The competitive poker scene has grown tremendously since its inception in 1970. The first World Series of Poker (WSOP) was a private competition between seven players; now, it’s a million-dollar tournament attracting thousands of entrants from all over the world.
One of the biggest driving factors behind the growth of pro poker is online poker. The digital platform makes it easier for skilled players to get recognized. This has spawned a new generation of high-stakes pros, players who’ve gone from playing online games against the world to crushing live tournaments.
Today, we’ll cover a few of the most well-known poker pros whose careers began online.
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Tom “durrrr” Dwan
Tom Dwan was one of the very first professional online poker players. He made a name for himself playing high-stakes against the best in the world, competing against pros like Phil Ivey, Patrik Antonius, and Viktor Blom under the username “durrrr” online.
Dwan has appeared on poker TV shows like NBC’s National Heads-Up Poker Championship, GSN’s High-Stakes Poker, and NBC’s Poker After Dark.
He’s also known for issuing the Durrrr challenge. In the challenge, he bet $1.5 million he could beat anyone in the world – except Phil Galfond – over thousands of hands of high-stakes poker. So far, he’s taken on two opponents and has a mixed record. He won millions off Patrik Antonius over 40,000 hands, but Daniel Cates caused him to back out after 19,335.
Daniel “Jungleman” Cates
Daniel Cates is one of the most renowned players in the modern poker era. His career is exceptionally well-balanced between online games and live events; he’s earned about $12 million from live tournaments and $10 million from playing online.
With fantastic grades and a score in the 99th percentile on the SAT, Cates brought his skills to the online poker scene in 2009. He made a name for himself by beating Tom Dwan in his Durrrr challenge, going up $1.2 million after 19,335 hands and causing Dwan to back out.
From there, he started crushing live tournaments in 2012, earning numerous wins in events like the World Series of Poker (WSOP), World Poker Tour (WPT), and European Poker Tour (EPT).
Phil Galfond is an exceptional poker player who, unlike many others, is primarily known for his Omaha prowess instead of Holdem. With three WSOP bracelets, two of which were from Omaha events, his reputation is certainly justified.
Galfond is a force to be reckoned with online, having repeatedly gone against players like Phil Ivey and Daniel Cates. He’s also a poker coach, working on his renowned site Run It Once Training.
Following Tom Dwan’s footsteps, he issued his own “Galfond Challenge”, battling against numerous other pros in high-stakes Omaha. He’s had a much more successful run, currently undefeated after four opponents.
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Viktor “Isildur1” Blom
Isildur1 was one of the most prominent names in the online poker scene from November to December of 2009. The player was seemingly unstoppable, smashing pros like Phil Ivey, Patrik Antonius, and Tom Dwan. At one point, Isildur1 had been involved in all ten of the largest pots in online poker’s history.
What was even more surprising about this fantastic player was the element of mystery to them. Nobody knew who Isildur1 was, up until Swedish player Viktor Blom revealed himself at the 2011 PokerStars Caribbean Adventure. He became sponsored by PokerStars, competing in tournaments to represent them.
Michael “The Grinder” Mizrachi
Michael Mizrachi has his roots online, playing poker alongside his younger brother Daniel while their older brother, Robert, competed in live tournaments. While his career began online, he moved to live tournaments when he turned 18, where the bulk of his accomplishments lay.
Nicknamed “The Grinder” for his never-give-up mentality, he certainly lives up to the nickname with over $17 million in total tournament earnings. What Mizrachi is most known for is winning the Poker Player’s Championship event of the WSOP three times, more than any other player in history.
The event, formerly known as $50,000 HORSE, is often considered the most prestigious and difficult event at the tournament. This is because of the massive $50,000 buy-in dissuading all but the most serious players from joining, and the format using a mix of multiple game types instead of just one. It’s truly a competition for the best of the best, and Mizrachi is the king of the event.
Finally, we can’t talk about online poker pros without mentioning the man who started it all. Chris Moneymaker shook the world with his 2003 WSOP win, almost single-handedly kickstarting poker’s monumental rise in popularity. He was an amateur, who made his way to the WSOP after winning a $39 online satellite tournament.
At the WSOP, he made his way through the tournament by compensating for his lack of experience with unmatched courage. He made one of the most daring bluffs in poker history versus Sammy Farha to secure the win, proving two things.
The first was that anyone could win at poker if they had what it takes. The second was that online poker was a truly revolutionary outlet, allowing him to turn $39 into a win at the biggest poker tournament of the year. These two factors made poker explode in popularity, with the WSOP seeing ten times the entrants in 2006 compared to 2003.
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Inspired by any of them?
These are some of the biggest names in the modern-day poker scene. If you want to be a poker pro like them someday, go for it! While you shouldn’t be afraid to chase your dreams, you should also keep them grounded.
It takes time and dedication to become a poker pro; it’s a challenging job. Study the game, practice, and most importantly, don’t feel discouraged if you go through a rough patch. Bad luck happens to everyone, even the best of the best.