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One of the allures of poker is that no one at the table cares who you are. As long as they have the money, anyone can walk into a casino, sit down at a table, and start playing. No matter who you are or where you come from, you can play and have a chance to win. The only color poker players see at the table is green, and they want to have it all in front of them. It’s this quality that has attracted so many different types of people to poker.
In short, poker players are all of us. They’re every gender, every race, every creed, united by their love of the game of poker.
In every game of skill, you will have a certain number of people who rise to the top. These players are true masters of the games, the best in the business. They’ve all reached the top of the poker world in their own unique way and lay some claim to the title of “best-ever poker player.” Take a look at our list below to see who believe to be the best-ever poker players, and let us know in the comments who you’d put on this list.
Let’s not beat around the bush; poker players started out as degenerate gamblers. They used to play in dark, smoke-filled back rooms against other degenerates, hoping to be the one who came out on top. However, the advent of online poker has helped bring poker to a wider audience and has allowed players to play much more than ever before.
Suddenly, it wasn’t just degenerate gamblers who were interested in playing poker; people from all walks of life started playing, and a number of those players saw the mathematical strategy behind the game. This opened the door for a new breed of poker player, someone who was interested in the theory of the game rather than the thrill of gambling.
While many people think of the modern poker player as a nerdy, math-obsessed geek, the truth is that poker players in the 21st century are a diverse range of people and cannot be pinned down by one label.
In fact, there are a number of different types of poker players you’ll find at the table and a number of different ways you can categorize those players.
One of the most common ways poker players are categorized is by their level of commitment to the game. You’ll find that some people at the table live and breathe poker, thinking about it almost every minute of the day, whereas other people have a day job and a family at home, and just play poker to let off some steam.
The great thing about poker is that there’s no right or wrong way to enjoy it; whether you’re a casual player or a committed pro, you’re free to enjoy poker your way.
Professional poker players are an interesting breed; despite what it seems, it takes a lot of mental fortitude to play cards for a living. As the late, great Doyle Brunson said, “It’s a hard way to make an easy living.” You cannot become a professional poker player without being mentally resilient and strong-minded. How many other jobs can you repeatedly come home after a long day’s work with less money in your pocket than when you started?
Bankroll management is a term that you hear a lot in poker, and while it’s not essential for the average player, it’s vitally important for professional players. Without a bankroll, a pro has no way to make money; risk too much of it at once, and you potentially lose your source of income but risk too little of it, and you can’t make enough money to survive. Professional players have to walk this tightrope every time they play, and if they want their career to last, they need to have the discipline to stop and make a change if things aren’t going their way.
While many people think of professional poker players as high rollers like Tom Dwan, Daniel Negreanu, or Phil Hellmuth who spend all their time in Las Vegas, you can find professionals playing in a number of games around the world. Don’t be surprised if there’s a pro or two playing in your local casino!
On the other end of the spectrum, we have the recreational player. These players aren’t looking to grind out the most profit possible; they’re here to have fun. Sure, if they win some money, it’s a nice bonus, but their primary motivation for playing is to have fun. If they lose all the money in their pocket, they’ll go home to their day job and make it all back again.
You can find recreational players at all levels of poker, whether it’s the average Joe in your $1/$2 home game, or rich businessmen like Rick Salomon.
A step up from a recreational player, an amateur player is someone who plays for profit but doesn’t solely rely on poker for their income like a recreational poker player does. They’re still learning the ropes and getting to grips with the game and don’t yet have mastery of some of the more advanced concepts of the game.
While they still make common mistakes, these players are committed to improving their poker game and dedicate a significant amount of time to it both on and off the felt. Their aim is to advance to higher stakes, whether live or online, and perhaps even become a professional player themselves!
After Chris Moneymaker won the 2003 WSOP Main Event, poker exploded in popularity in the US and around the world. We saw a huge influx of celebrity players into the poker world, as everyone suddenly wanted to learn how to play this new and exciting gambling game. We saw a number of A-list celebs enter major events at the WSOP, including Tobey Maguire, Vince Vaughan, and Ben Affleck.
While some of these players only had a passing interest in the game, a few discovered a passion for the game and would continue to play it long after the fad was over. Jennifer Tilly is arguably the best example of this; an Oscar-nominated actor who discovered a love for poker and ended up winning the WSOP Ladies event in 2005.
While poker players can be divided into groups based on their attitude towards the game and purpose for playing, they can be divided even further by looking at how they play the game. For example, you can have two recreational players at the table, but just because they’re both recreational, it doesn’t mean they play the same way. In fact, they may have completely different play styles!
When playing poker, it’s important that you identify both the type of player you’re playing against as well as the style of poker they play, as this helps you determine how best to play against them.
Aggressive players are the hardest type of players to play against. They’re always betting and raising, putting you to tough decisions in various different situations. You’ll often find that professional poker players are aggressive players, as it’s generally agreed that aggressive play is the most profitable.
By playing aggressively, you give yourself two ways to win the pot; either your opponent folds, or you have the best hand. The more chances you give yourself to win, the more profitable you’ll be! Plus, your aggression will make other players scared to play against you; they don’t want to get put in tough situations, so they’ll avoid playing hands with you, making your aggression even more profitable.
However, tempering aggression in poker is extremely important. Play too aggressively, and your opponents can just call you down any time they have a decent hand. Playing aggressively is tough, but the rewards are there if you can pull it off.
Aggressive players are the most fun to watch, which is why some of the best-loved poker players like Tom Dwan, Tony G, and Viktor Blom all have a hyper-aggressive style.
While aggressive play is eye-catching and interesting, some players fall back on the old poker mantra, “Tight is right.” This particularly applies to lower-stakes games where the majority of players are playing too many hands; by playing a tight, solid range, you can exploit players who are too loose.
Despite being a profitable style, particularly in low-stakes games, many people don’t like being a tight player. Not only is it boring sitting around waiting for good hands, but it often attracts a lot of derision from other players at the table. Players are quick to call out the people who are playing tight, as they’re perceived to be “not playing the game properly.”
However, if you want to make it in the poker world, you can’t be concerned with what people think of you. Professional players like Chris Ferguson, Mike Matusow, and John Juanda played a tight style for years and made it to the very highest stakes.
One of the aspects of poker that attracts players is the fact that you can win without having the best hand. When the average person thinks of poker, the first word that comes to their mind is “bluffing,” it’s the part of the game that separates it from pure gambling games like blackjack. Because of this, there are a number of players whose sole goal is to bluff their opponents.
Bluffing takes a lot of skills to pull off well; you need to be a master in the art of deception and know how to read your opponent’s well. It takes a lot of practice to become proficient in the art of bluffing, but once you’re able to master it, there’s no feeling like it in the world. Words cannot describe the feeling you get seeing your opponent fold the best hand in a huge pot and having the chips shipped your way while holding absolutely nothing.
However, for some players, bluffing can become an ego trip – a way to prove their dominance over their opponents. It’s important that you do not cross this line, as not only will it make you insufferable to be around, but your desire to bluff will make you predictable and easy to read.
When people think of the modern player, this is the archetype they think of. These players eschew the psychological and social elements of poker and dive into the mathematical aspects of the game. Poker used to be described as a “people game played with cards,” but as online poker has become more prevalent and mathematical theories have become more advanced, more and more people are being converted to the mathematical way of thinking.
These players use probabilistic thinking, game theory, and expected value calculations to determine the most profitable decision. This analytical approach is considered more fundamentally sound, but it can be hard to fully evaluate the situation in-game due to the complex calculations required. This has led to an increase in “tanking” in poker, as players will sit and think through each decision, weighing up the various factors before making their action.
While it’s arguably the best way to play, it also makes the game less enjoyable for other players.
One interesting aspect of poker is that it’s arguably split into two worlds; online poker and live poker. While both are the same game with the same rules and mechanics, the two play very differently from one another. Live players often have trouble transitioning to online play and vice versa.
The reason for this is that live poker is heavily dependent on the players you have at your table. You can only play one table at a time, and most of the time you’re stuck with the table you’ve got, so you’ve got to find a way to make it work. Players will dramatically adjust their strategies depending on who’s at the table, and no two games of live poker are ever the same.
On the other hand, online poker is a lot more mechanical. Players come and go all the time, so the game is less about being able to adapt to your opponents and more about having good fundamentals. When a new player sits down, you don’t know if they’re a fish or a pro, so you need to play a solid fundamental strategy.
Another key difference between the games is that there are a lot more serious players at an online table compared to a live poker table. You’ll find that a number of players at the live poker table have come from elsewhere in the casino and are just looking for another gambling game to play, whereas online poker players have specifically logged on to play poker.
One result of this is that online poker is also considerably more aggressive than live poker. You see a lot more 3bets and 4bet preflop, and there are many more bets and raises postflop. This makes it extremely hard for a live player to transition to online poker – they’re used to 3bets and 4bets being premium hands, whereas online players are re-raising with a wide range of hands as they understand that aggression is a key part of a winning strategy.
Whether you decide to play live poker or online poker, it’s important to understand how the two games differ from one another.
Poker players are considered to be a mercenary bunch, but away from the table, you’ll find a whole community of players all looking to help each other improve at the game. This is partially due to the rise of internet poker and the prevalence of the modern poker player; they see the games as more of an intellectual exercise and the money is just a way of keeping score.
This means that modern players are way more open about sharing and discussing strategies than old-school players ever were, and it’s common to see the best players in the world sharing their thought processes with the community. Players like Phil Galfond, Ben Sulsky, and Doug Polk have made a number of videos for poker training sites explaining their thought processes and interacting with the community.
By far the best way to improve at poker is to surround yourself with like-minded poker players who are also looking to improve their game. While the “lone-wolf” style may work for some, you’ll find yourself improving much quicker by collaborating with other people who enjoy the game.
Working with other players gives you a different insight into the game that you may never find on your own. Many of the biggest poker names in the world credit their success to the players around them and the insights they were able to provide. Big-name pros like Ike Haxton, Justin Bonomo, and Scott Seiver all surrounded themselves with players of similar ambition, and it helped them reach the level they’re playing at today.
One aspect that is often brought up when playing poker is the ethical considerations of the game. Poker is what’s called a “zero-sum game.” This means that if you win, someone else has to be losing.
As nice as it would be, there’s no way for everyone to win playing poker, and the harsh reality is that the majority of people who play poker don’t make money. Only the top 10% of players make any money, and only a small fraction of those players make enough to play professionally. This means that 90% of players who play the game will lose money doing so.
Unfortunately, as poker is a gambling game, it attracts a number of people who are compulsive gamblers, gambling way beyond their limit. It raises a question as to whether or not it’s ethical to play against these players, particularly when there is a skill element that means you are more likely to win. This is something you have to decide for yourself; there is no right answer, so follow your heart on this one.
Despite public perception, poker players are a diverse range of people who come together from all walks of life to enjoy their favorite game. While they may have different reasons for playing and different strategies at the table, they’re all united by their love of the game. Embrace the poker player within you and join a community of like-minded players; there’s plenty of fun to be had!
Jackpot! You’ve flopped a winning hand! This article has surely added some extra chips to your stack. Tune in for more valuable insights and pro-level strategies!
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