Home A look at the best card players in history

A look at the best card players in history

playing-cardsWhether playing for fun or for high stakes, card games remain frustratingly difficult for those who can’t master them, and a highly exciting and rewarding pursuit for those who can. The list of games is staggering, with estimates ranging from 1,000 to 10,000 variants depending on how you count them, and it is doubtful therefore that many people have ever mastered them all. That would be impossible!

However, there are some who have provided superb examples of card-playing, and generally made themselves enormous amounts of money in the process. Mastering the intricacies of different games requires inherent patience, coupled with supreme intelligence, initiative and general chutzpah, and scientists have attempted to create machines that can beat them, presumably in lieu of human ability.

Here, we take a look back at some of modern card playing’s most gifted proponents:

Stu Ungar

A meteoric rise-and-fall story, Ungar’s supreme ability led him to be considered (genuinely) unbeatable at Gin Rummy, and his blackjack skills were so insurmountable that he was banned from playing it in most casinos. If you’re looking to improve on your blackjack skills check out this blackjack guide.

A fast talking and enigmatic New Yorker, Ungar settled in Las Vegas in the 1970s and was a regular at high stakes poker games in the city. Known for his youth and charisma, his victory at the World Series of Poker – making him the youngest winner ever – led to further notoriety and he was befittingly nicknamed ‘The Kid’. Sadly, as with many who find significant fame in their youth, The Kid’s later career was marked with significant difficulties with drugs, and he was found dead in a Vegas motel aged 45.

Chip Reese

A career intriguing for its chance and circumstance, Reese is often regarded as the finest poker player ever to have lived. Although honing his skills from a relatively young age, under the tutelage of his mother, it was a chance stop-off in Sin City (Vegas being a curiously prominent location in this article) on his way to enrol at law school that swiftly enabled him to fully realise his enormous potential. Largely shunning the glitz and glamour of the tournament scene (aside from a few cursory forays which earned him two WSOP titles, among others), he largely concentrated on more lucrative cash games and earned himself considerable respect for doing so. Winning several further H.O.R.S.E. (a tournament including five variations of the game), his respect culminated in Dunes Casino asking him to manage their card room, a role carrying weighty prestige.

Phil Ivey

A born mathematician and a relatively recent addition to the aristocracy of poker, Ivey cut his teeth in Atlantic City, where his fake ID moniker of earned him the nickname ‘No Home Jerome’. Excelling in the game, as well as by being a regular participant in televised games, Ivey’s media savvy makes him a thoroughly modern superstar, while possessing a recklessness befitting the bedraggled and dangerous origins of the game. In recent years, however, Ivey has been accused of cheating by various casinos allegations that only serve to cement this masterful player’s notoriety and genius.



Have a guest column, letter to the editor, story idea or a news tip? Email editor Chris Graham at [email protected]. Subscribe to AFP podcasts on Apple PodcastsSpotifyPandora and YouTube.