addiction, most notably to his nasal membranes. However, he showed that his mental abilities were still intact and won his third WSOP win.
In November 1998, Ungar was found dead in his room at the Oasis Motel in Las Vegas. He is still regarded by many poker pros as the greatest pure talent ever to play the game; in his life, he is estimated to have won over $30 million playing poker. He is the only player to have won 3 WSOP main event tournaments.
Doyle "Texas Dolly" Brunson was born in 1933 in Longhorn, Texas. After A knee injury that ended Brunson's dream of becoming a professional athlete, he started playing poker. Brunson started off by traveling around Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana, in order to play in bigger and bigger games.
He was the first player to earn $1 million in poker tournaments. Brunson also won ten World Series of Poker bracelets so far throughout his 40-years career, tied with Johnny Chan and Phil Hellmuth. He is also one of only four players to have won consecutive main events at the WSOP, in 1976 and 1977.Amazingly, he won both years with the exact same poker hand, a full house of tens full of deuces. The hand is now called a Doyle Brunson.
In 1978, Brunson published Super/System, one of the most respected and comprehensive books on poker. Brunson gave poker players a chance to get insight into the secrets of professional players. This is considered to have damaged many professional players' ability to beat regular players.
Brunson later authored other books, such as Poker Wisdom of a Champion and Super/System 2.
He continues to play in the biggest poker games in the world, playing $4000/$8000 minimum bets and also at the World Series of Poker. Brunson currently holds 10 WSOP gold bracelets – a tie with poker legends Phil Helmuth and Johnny Chan.
As of 2006, his total live tournament winnings exceeded $4,900,000.
Phil Helmuth was born in 1964 in Madison, Wisconsin. Fast forward just 25 years into the future and the young Phil defeats two-time defending champion, Johnny Chan, in the World Series of Poker main event. He became the youngest World Champion of Poker ever.
Hellmuth attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison for three years before dropping out to play poker professionally. Ever since then he is known as the "poker brat", referring to his ego and attitude towards other players at the table.
Nonetheless, he is highly appreciated in the poker community and he is considered the world's best living Texas Hold'em player. Helmuth is a busy poker player: he currently holds ten WSOP bracelets; he is the season three champion of Late Night Poker and has also won the inaugural National Heads-Up Poker Championship.
He also appeared in the first season of the GSN series High Stakes Poker and in the spring of 2006, Hellmuth replaced poker pro Phil Gordon as commentator on Bravo's Celebrity Poker Showdown.
The controversial Helmuth is perceived in the poker community as unable to loss graciously. He has many fans but also many who have a negative opinion about him
Among his many famous quotes are: "If luck weren't involved I guess I'd win every one,"; "I've revolutionized the way to play Texas Hold'em."
Helmuth has multiple endorsement deals, books, and merchandise, making him perhaps the best-known face in poker.
As of 2006, his total live tournament winnings exceed $8,325,000. If Helmuth continues to play and win as he does, becoming the greatest poker player in history will be just a matter of time.
Johnny Chan was born in China in 1962 and later moved with his family to Arizona and finally to Texas, where his family owned restaurants.
Chan entered the gambling world at the young age of 16, when hen went on a junket to Las Vegas. A few years later he dropped out of college in order to move to Vegas and become a professional poker player.
As a pro, Chan was very successful, winning game after game, which he had credited to the fact that at the time, most players did not have experience playing against an Asian poker player and therefore could not "read him".
Chan was a poker star in the late 1980's, winning two consecutive championship events of the World Series of Poker in 1987 and 1988, a feat that has not been repeated since, and probably never will be, due to the ever growing fields. He failed to achieve a third consecutive win (which would have been an amazing achievement) when he was defeated in the 1989 by a very young and unknown poker player by the name of Phil Helmuth.
Chan is the author of Play Poker Like Johnny Chan, an instructional book on several different types of poker games. He also published Million Dollar Hold'em: Winning Big in Limit Cash Games, which focuses on limit Texas Hold'em strategy.
In 2005, Chan won his tenth World Series of Poker title and he is now tied with Doyle Brunson and Phil Hellmuth for the record of 10 World Series of Poker gold bracelets. He was inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame in 2002.