The year is 2003 and an unknown accountant from Tennessee named Chris Moneymaker has just come from nowhere to win the World Series of Poker Main Even
The year is 2003 and an unknown accountant from Tennessee named Chris Moneymaker has just come from nowhere to win the World Series of Poker Main Event. In addition, ESPN has just used ‘hole card’ cameras for the first time, allowing the television viewing audience to see the players’ cards as they are playing. These two factors have lit the fuse of an enormous poker boom, as the whole world now wants to play no limit Texas Hold’em. ESPN suddenly has a multi-million-dollar industry in its hands. In order to take advantage and maximize the potential of this boom, they smartly decide to market certain individuals as ‘pros’.
These lucky individuals were in the right place at the right time, playing a game that became hugely popular overnight. But most of them weren’t nearly as good at poker as the TV cameras, endorsement deals and media spotlight might lead you to believe. In fact, the vast majority of true poker masters are people you’ll rarely see on a television screen, and the vast majority of ‘TV pros’ could never make a living as full time online grinders. I’m not saying that these are bad players, in fact, I wouldn’t necessarily want to play heads up against any of them (except Phil Hellmuth of course), but every player on this list was vastly over-marketed beyond their actual poker skills. In cases like this, poker success can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Take Gus Hansen for example. I remember reading his book ‘Every Hand Revealed’ and laughing to myself about his ‘strategic advice’. Basically, his strategy relied heavily on being Gus Hansen. He was the guy from the Full Tilt commercials, from numerous televised high stakes games– of course he could just raise all the time and win pots…EVERY CASUAL POKER PLAYER WAS TRAINED TO BE AFRAID OF HIM. The same could be said for every player on this list. There are three dead giveaways to spot an over-hyped ‘TV Pro’: 1.) they usually have cheesy nicknames or personal branding, 2.) They almost never play online and 3.) they have largely faded from the spotlight in recent years due to the ever-growing competence of the average player as well as the emergence of a new generation of much more skilled professionals. Let’s take a look at a few of these players.
Cheesy Nickname: None
…Just kidding. Ivey is one of the exceptions of this time period. Notice that he doesn’t have some stupid nickname, his ‘brand image’ is that he wins money. He never had to rely on marketing gimmicks to strike fear into the hearts of opponents, his deadly stare and ability to look into your soul have always been more than enough. His success both online and live give legitimacy to his status as one of the best in the world.
Cheesy Nickname: ‘The Poker Brat’
Phil is by far the most successful self-promoter in poker history. I give him all the credit in the world for his marketing savvy and shameless self-promotion. Most people would feel weird wearing clothing with their own name written on it and constantly talking about how great they are. These things seem natural for Phil, and it has made him rich. Check out this hilarious video of Phil getting consistently owned by Phil Ivey inter-spliced with Hellmuth saying things like: “everyone is afraid to bluff me” and “I can look into your soul and I know when you are lying”. It’s high comedy.
Against top tier players like Ivey, Hellmuth has little to no chance. He blames his failures on luck, constantly justifying his own decisions and downplaying the quality of Ivey’s play.
So how does he win? Well, firstly, he only plays live tournaments. He never plays online (he would get slaughtered even at low to mid stakes online). He has been challenged by many members of the high stakes community and has never once agreed to play any of them. Not only does he only play live tournaments, but he almost exclusively plays in the World Series of Poker. The WSOP is famous for having the easiest tournament fields in all of poker. It is every casual fan’s dream to play in the World Series and every year many casual fans with almost no chance of winning get to realize that dream. So think of Phil as ‘the king of fish’. He uses his celebrity in order to intimidate amateurs into making mistakes against him, while avoiding confrontations with professionals. All of this while only playing on the most televised and hyped stage in poker. It’s brilliant marketing.
Cheesy Nickname: ‘The Prince of Poker’
Another brilliant self-promoter, Scotty has never been shy about telling the world how great he is. In my experience playing live poker, I have played against many guys like Scotty. The quintessential ‘table captain’, the loud and confident player who absolutely destroys weak competition. In the early days of the poker boom, such skills were enough. However, the games have gotten much tougher and players like Scotty can’t simply rely on their image anymore. There was a time when being the self-proclaimed ‘Prince of Poker’ would be enough to induce fear and panic at the table, nowadays it’s simply good for a laugh. Scotty is still a solid and (possibly) profitable poker player, but definitely not among the world’s elite as his TV image might suggest. Watch him get absolutely owned by Phillip Hilm in the 2007 WSOP Main Event
Cheesy Nickname: ‘The Great Dane’
In my opinion the best player on this list. Hansen’s aggressive style earned him a lot of success in the early years of the poker boom. As I mentioned above, a lot of that success was the result of his image and the fact that casual players were terrified to play against him, but it’s still impressive. However, he is the poster boy for what happens to ‘TV pros’ when they try to pit their skills against the best players online, as Hansen is the biggest loser in the history of online poker (nearly $20 million in losses).
So, my argument is not that he is necessarily a bad player, but simply that someone with nearly $20 million in online losses cannot be considered among the world’s elite. I don’t really think I have to defend that argument further.
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