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The Ten: Biggest Nits in Poker

Here's a Look at the 10 Players You Wouldn't Call to Loosen Up Your Home Game


This week for The Ten we did “biggest nits” — in other words, the tightest regulars in both tournaments and cash games. Being on this list isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as patience and discipline pay off in poker. Some of the players on here are among the most successful grinders around.

Based on suggestions from our Facebook fans, we have assembled a ranking, trying our best to find some evidence to back up the claims. For some players, the reputation as a nit might have been developing for years, without any specific event to prove conservatism on the felt. In any case, here they are:

Poker's No. 1 Nit -- Allen Kessler1. Allen Kessler: The video poker grinder is a legend for scrambling to find free rooms and food comps in order to increase his equity. Despite $2.3 million in career tournament earnings, Kessler will go to any length to get save a buck. With comps comprising about 25 percent of casino costs, one has to wonder if the economy of the Las Vegas Strip would pick up again if creatures of Kessler’s kind weren’t on the prowl.

Tony Cousineau

2. Tony Cousineau: With 49 cashes at the World Series of Poker without a win, Cousineau is the professional min-casher. He has a whopping 163 careers times in the money in major poker tournaments, with just three wins. Remarkably, he hasn’t won a poker tournament since 2003, despite being one of the regulars on the tournament circuit. If Allen Kessler didn’t put in penny-slot sessions, Cousineau would be at the top of this list.

3. Chris Ferguson: Despite allegedly playing with funds milked from poker players around the world, Ferguson has a history of refusing to straddle and play the 7-2 variant in cash games, to go along with an already nitty playing style. Taking one of the largest pieces in the “global Ponzi Scheme,” it seemed like Ferguson was on TV more to advertise the Full Tilt brand than to actually play some exciting poker.

From about the 3-minute marker on you can see what it’s like to play cash with Ferguson:

Note: Watch how Hellmuth (also on this list) calls Ferguson out.

4. Phil Hellmuth: The 11-time WSOP champion seemingly has no fear of grinding down to just a handful of big blinds in a tournament. He typically plays super nitty, waiting for people to “bluff” him or “give” him chips. Below is one of many examples out there of the “Poker Brat” folding a monster when most aggressive players would consider shoving any two.

5. Howard Lederer: Like his Full Tilt partner in crime, Ferguson, Lederer became a multi-millionaire thanks to the site he helped found, but nonetheless played like he must have when he was basically a homeless poker player in New York during the 1980s.

Here’s a look at one of Lederer’s most famous hands, where he lets the aggressive Tom Dwan make him look silly.

6. Jerry Buss: The 77-year-old majority owner of the Los Angeles Lakers is a poker aficionado, dabbling in some of the biggest cash games in the world. However, don’t expect his $600 million net worth to lead to spewage. Buss is widely considered one of the biggest rocks in the game of poker.

Teddy Monroe7. Teddy Monroe: The Iceman, a cash game grinder for nearly three decades, told Card Player, “If I go up early in a session I try to play much tighter. I know how easy it is to get trapped, and right now money means a lot. There is a serious recession in the nation right now, and if you have to be disciplined to avoid the tough swings. I’ve been in the game a long time, and I’ve truly developed patience for grinding day in and day out. For example, if I have pocket aces at $2-$5 and I make it $45. If somebody who has $400 on the table goes all in, I will throw my hand away and quit the game. I would be frustrated that I threw away the aces, as I didn’t get a chance to see the flop. Basically I minimize my potential losses. I don’t have huge swings anymore.”

It’s ultra-conservative to even consider folding aces preflop in hold’em, but Monroe has been surviving in the game for longer than most.

8. Online Bum Hunters: There are so many potential players that fit into this category, we are not going to try and call out names. These players have a knack for sitting out once a fish leaves the table, and while it may be optimal strategy, the practice is detrimental to the health of poker and makes some of its star online grinders look a bit nitty.

9. Dan Harrington: Despite the irony of his nickname, “Action Dan” Harrington is one of poker’s all-time greats and has reached this plateau by being regarded as one of the game’s tightest players. Although he has the ability to mix up his game and run a bluff by you, the poker Hall of Famer is generally pretty snug.

10. Tommy Reed and David Fishman: You might never have heard of these two poker players, but their respective plays during a televised poker game are stuff of nit legend. Check out the following two hands:

Tommy Reed Folds a Set

David Fishman Folds Aces Preflop

Note: Keep in mind that this was pot-limit hold’em, and with the format of the PokerStars Big Game, he had extra incentive to avoid losing money.



over 9 years ago

What a load of crap.

For the past 10 years, Card Player has been glorify Lederer and Ferguson. Now, all of the sudden, they're "partners in crime".

Don't get me wrong, I'm not defending them in the slightest, but do you people really expect no one to notice your change of direction?

During the poker boom, poker "pros" were suddenly Rockstars, and Card Player not only rode that wave, but was the chief propagandist of it.

Now,the true colors of many of these people are being revealed, and all of the sudden, you are outraged by their behavior.


If Card Player truly had the "love of the game" you profess, you would expose the rampant cheating at online poker, much of it perpetrated by "pros" you glorify.

Where is your expose' on the Main Event winner who bilked millions out of poker players online? Where is your expose' on the sites that formerly advertised with you who allowed and even facilitated that scam, and so many others like it?

Where is your reporting on the scamming, bilking, cheating and outright theft regularly perpetrated by so many of the live "pros" you so glorify?



almost 9 years ago

It's one thing to play tight, but folding pocket aces pre-flop (ala Teddy Monroe) just because your opponent shoves is insane. If it's that easy to push you off a hand, you're setting yourself up to be bullied throughout the game.


8 years ago

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According to me if you want to get rid of head lices you have to get bald or use few methods from this book. :)


7 years ago

Not really fair to include David Fishman`s pre-flop fold.It happened in "The Big Game",Fishman was the loose cannon and had just won an all in hand against Hellmuth for what was about 11 years salary.It also put him top of the Loose Cannon`s and meant he also had a chance of winning a $50,000 tour package so he basically told the table that he was just going to sit out the remaining hands.


over 6 years ago

I recall this article, and my reaction reading it as to how stupid it is to claim to fold AA, as Teddy does above.
So, having seen him in the Aria on occasion, I decided I need to see Aces folded for the first time in human history. (as if)

I walk by maybe 6 weeks after this article, and there, not only in the Aria room, but actually on the rail table is Iceman.
I watched 2 hands to see him 'avoid variance', and I recount the second hand. (2/5, just as described above.) TM has $5-600, other player $1100.
TM is in the BB, seat 3. Table fold to seat 9, who makes it 35. Folds to TM who reraises to 75. Conservative, tourist, not bad player, just calls.
Flop Q72 rainbow, TM bets %75, call.
turn 2, $75, call.
River 3, %75, and seat 9 immediately tosses black, black, green out....$225. Teddy immediately calls, and flips up AQ, other player shows KK, and takes it.

SO, the genius who 'avoids' variance for $400, preflop shoves, reraises out of position w AQ, and then puts in $450 total, but would have folded AA to a preflop shove I am told.

I thought at the time, and several of us discussed, why does this even get written down in a reporters notes? It is such an idiotic claim, that it has no equity, that statement is drawing dead.


6 years ago

David Fishman does not belong on this list. The format of the game was "Loose Cannon". He got on the show as a freeroll. You play ~250 hands. You start with $100k and any profit above 100k you get to keep. His normal job is a school teacher. Assuming he's a typical school teacher, he probably has a very very low net worth. You can "play poker" up until you get a reasonable pay day. Once he more than doubled up, the roughly 140k profit he was going to be able to keep was likely pretty close to his entire net worth. What is he supposed to do? His options are 1) Put 1.5% of his net worth that will be used for his kids college to try and flop a set, then simply go allin, show his cards to make sure people fold? 2) Repot it preflop and go allin on every flop and simply hope people missed, but some might outflop you? 3) fold preflop and not gamble your entire net worth on AA when you can't even go allin preflop. He made the correct play for his bankroll.

Do you also consider people nits that want to chop at the end of a major tournament instead of playing 10BB poker for 10-300k when they only put down a small amount and that flip will represent a large percentage of their net worth? It's the same idea. Most people don't want to gamble for a very large % of their net worth (unless their net worth is small enough that they don't care) and has nothing to do with being a nit.