- Gary Wise, ESPN Poker
- 0 Shares
The WSOP bracelet. There's no trophy in poker that comes close to matching it in prestige or luster. It's the focus of true professionals, the subject of myriad articles and, for our purposes, the ultimate prize. "There are two kinds of poker players," ESPN.com's Phil Gordon has been known to say, "those who have bracelets, and those who don't." Gordon is one of the most decorated players to have never won one, so he'd know.
Because so many lust after the bracelet, we present you with this reminder of the best players of all time when it comes to taking home the jewelry. The men who follow are the greatest performers in WSOP history. We know that because they're at the top of the list in the only pursuit that matters: winning bracelets.
1. Phil Hellmuth: As painful as it may be to admit, Hellmuth is the greatest player in the history of the World Series of Poker. He has a record 11 bracelets, the first of which he won in a historic 1989 final against Johnny Chan, the last of which he won a year ago. "My family usually comes first," Hellmuth says, "But the WSOP is when I get to just focus on poker 100 percent." That focus is what may make him the single most dangerous man to have at your WSOP table. That, or his ability to make your eardrums bleed on command.
Tie-2. Johnny Chan: If nothing else, Johnny Chan can claim ownership of the most amazing run in WSOP history. He won the event in 1987, then did it again in 1988, then finished second in 1989. However, if that were all he'd done at the WSOP, he wouldn't be on this list. All told, Chan owns 10 bracelets and is still going strong with five bracelets this decade. It's seldom that a movie can accurately sum up a man's table presence, but if you want to know what it's like to sit with Chan, give "Rounders" a watch. Actually, even if you don't want to know what it's like to sit with Chan, watch "Rounders" anyway.
Tie-2. Doyle Brunson: Calling anyone else the greatest ever to play poker is an insult because of the way Doyle has combined skill, success and longevity. He's the owner of 10 bracelets, two of which came in back-to-back world championships in 1976 and 1977. Brunson's massive jewelry collection is made more remarkable by the fact that he's traditionally spent most of his WSOP time playing cash games, skipping the series altogether more than once in the late '90s. Though he's 75 years old, he's still a very serious threat to win any tournament he enters.
Tie-4. Erik Seidel: Best remembered for his loss to Chan to end the 1988 WSOP in his first WSOP event, Seidel has more than made up for it. He's won eight bracelets, and his wins have come against much larger, better-educated fields than in the old days. Among those wins were victories in three consecutive years (1992 to '94), two half-million-dollar purses and the ultimate revenge -- a heads-up win over Chan despite entering the duel down 2-1 in chips.
Tie-4. Johnny Moss: "The Grand Old Man of the Game," Moss was the first truly great player of the modern era. The WSOP started after he was past his prime, but he was elected the world champion in 1970, then won the first freeze-out ever played to win again in 1971 and again in 1974. All told, he took home eight bracelets, the last of them at an astounding 81 years old.
6. Billy Baxter: Asked to name the great gamblers of modern times, the first name to escape Amarillo Slim's lips was Billy Baxter's. Largely forgotten in the television age, Baxter nonetheless still is a fierce competitor. His seven bracelets all have come in lowball games, and his performance shows a dominance in that variety of poker that many would argue goes unmatched in any of the game's disciplines.
Tie-7. Jay Heimowitz: Back in the '70s, when only the finest players in the world thrived at WSOP, Heimowitz was the one "amateur" who survived the sharks. He was labeled thus only because he made most of his money in other ways, but there was no question he was competitive with the big boys. He's maintained his game to this day, evidenced in his sharing with Baxter the distinction of being the only two players to have won bracelets in each of the '70s, '80s, '90s and '00s. He owns six bracelets.
Tie-7. T.J. Cloutier: In the media blitz of the past five years, T.J.'s star has dimmed a little bit, but there's no doubting his record. Owner of six WSOP bracelets, the former football player also holds the dubious distinction of being one of just three men -- along with Crandell Addington and Dewey Tomko -- to have reached the final two of the WSOP main event twice but to have never won. In a time when all of the greatest players had taken that hallowed title, it was said of Cloutier that he was the best never to have done so. As he told prolific tournament reporter Andy Glazer after a disappointing end to his 2000 quest, "That's poker."
Tie-7. Men Nguyen: A three-time Card Player Magazine Player of the Year, "The Master" has six bracelets to his name to go with countless final table appearances.
Tie-10. Each of the following players has five bracelets:
• Gary "Bones" Berland -- A notorious player who won all five of his bracelets from 1977 to 1979.
• Stu "The Kid" Ungar -- A three-time world champion who won 10 of 30 $5,000-plus events he entered in his career, only to have his career cut short by drug abuse.
• Berry Johnston -- The quiet 1986 world champion has cashed over 50 times in WSOP play.
• Ted Forrest -- "Spooky" won three bracelets in 1993 alone (the same year Hellmuth did).
• Chris "Jesus" Ferguson -- The National Heads-Up Poker champion has won all five of his bracelets in this decade, including the world championship in 2000.
• Layne Flack -- "Back to Back Flack" earned his nickname by winning two events he entered consecutively in 2002. He won two more a year later.
• Allen Cunningham -- Perhaps the most successful WSOP player of the 2000s, Cunningham has won a bracelet in three consecutive years.
• Phil Ivey -- The most feared player in the world today, Ivey surprisingly has never won a bracelet in hold 'em.
Gary Wise is a regular contributor to ESPN.com, Bluff magazine, worldseriesofpoker.com and other publications. His podcast, Wise Hand Poker Radio, can be heard at roundersradio.com and airs at 8 p.m. Wednesdays.
Who are the top WSOP bracelet winners of all time? Gary Wise runs down the top 10 and more.