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The High Roller Survey: 61 Poker Superstars Tell Us Who Is The Best And Who Is The Most Overrated

by Card Player News Team |  Published: Jun 05, 2019

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It started with a simple question: Who is the best poker player in the world right now? Arriving at an answer is much more difficult. Everyone has their own opinion, and everyone uses a different combination of criteria to come up with that opinion, whether its titles, bracelets, money earned, or even playing style.

Justin Bonomo just finished off the greatest year in the history of live tournament poker, winning ten titles and cashing for more than $25 million, but even he will admit to being on the positive side of variance during his run. Furthermore, he didn’t even win the Card Player Player of the Year award, finishing fifth behind four other top pros, including the record-setting Jake Schindler, who made an astounding 31 final tables during his 2018 campaign.

And if you ask a casual poker fan off the street, he or she may tell you that the greatest player in the world is Daniel Negreanu. After all, Kid Poker was on top of the all-time money list for quite a while. Maybe they’ll even answer Phil Hellmuth? He does have the most World Series of Poker bracelets.

Latest Card Player Magazine Available NowBut as funny as that may sound, even us die-hard poker fans are completely unqualified to offer an opinion. The simple truth is that the vast majority of us will never sit down across the table with the world’s best players. Sure, we might catch some of their play on a live stream or two, but that’s not much of a sample size to determine the best.

So, Card Player decided to ask the players themselves. Who could possibly know better than them?

And while we were at it, we thought we might as well ask a whole bunch of other questions as well, and really try to get a sense of the big buy-in tournament landscape as the players see it. Yes, we wanted to know who they thought was the best, but what about who is the funniest? Who is the smartest? How do you feel about shot clocks? And where is the best place on Earth to play poker? Before long, we had developed a 20-question survey.

The problem, of course, is getting these poker players to take the survey without bluffing. It’s not always easy to share your authentic opinion when considering player relationships, complicated financial backing deals, player sponsorships, and just general poker player drama. The solution was anonymity. In exchange for their honesty, each poker player was assured their answers would never be connected to them.

With those parameters in mind, we started passing out the questionnaire. For three months, Card Player reporters gathered data from the top players in the game.

The Demographics

The survey was anonymous, but that doesn’t mean we can’t give you an idea of who participated. To say that the 61 players who participated, out of nearly 100 players Card Player reached out to, are qualified is a huge understatement. These players represent the very best of their professions, and regularly compete in the biggest buy-in events all over the globe.

Survey takers included eight of the top 10 live tournament winners ever and 16 of the top 25. The combined live lifetime earnings for all 61 players totals out to just more than $784 million, for an average of $12.853 million per participant.

While the player pool interviewed has done quite well at the WSOP, winning a combined 65 bracelets (as well as numerous WPT, EPT, and MILLIONS events), it’s the high roller tournament where this group really shines. Survey respondents have 224 victories in events with a buy-in of $25,000 or more!

The vast majority of surveys were filled out by Americans, with 40 players represented. Canada was second-most with seven, followed by Germany with three, and the UK with two. Other countries featured include China, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Australia, France, Bosnia, Portugal, Ireland, and Scotland. Just two of the survey participants were women.

High-stakes poker players also proved to have no trouble finding love, with 75.4 percent (46 players) in a relationship. Just 36.1 percent (22 players), however, reported having children. That might have something to do with age, as the youngest player polled was 24 years old, and the oldest 59. More than half of the players (33 total), were between the ages of 28 and 34. The average age skewed slightly higher, however, at 36.34 years old.

Now, let’s hear what the players themselves had to say.

Quotes:

‘Right now, I have to say it’s Stevie [Chidwick]. He’s obviously been one of the best for a while, but right now he’s on another level.’

‘It’s hard to ignore what [Justin] Bonomo did [last year], but David Peters is there at the end every time. And Ike Haxton! And [Jake] Schindler! There are a lot of crushers out there.’

‘It’s probably Trueteller (Timofey Kuznetsov). No, it’s definitely him.’


If you are just a casual poker fan, there’s a chance you might not even know who Stephen Chidwick is. So, it may surprise you that he received 24 votes out of the 76 placed. (Some players couldn’t make up their mind on just one.)

Chidwick finished second in last year’s Player of the Year race and is making another run this year. The British poker pro has more than $23.2 million in live tournament earnings and won the overall best player award at the U.S. Poker Open earlier this year.

The second player on the list, Timofey Kuznetsov, is even more unknown to most poker fans. The 27-year-old Russian pro is an online phenom at the highest cash game stakes, although he rarely plays on the live tournament circuit.

Other players receiving multiple votes included Bryn Kenney (3), Jake Schindler (3), Ben Sulsky (3), Alex Foxen (2), Linus Loeliger (2), Daniel Cates (2), Jason Koon (2), and Mikita Badziakouski (2).

Quotes:

‘Right now it’s Stephen Chidwick, just because he’s running the best right now. Whoever is running the best at the moment is usually the most overrated.’

‘The Germans.’

‘You’re going to get an answer like Hellmuth, but it’s not him. He’s the most incorrectly assumed overrated poker player.’

‘It’s Phil Hellmuth. Honestly, he’s probably a little underrated by the top players, but the general public thinks he’s the best player in the world. He’s very good, obviously, but overrated because of casual poker fans.’

‘Stu Ungar. He has legend status but hasn’t won anything in over 15 years. Seriously though, Doug Polk.’


In instances where the survey was conducted in person, this was by far the most-whispered answer given by respondents. Many players wanted to be reassured their reply wouldn’t be attributed to them, and nearly 20 percent just flat-out refused to answer entirely.

Phil Hellmuth was the most popular answer given by a large margin, and it’s no surprise, given his history of confrontations with many of the younger high roller regulars. Despite the grief he gets from the solver crowd, however, Hellmuth has had some success in the big buy-in events, finishing fourth in both the $1 million buy-in Big One For One Drop and the $300,000 Super High Roller Bowl.

The other players include some of the biggest winners of the last few years. Interestingly, three survey respondents named the same player for both best overall, and most overrated.

Quotes:

‘Isaac Haxton just comes across as a genius whenever I talk to him.’

‘Ben Yu has to be the smartest, just because he’s good friends with that Jeopardy! guy (James Holzhauer).’

‘Talal Shakerchi isn’t really a poker pro, but he’s often the smartest player in those high roller fields.’


Maybe it’s the glasses? Or more than likely, it’s the fact that Isaac Haxton is one of the few high roller regulars with an Ivy League education. The 2018 Super High Roller Bowl champion attended Brown University, along with Scott Seiver, who also made this list. The decision to play poker for a living has proven to be a lucrative one, with Haxton cashing for a total of $25.9 million over the last 12 years, which is good enough to put him in 13th place all time.

Ben Yu is no slouch himself, having attended Stanford University. The rest of the list is made up of high-stakes cash game legends Phil Galfond and Ben Sulsky, as well as 54-year-old British investment manager and CEO Talal Shakerchi, who has turned poker in a profitable hobby both live and online.

But does being the smartest poker player equate to being the best poker player? According to the survey results, no. Only two players gave the same response for both best overall, and smartest. Other players receiving multiple votes included Brandon Adams (2), Fedor Holz (2), Dan Smith (2), and John Juanda (2).

Quotes:

‘That’s a tough question. I guess I’m still waiting on a poker player to make me laugh.’

‘This is an old school answer from me, but Haralabos [Voulgaris]. He hardly plays poker anymore, but he’s what jumped in my mind.’

‘Nick Petrangelo is hilarious. I’d still rather not have him at my table, but at least when he’s there it’s usually a good time.’

‘The answer is Sam Soverel. It doesn’t matter if Sam is winning or losing, he’s still funny.’


Nick Petrangelo is a 32-year-old former hockey standout turned poker pro who has won two WSOP bracelets and numerous high roller titles, along with $16.7 million in live tournament earnings. He’s also pretty funny, according to his peers.

Petrangelo was joined in the top five by popular poker commentator and pro Nick Schulman, and a pair of high roller Floridians in Sam Soverel and Sean Winter. Sam Grafton was the most popular choice for those players across the pond, with the UK pro drawing four votes. Other players receiving multiple votes included Daniel Cates (3), Matt Salsberg (3), Jamie Kerstetter (3), Rainer Kempe (2), Jared Jaffee (2), and Luke Schwartz (2).

Quotes:

‘Can I vote for myself? Nobody else has a style, they all just wear the same thing every day.’

‘I’ll say Dan Smith, along with any Korean poker player ever.’

‘Bryn Kenney has great style. It might not be for everyone, but at least he goes for it.’

‘I would love to have just some of Nick Schulman’s overall vibe. The guy never looks uncomfortable in anything he wears.’


Just three respondents opted to pass on this question, despite more than a dozen initially claiming they would have trouble coming up with an answer. In the end, the boldly-dressed Bryn Kenney finished with the most support. The New York-native isn’t afraid of standing out in a crowd, and is always seen sporting the latest high-end fashion. He can obviously afford it, sitting in the no. four spot on the all-time tournament earnings leaderboard with $34.8 million.

The rest of the chart includes the incredibly charitable, cowboy hat-donning Dan Smith, the aforementioned funny man Nick Schulman, fellow poker TV hosts Maria Ho and Tony Dunst, and the perfectly side-swept helmet of hair that sits atop Charlie Carrel’s head. Other players receiving multiple votes included Chino Rheem (2), Jason Koon (2), Daniel Cates (2), and Antonio Esfandiari (2).

Quotes:

‘She doesn’t play the high stakes, but [Jamie] Kerstetter is a great poker player to follow.’

‘Kitty Kuo is a hilarious person to follow. She’s so blunt, but there’s also the language barrier and she mixes up her words. It’s like a cartoon.’

‘I don’t really look forward to reading any poker player’s tweets.’


Perhaps it’s more telling that 14 survey respondents couldn’t come up with a single name, or just claimed they don’t use social media platforms at all in their day-to-day life. Still, the always-affable Jamie Kerstetter came away with the most votes, followed by WPT Bobby Baldwin Classic runner-up Kitty Kuo. The rest of the top five is rounded out by the dry humor of Hollywood screen writer and part-time poker pro Matt Salsberg, eight-time WSOP bracelet winner Erik Seidel, and once again, Nick Schulman, who makes his third appearance in the survey results.

Quotes:

‘No, but I have had a few beers during the last level of the day.’

‘Almost all of them.’

‘I can’t remember the last time I played one sober, but there must have been a stop somewhere when I couldn’t get hooked up.’

‘Absolutely not. I think if you are putting up that kind of money, especially if it’s somebody else’s money, then you should be as clear-headed as possible.’

‘Not by choice, since I was still feeling it from the night before.’


Would you have guessed that a little under one-third of the surveys would come back with an affirmative for this question? Most of us would never dream of putting up that much money without being as close to 100 percent as possible, but what about the guys who are putting up that much cash every week? The split in the results was constant even when accounting for age, nationality, or total earnings.

Quotes:

‘I think right now it’s early 30s, but as the current top players age, it will become 40s and 50s, similar to when top business leaders peak in their careers.’

‘I’ll say 25. Not because of endurance, or mental capacity or anything like that. It’s just because that’s when you are the most into it and are studying the hardest.’

‘I think your peak performance has more to do with where you are in life, rather than your age.’

‘Early 30s, maybe even 30, actually. And that’s not a knock on the older guys. In fact, that only makes guys like Erik Seidel that much more impressive. I doubt I’ll be playing high rollers at that age, let alone winning them with regularity.’


With demographics that skew heavily towards players in their early 30s, it’s not surprising to see the same of the answers to this survey question. What is interesting, however, is the grim outlook that survey respondents had on the future of their careers. Of the 56 answers given, only seven players believed that their best years were ahead. The other 49 players were all older than the peak age they gave.

Is 87.5 percent of the high roller world actually over the hill? We doubt it, but perhaps there is some cause for concern if you are staring down your 40s and 50s. A look at the former POY winners and their ages does suggest that Father Time plays a factor, at least when it comes to reaching the very top of the leaderboard. Just two of the past ten winners were in their 30s. 2018 – Jake Schindler (29), 2017 — Adrian Mateos (23), 2016 – David Peters (29), 2015 – Anthony Zinno (34), 2014 – Dan Colman (24), 2013 – Daniel Negreanu (39), 2012 – Greg Merson (24), 2011 – Ben Lamb (26), 2010 – Tom Marchese (24), 2009 – Eric Baldwin (25).

Quotes:

‘I would want it for every tournament that didn’t have a huge number of amateurs.’

‘If it was more like a chess clock, I would be in favor of it.’

‘No, I like tanks. Not excessive, not every hand, and certainly not every decision. But every once in a while, there’s a situation that pops up that’s worth a few minutes.’

‘This used to be a no for me but I’m now a strong yes seeing how great it’s been for the game since it started a few years ago.’


The survey originally included a question about the big-blind ante format, however, the results were so one-sidedly in favor of it (96.5 percent) that we didn’t bother to include it.

This survey result was a little less unanimous than the big blind ante, but still skewed heavily in favor of shot clocks. The problem, of course, is that shot clocks are not easily implemented. While many of the best players want shot clocks, simply to speed up some of their slower competitors, not every tournament series has the resources or staff to make it happen.

Equipment issues aside, there is also the matter of standardizing the rules, so that players have the same experience at every tournament stop. How much time should a player get to make a decision, and how many time extension chips can they use? Nearly a dozen players suggested something closer to a chess clock, that would allow users to bank away time for tougher decisions later on in the tournament.

Quotes:

‘To play against Isaac Haxton is constant pressure.’

‘For me it’s always going to be the slow players. Guys like Vogelsang and Cristos.’

‘It’s got to be David Peters. The guy just destroys me, so I’m always annoyed to see him at my table.’

‘Why does anyone pay any attention to Randall Emmett? The guy is desperate for it.’


Other than the exceptions noted in the graph, most of the answers on this question were all over the place. Just four players declined to answer, but a total of 16 names were given just once. We’re going to assume more than a handful of these are based on personal vendettas and aren’t worth listing.

The players listed above did come up more than a few times, mostly due to their issues with playing speed. A couple, however, have rubbed some of the other players the wrong way. Speaking of speed…

Quotes:

‘I’ll be shocked if Christoph [Vogelsang] doesn’t get the most votes.’

‘In the high roller tournaments it’s Vogelsang, and for the other tournaments its Jordan Cristos.’

‘You can’t criticize slow players because they aren’t really breaking the rules. Yeah, it’s annoying, but that’s why we should use shot clocks more often.’

‘I think the excessive tanking problem has gotten a little better recently. With the exception of a handful of known players, I’m seeing slightly quicker decisions lately, at least in the high rollers.’


Of the 59 total votes cast, Christoph Vogelsang earned an astounding 28 (47.5 percent) of them. Jordan Cristos wasn’t too much better, with 15 (25.4 percent) votes of his own. The pair have been the two most-discussed players surrounding the tanking debate, and neither have backed down from a style of play that many believe makes poker boring to watch and participate in.

That being said, you can’t argue with their results. The German-born Vogelsang has $19.9 million in career tournament earnings, including a win in the $300,000 buy-in Super High Roller Bowl. Cristos is a World Poker Tour champion and WSOP Circuit ring winner, who recently earned a US Poker Open title. Byron Kaverman, who finished third in the poll, is a high-stakes crusher himself who is no. 38 all-time with $14.9 million in winnings.

Additionally, survey respondents made it clear that slow doesn’t always equal annoying. Despite receiving 43 of the total votes cast for slowest player, both Vogelsang and Cristos combined for just eight votes in the annoying category. Other players receiving multiple votes included David Sands (3) and Martin Kabrhel (2).

Quotes:

‘I guess I look forward to Vegas the most, just because the prize pools are bigger. Let’s say the Rio during the summer, and Aria during the rest of the year. Let’s be honest, Aria during most of the summer too.’

‘Barcelona, London, and Montreal are great stops because they have cool cities to explore.’

‘I love playing at the Wynn. The scenery there is great.’

‘I played poker on a yacht. Can that be my answer?’

‘I love playing at the Crown Casino in Melbourne. I don’t even mind that much when I bust the tournament just because I enjoy it there so much.’


The Aria is home to more than half of the high roller events that take place each year, so it’s not shocking to see it share the top spot. The property also enjoys the benefit of having the PokerGo studio, a comfortable, high-stakes tournament room just steps from the Las Vegas Strip.

Melbourne, Australia’s Crown Casino might surprise some North American players who haven’t made the trip down under. Only one Australian poker player took the survey, and even that person didn’t choose Crown. The destination proved popular, however, with many of the top high roller players, as did other international stops in Barcelona, Montreal, and Monaco.

Quotes:

‘Stop talking about strategy at the table. You’re either teaching the bad players how to play better, or scaring them away. I don’t want to hear any of it. Save the strategy talk for when you’re on the rail with your friends.’

‘Let’s keep politics away from the poker table. I’m already trying to take your chips, I don’t need to hate you on top of it.’

‘Trump. I don’t want to talk about Trump. I play poker to escape hearing about Trump.’

‘Any topic that makes a recreational player uncomfortable should be avoided.’

‘It’s been slowing down some lately, but crypto conversations are the worst. None of you know anything about anything, and yet everyone is an expert.’


We wonder if the answer to this question will be the same in a few years? Poker players surveyed overwhelmingly stated their exhaustion with the discussion of politics at the table, specifically, American politics. Not only were US-based players tired of Trump talk, but so too were many of the European players as well.

It also turns out that one of the last things that poker pros want to talk about… is poker! It doesn’t matter if you are discussing the latest prop bet between so and so or who took down the most recent event, they don’t want to hear it. It’s even worse when you talk any kind of strategy at the table, whether it’s basic starting hand requirements or the latest developments with solvers. Bitcoin is down more than 40 percent in the last year, but it has rebounded some lately. Perhaps there will be another spike in wild currency speculation talk this summer?

Quotes:

‘People who stand up after they are all in and walk away from the table or pack their shit. Come on! You must have won an all-in at some point in your fucking life. Also, people who talk poker strategy at the table.’

‘I don’t tilt much these days, but I will admit that if someone shows me a bluff… if I folded the winner and someone just rubs my nose in it, that’s pretty tilting.’

‘The fastest way for me to tilt would be to make me play ten-handed poker at a table full of nine Christoph Vogelsangs.’

‘If someone is berating the dealers, or maybe some new beginning players, that will usually set me off.’

‘Reading Daniel Negreanu’s twitter feed.’

‘Having no personal space playing ten-handed poker. It makes me want to bust from the tournament every time.’


As it turns out, even the best players in the world are still susceptible to tilt. Only four players of the 58 who answered claimed that they don’t or no longer experience tilt. The biggest factor, however, has nothing to do with the other players at the table. Apparently, nothing sets off a top player more than when they make a mistake. Sure, it’s annoying to be stuck at a table with slow players, or uncomfortable in a room that feels like it’s actively trying to push you out, but missing a value bet on the river… that’s what really stings.

Quotes:

‘It might not be pound-for-pound the best country at producing poker players, but you can’t ignore the fact that the US has 300 million people.’

‘Here’s what I’ll say about the American high rollers. At least they are playing for bigger percentages of themselves.’

‘Most of the best players in the world are residents of England right now, but not from there originally. Let’s go with Spain.’

‘I guess I don’t play with run-of-the-mill Germans, just the elite ones. But I assume if you just divide per capita, there are just so many elite players.’

‘Last year I would have said Germany, but right now, it’s the Americans.’


The heavily-American survey respondents said that the US produces the best poker players. That’s not that surprising, given the make up of the high roller scene and the fact that the majority of big buy-in events take place in or near the United States. What was surprising, however, was the large number of players who answered Germany.

Germany only had three representatives for this questionnaire, yet they managed to rack up 22 of the 64 votes overall. (A couple of players abstained from the question, and a few answered more than one country.) Germany’s top poker pros include Fedor Holz, who stepped away from poker for the most part last year after his historic run in 2017, as well as Rainer Kempe, Steffen Sontheimer, Christoph Vogelsang, and Dominik Nitsche. In fact, Germany has ten players with more than $10 million in lifetime live tournament earnings, which is second only to the US with 43. Americans make up 17 of the top 25 earners of all time.

Quotes:

‘It doesn’t matter because you have to travel to play nowadays anyway.’

‘Las Vegas, although I’m not sure that a U.S.-based city is good because you can’t play on a lot of online poker sites.’

‘Vegas. I play cash games here that just don’t exist in other places.’

‘It’s got to be London if you want to avoid the taxes.’


As home of the biggest live tournament series in the world, it’s no surprise that Las Vegas ranked so highly on the survey. You can’t beat the convenience of having nearly three months of the yearly tournament schedule playing out in your own backyard.

The games are always good-to-great in spots like L.A. or south Florida, and many Americans have made the move to Canada or Mexico so they can continue to grind online in between live tournament stops. London has become a popular residence for high-stakes pros in recent years thanks to their friendly gambling tax laws, which are pretty much non-existent.

Quotes:

‘Single re-entries are good, but multiple re-entries are bad.’

‘I don’t know, I’m not a data analyst.’

‘Re-entry tournaments are pretty neutral, maybe slightly negative long term.’

‘Bad overall. They favor the better players and wind up taking a lot of money out of the middle of the poker economy.’

‘As a pro, re-entry tournaments are obviously great for me, especially in the short term. But for the overall health of the poker economy, it’s probably bad. The rec players go broke faster and stop coming back when they see the same guys at the final table every week.’


The question of whether re-entry tournaments are a net positive or negative in the poker world is a complex one, and probably requires a few follow ups. While these results were split pretty evenly, it wasn’t always clear if the survey respondent was answering on behalf of themselves or the poker community in general. Furthermore, some top players were clear to point out that while they enjoy the flexibility that re-entry tournaments provide; they wish it would be kept to just one re-entry per tournament.

Quotes:

‘I like my scarf! What are you trying to say? It’s fucking cold in the Rio. Sunglasses are stupid though. Who still does that goofy shit?’

‘Not only is it annoying, it’s horrible for poker.’

‘I’ve always made the joke that only a few people wear sunglasses indoors. Blind people and douchebags. I know I give off insane blinking tells though, so I’ve even started blinking when I know what I’m doing and I’m not thinking. And in the high rollers, everyone fancies themselves the sickest soul reader in the world, so I think it’s perfectly acceptable to be tell hiding.’

‘Among the top pros, I think it’s completely acceptable. In a recreational environment, however, it’s unnecessary.’

‘Sunglasses are pretty lame but sometimes the lights at feature tables can be tough to deal with and it’s no big deal if someone wants to wear them. Scarves are totally acceptable most of the time because it’s often very cold in poker rooms, but it’s ridiculous when they cover your face.’


Despite the fact that we didn’t offer it as an option, there were still six players who insisted on saying that sunglasses and scarves at the poker table was both completely acceptable, and also annoying. The general consensus, however, was that it was dependent on the player and their motivations for covering up. Are they trying to stop giving off tells, or are they simply cold?

Surprisingly, we found no correlation between the survey taker’s opinion and age. Our hypothesis, that the older players would prefer a more friendly environment free of mirrored shades turned out to be incorrect, at least at the high roller level. However, there was a correlation between total winnings and opinion. The more a player had in career earnings, the more likely he or she was to find sunglasses/scarves annoying.