Top 5 All Time Poker Tournament Money Winners

Dan L14/09/2019

Top 5 All Time Poker Tournament Money Winners

We know how much everyone loves a “Top 5 list”, so having recently run an article on The Rise and Rise of Live Poker Tournaments I thought what better top 5 to explore than a handful of poker pros who between them have won an insane $218,341,476!! 

So, without any further ado…

5. Erik Seidel – $35,726,969

Taking the number 5 slot is one of the two ‘old school’ (pre-internet) players on the list, is former New York stockbroker turned poker professional Erik Seidel with $35,726,969 in live tournament cashes.

It is a testament to Seidel’s work ethic and innate poker abilities that he has been able to keep up with the new breed of young, super focussed, math-orientated poker phenoms many of whom probably put in more hands of poker online in one year that Seidel has in his lifetime.

The vast majority of Seidel’s contemporaries simply haven’t been able to keep up with the seismic shift in skill required to compete at the highest level. Seidel, on the other hand, has relished the competition and has worked hard to continually evolve his game.

Seidel, at nearly 60 years of age is by far the oldest player anywhere near the top of these rankings. Out of the top 100 money winners only Men Nguyen (76th place, age 64), Dan Shak (83rd place, age 60), and T.J. Cloutier (84th place, age 79) are older.

Anyone not overly familiar with poker might still recognise Seidel from a clip made famous by its inclusion in the seminal 1998 poker flick ‘Rounders’ starring Matt Damon and Ed Norton. In the movie, Damon’s character is seen watching a re-run of the 1989 World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Event in which Seidel is playing heads-up for the title against the legendary Johnny Chan. Unfortunately, the game didn’t end too well for Seidel as Chan trapped him into making a big play for all his chips when Chan was holding an unbeatable hand. However, Chan, who is still very much on the circuit, only comes in at number 105 on this list, a full 100 places below Seidel.

As with everyone on this list, Seidel has earned the lion’s share of his money playing in the High Roller events. However, it’s interesting to note that if you remove all events with a buy-in larger than $50,000, Seidel actually jumps up to 2nd on the all-time money list. 

Erik Seidel also has more WSOP Gold Bracelets than any of the other top 10 players on the all-time money list. His 8 WSOP titles put him 6th on the all-time WSOP winners list. The fact that his 8 titles come in 5 different variants of poker also show his all-round versatility as a player.

Another fact worthy of note is that although Seidel cuts a relatively quiet figure, not prone to hogging the limelight or poker table histrionics, he is an incredibly popular figure among fans. As well as ranking 5th on the money list, he also ranks highly among the all-time most popular players according to the holy grail of player results and statistics, the Hendon Mob Database. Since 2008 the Hendon Mob website has logged the number of unique hits each individual player’s profile has received, and Seidel’s 385,641 hits place him 5th overall. Let’s hope he can keep the youngsters in check for many more years to come.

4. Dan Smith – $36,742,718

We go from the oldest to the youngest player to make the top 5, Dan Smith. Originally from New Jersey, 30-year-old Smith, along with all but one of the top 5 now resides and plies his trade in Las Vegas, Nevada.

With almost $3m in online tournament winnings, Smith certainly has online poker credentials; however, he is one of the few players from the online generation who has always seen himself as more of a live player – and his results certainly back that theory up. In fact, the first time he cashed a live tournament back in June 2008 he actually won the whole thing, earning $101,960 for besting a 250 strong field at the $1,500 buy-in Heartland Poker Tour Main Event at Verona, Wisconsin. Being just 19 years of age at the time, however, he shouldn’t have even been let through the doors at the casino, let alone be able to enter a $1,500 poker tournament!

Over the course of his career, Smith has won more than 20 tournaments, with almost half of them landing him a seven-figure payday. He also has almost $10m in winnings at the WSOP. It seems incredible then, that he is yet to win a WSOP title – the only player on this list yet to do so. Poker legend Daniel “Kid Poker” Negreanu shared this sentiment on twitter last summer when he tweeted, “No question in my mind Dan Smith is the best player in the world without a WSOP bracelet. Can’t think of anyone better that doesn’t,”

Like Seidel, Smith is also highly thought of amongst his peers, due in part to his commitment to his charitable concern, the “Double up Drive”. For several years now Smith has donated a % of his poker winnings to the drive and encouraged many of his poker friends to do the same. For Smith, it was a matter of wanting to make a positive contribution to the world, because in his own words, “Poker is an inherently selfish game. For me to win, that means somebody else directly has to lose”.

It is quite fitting, then, that Smith’s three biggest cashes have all come from tournaments in which a percentage of all entry fees was donated to charity. He won $3m for finishing 2nd at the $111,111 entry High Roller for One Drop WSOP event in 2016, $4m for his 3rd place finish in last year’s $1,000,000 entry Big One for One Drop WSOP event, and a staggering $8.8m for another 3rd place finish just last month in London at the £1,050,000 entry Triton Million for Charity. As they say, you reap what you sow!

3. Daniel Negreanu – $41,857,384

Without question, the most well-known player in this top 5 is no.3, Canadian poker superstar, Daniel “Kid Poker” Negreanu. Although he’s by no means a ‘kid’ these days (he turned 45 on 26th July), Negreanu is still one of the most upbeat, excitable, and energetic players involved in the game of poker. 

Like Erik Seidel, Negreanu started his professional poker career before anyone had ever played a hand of poker over the internet. Hustling at the Toronto pool halls and casinos from the age of 16, Negreanu quickly realised he had an affinity with the card game and started taking action wherever and whenever he could. By the age of 21, Negreanu had outgrown and outclassed the local completion and packed his bags for Las Vegas, where he figured he could clean up for much more money than his local soft spots. Unfortunately for Negreanu his ego far outweighed his abilities when compared to the seasoned grinders in the Las Vegas casinos. So began a cycle of busting his bankroll, heading back to Toronto to rebuild, before coming back to Vegas to take another butt-kicking.

One trait which has stayed with Negreanu throughout his 30-year career, however, is his dogged determination to be as good as he possibly can. This quality enabled him to eventually conquer his Vegas rivals and start to build his multi-million dollar bankroll.

At the age of 23, Negreanu entered and won his very first WSOP event, the $2k Pot-Limit Hold’em Championship for $169,100. At the time this made Negreanu the youngest ever WSOP bracelet winner, earning him the nickname “Kid Poker”. These days a poker pro can be all but washed up by the grand old age of 23, but back then they didn’t come any younger than Kid Poker.

That bracelet is one of six Negreanu now holds, having subsequently won bracelets in 2003, 2004, 2008, and two in 2013. Kid Poker has also been runner-up no fewer than 10 times in WSOP events. In fact, Daniel Negreanu has one of the most impressive WSOP records in the world. In addition to his 6 titles and 10 runner-ups finished he is also 2nd on the all-time WSOP money list with over $18.3m in cashes. The only player above him, Antonio Esfandiari, won $18.3m of his $21.9m in WSOP cashes from just one event after taking down the $1,000,000 entry Big One for One Drop in 2012. Negreanu also has the 3rd highest number of WSOP tourney cashes with 125. Furthermore, he is also the only player to have won WSOP Player of the Year twice, in 2004 and 2013. As it stands he is currently in 3rd place on the 2019 WSOP Player of the Year leaderboard with 15 more events still to be played at the WSOP Europe in the Czech Republic next month.

As well as his huge WSOP success, Negreanu is also a WPT (World Poker Tour) legend. In addition to being named WPT Player of the Year in 2005, he also has two WPT Main Event titles, and is 2nd on the overall WPT money list with over $6.4m in winnings.

In total Negreanu has won 41 live tournaments, and cashed for over a million dollars in 8 different events. To date, his biggest single cash stands at $8,288,001 for finishing second in 2014’s $1,000,000 entry Big One for One Drop WSOP event.

Off the tables Daniel Negreanu has been and continues to be one of the world’s greatest ambassadors and champions of the game of poker, using his high profile to promote the game across the world. His commitment to the game is unparalleled, and after 30 years at the tables, he is still considered one of the very best.

2. Justin Bonomo – $48,508,780

33-year-old Justin Bonomo is another product of the online poker generation and had already made quite a name for himself as an online tourney phenom before he ever sat down at a live table. This is partly down to the fact that he was playing online from the age of just 16. 

Although Bonomo has been cashing fairly consistently in live tournaments since 2005, his true potential took a little longer to unlock. When the Super High Roller tournaments began to become a regular fixture on the live tournament calendar, Bonomo really started to come into his own.

Out of Bonomo’s 25 live tournament victories, 17 have come in events with a buy-in of $25,000 or more. This probably goes some way to explaining how he won quite so much money. 

His 25 wins include 3 WSOP titles, one in 2014 and two in 2018. As well as those 2 WSOP wins, Bonomo enjoyed another 8 tournament wins in 2018 and cashed for an eye-watering $25.4m. This included $10,000,000 for winning the WSOP $1,000,000 entry Big One for One Drop, $5,000,000 for winning the $300,000 entry Super High Roller Bowl, and $4.8m for winning the $250k entry Macau Super High Roller Bowl.

Justin Bonomo continues to thrive in the most competitive and expensive poker tournaments in the world. His last recorded cash came just over a month ago when he won the £100k entry NLHE Short Deck Main Event at the Super High Roller Series in London for £2,670,000 ($3,248,728).

1. Bryn Kenney – $55,505,634

At the start of this year 32-year-old, New Yorker Bryn Kenney couldn’t have imagined that he’d be listed as the all-time leading money winner. Don’t get me wrong, he was no slouch and with over $26m in cashes he sat in 8th place on the list. Having won over $21m between 2015-2018, Kenney was already very much a man on top of his game as 2019 rolled around. However, even he probably wouldn’t have predicted that in a little over 7 months he would have added almost $30,000,000 to his bankroll.

As the majority of Kenney’s winnings have come from High Roller events it was good to see him prove he could also produce the goods in large field events when he won the Aussie Millions Main Event in January for over $1.2m. He followed this up two months later with a $1/2m win at the US Poker Open before going on an unprecedented tear at the Triton Super High Roller Series.

On 4th March he finished 4th in a $63k entry 6-handed NLHE event at the Jeju, South Korea series for another $1/2m. He followed this up 3 days later with a second-place finish at the $250k entry Main Event for just over $3m. When the Triton Poker series moved onto Montenegro 2 months later Kenney scored back-to-back victories in the $63k 6-handed NLHE event and in the $125k Main Event. The first win earned him $1.4m and the second over $2.7m.

The best was yet to come, however, and in the first week of August the Triton series came to London where Bryn Kenney broke new territory as he became the first player in history to win over $20m in a single event.

The £1m entry Triton Super High Roller Charity event attracted 54 entries and included some of the finest players ever to grace the baize. In the end, it came down to just two players; Kenney, and Chinese businessman Aaron Zang. 

Kenney started heads-up play with a 6.5-1 chip lead and the outcome looked inevitable. However, Zang fought back well and managed to reduce Kenney’s lead considerably. At this point the players took time out to discuss a deal as the pay jump between 2nd and 1st place was almost $9m. It seemed a good idea to thrash out a deal to reduce that gap, and with Kenney still the chip leader, he guaranteed himself the lion’s share of the remaining prize money regardless of whether or not he won. As it happens, he didn’t. With the blind levels cripplingly high the match ended up as something of a crapshoot and all it took was one picked off the bluff and a 50/50 hand not going his way for Kenney to lose the title.  Nevertheless, while Zang took the plaudits and £13.8m ($16.8m) in prize money, Kenney’s 2nd place finish garnered him £16.9m ($20.6m).

With that humungous payday, Bryn Kenney leapfrogged the competition, jumping straight to the top of the all-time money list with a staggering $55,505,634 in live tournament winnings.

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