People started playing poker online for real money back in 1998 when Planet Poker was the only site for gamers who wanted something more challenging than chance-based online casino games. At first, it was a niche scene, but then Chris Moneymaker made history by qualifying for the 2003 WSOP (World Series of Poker) in a virtual tournament (he went on to win the main event).
Since then, the online scene has made tremendous progress. A great deal of money has been pumped into poker software, the quality of the gaming experience has improved in leaps and bounds, and the level of skill demonstrated by online players has risen off the charts. Today, the best online poker players are inspirations to any aspiring aficionados.
While poker does take a fair amount of skill, a big part of winning the game is luck, so even though you can find websites with online poker rankings that list some of the newest and biggest wins, it can be difficult to classify one player as the “the greatest poker player of all time.” That said, there will always be some professional poker players who leave an indelible mark on the poker community due to their raw talent, pure skill, iconic poker game wins, and entertaining gameplay.
Below, in no particular order, are the biggest online poker legends of all time.
British player Alex Millar (screen names: Kanu7 and IReadYrSoul) has been playing the highest stakes online poker for many years. Born in 1985, he started playing freerolls and $5 poker tournaments at university for fun, but by his fourth year, he’d move up the stakes to play 2000NL (No Limit) and 5000NL. Millar decided that poker was the career for him and started playing poker online, where he soon specialized in heads-up NLHE (no-limit Hold’em). An early adopter of poker solvers, Millar has amassed winnings of more than $4,500,000 in publicly tracked games to date. Today, Millar is best known as a coach on UpswingPoker, where he tries to help other players boost their win rate by teaching the “Advanced Cash Game Strategy” course.
Anyone who follows modern high-stakes Hold’em online poker tournaments will know Scottish player Fraser Russell’s screen name BigBlindBets. The poker-playing Millennial got his start in low-stakes poker back in 2011, playing with a bankroll of around $70. He has made incredible progress since then, taking down trophies for millions of dollars. His biggest tournament win so far was first prize in the $5,200 Main Event of the 2019 WCOOP (World Championship of Online Poker) worth a cool $1,670,000. Russell credits Paul “Internet” Otto as the coach who got him to think smart and work hard.
Californian poker star Doug Polk is one of life’s natural gamers, and will likely go down in history as one of the best poker players of all time. At age 15, he started playing Warcraft 3 competitively, with the screen name WCGRider. He kept this name when he switched to online poker, playing $0.01/0.02 blinds and turning a $20 deposit into $10,000. After a long period grinding at mid-stakes full-ring NLHE, he transitioned into HU (heads-up) and ran up the stakes all the way to $50/100.
After this breakthrough, Polk made millions playing HU against the toughest opponents. Memorably, he beat Daniel “Kid Poker” Negreanu in an epic feud that ran to 25,000 hands and won Polk $1,200,000. Today, Polk has a popular poker channel on YouTube, and his total recorded earnings (including both live and online poker earnings) currently sit at more than $10.4 million. He also heads up the UpswingPoker training site and plays high-roller poker tournaments whenever he feels like it. He’s taken three World Series of Poker (WSOP) bracelets home so far.
Daniel Cates has lived up to his screen name of jungleman12, with a wild career that’s had its fair share of ups and downs. After a lonely youth spent largely playing Command and Conquer, Cates started playing poker online in 2008, focusing on $0.25/$0.50 heads-up no-limit hold’em cash games. After two years of hard work, Cates moved up to the $25/$50 tables. His highly aggressive play style won him a legion of fans, and he rapidly became an online legend. Cates overcame a major setback in 2009 (he lost his entire bankroll to Viktor Blom) and was the biggest online winner in 2010, playing 145,215 hands and winning $5,500,000. By 2015, he’d racked up an incredible $10,270,000. His biggest single pot was $375,944 in a PLO (pot limit Omaha) battle against Patrick Antonius. Cates also did well in poker tournaments online, taking the PokerStars Sunday 500 event for $65,000 in April 2016.
A legend from the early days of online play, Ben Tollerene is one of the top online poker players. He began his journey playing NLHE $25/$50 stakes with a $500 deposit back in 2007. Tollerene went on to transition to PLO and soon ended up playing for the highest stakes under the screen names Bttech86 and Ben 86. By 2010, Tollerene was battling it out with tough opponents like Viktor “Isildur1” Blom. In fact, he once lost $1,700,000 to Blom before winning it back within 24 hours. At his peak, Tollerene had won approximately $11,200,000 on the poker sites of the day. He subsequently switched to live poker and recently won the 2022 Triton Mediterranean $30,000 Six-Max Event, defeating a field of 123 to earn $807,000.
Ben Sulsky is a high-stakes poker pro from the United States known for his highly successful online poker tournament strategy. Playing pro poker online with the screen names Sauce123 and Sauce1234, Sulsky’s ability to adapt to different game types, formats and stakes has won him a great deal of money ($5,500,000 to date) both in cash games and poker tournaments. Sulsky is a computer science graduate, and rather than relying on luck in poker, he takes a mathematical approach based on high-level GTO (Game Theory Optimal) data analysis. With a passion for artificial intelligence and machine learning, Sulsky has been involved in multiple start-ups and has published “Intro to Solver(s),” a how-to guide for players new to GTO solver software and terminology.
Tom Dwan, known as “durrrr” in the online poker world, has become a prominent figure in the game. Originally from Edison, New Jersey, Dwan briefly attended Boston University before embarking on a professional poker career. Much like Viktor Blom and Dan Cates, he rose to fame in the online poker arena, where he fearlessly conquered high-stakes games with extremely large pots. Even in his twenties, he regularly faced off against poker giants like Phil Ivey, Guy Laliberté, and Patrik Antonius. Today, at just 37 years old, his total earnings are sitting at an impressive $6.5 million, solidifying his status as one of the most formidable online players.
If GTO dominates poker theory today, Patrik Antonius is bucking the trend. He’s a self-taught player who claims he’s never read any poker books or watched any training videos. Antonius thrives under pressure, playing online for stakes as big as PLO 100k and NLHE 60k. As a teenager, he wanted to be a tennis pro, but two back injuries put a stop to that. When he turned 18, he started playing poker with a $200 deposit. This soon grew to a healthy $20,000 bankroll, and he’s never looked back. One of his most memorable encounters was a high-stakes PLO cash game against Viktor Blom. Antonius scooped a massive $1,357,000 — the biggest pot ever in online poker. Antonius cares deeply for the professional poker scene and has launched a social media app called FLOP (First Land of Poker).
Linus “LLinusLLove” Loeliger is a Swiss player known as the world’s best NLHE 6max (a poker format that seats a maximum of six) player, thanks to his formidable grasp of GTO strategy. Loeliger’s rise to fame began in 2013 when he challenged himself to advance from playing NL10 with a $240 bankroll to NL100. By 2017, he had reached the NL40k stakes and won more than $1.4 million in 2018. His career earnings to date are $2.6M online with a win rate of 6.4 bb/100. Loeliger says that he has the most fun in poker when he’s playing three-handed NLHE against the best players.
Finnish player Pauli “Fiilismies” Äyräs started off as an avid Starcraft 2 and CS player. Then he was introduced to poker and fell in love with the game. Today, he’s one of the best NLHE 6max and HU players of all time. He turned pro in 2015, winning $100k. The next year, he won $200,000 and $800,000 the next. This jumped to $2 million in 2018 and $3 million in 2019. The money has allowed the young player to live on a grand scale, but his approach to poker is strictly professional. His sessions begin at 6 pm and finish around 7 am, seven days a week, 365 days a year. This kind of commitment is essential to being a successful poker player, Äyräs says.
Most poker coaches start coaching after leaving the professional scene, but Dutch crusher MMASherdog (real name unknown) is an exception. He’s the co-founder and head coach of the BluffTheSpot training site, but he’s also online, taking on the highest stakes every day. He started off by playing 10c freerolls and did well enough to build a $5,000 bankroll. This was enough to transition to mid-stakes NLHE. Tilt beat him up for a while, so he took a six-month break to watch training videos. He then decided it was time to go big or go home and returned with a $2,000 bankroll. His timeout clearly paid dividends because in less than a year he became a $10/20 regular. Today, he plays anything from NL500 Zoom to $200/400 NLHE.
What Makes Online Poker So Popular for Professional Players
One of the main driving forces behind the popularity of online poker, even for the greatest poker players of all time, is how easy and convenient it is to find and play a game. No matter what stakes, format, or type of poker game you’re looking for, a game is just a click of a button away.
It’s a lot more accessible — there’s need to go through the effort of traveling to a tournament or a physical casino, no need to carry physical cash, and not so much pressure on giving off physical tells. Overall, online poker is just far more convenient.
Online Versus Live Poker
Online poker and live poker have exactly the same rules, but they play out in completely different environments. Live poker has an atmosphere similar to casino table games, with other players sitting around the green baize. Players can see each other face to face, and play proceeds at a natural pace. When you play poker online, you have to adapt to a much more fast-paced and solitary environment. The poker software means that you can make decisions much more quickly, even across multiple tables. This requires a great deal of discipline and patience, which can be tough when it’s just you in front of a screen. On the plus side, you can use poker tools to improve your play.
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