At the top of their game, professional poker players earn millions in tournament cashes, tour successes and high stakes grinding in the card rooms along the Las Vegas Strip. But how much are the rich and famous of the poker world really worth?
Many of the best players are staked when they enter a major event and have to cough up as much as 50% of their winnings to sponsors. The taxman wants his cut, too. So who’s really raking in the dough?
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Bracelets Are Just the Beginning
A quick look at the World Series of Poker (WSOP) highest ranking players in terms of total earnings is revealing on several levels. Heading the list is American film producer Jamie Gold with over $12 million to his credit. Following him are Denmark’s Peter Eastgate and Canada’s Jonathan Duhamel, each with just above $9 million in WSOP earnings. What’s remarkable is that all three of them, plus the next four players below them, all got the bulk of their millions in one blaze of glory, winning the WSOP Main Event.
The three Americans at the bottom of the top ten are a bit different. Phil Hellmuth has a dozen WSOP bracelets and 89 cashes worth $8 million, while Allen Cunningham counts five bracelets and 44 cashes for $7.5 million. John Racener has never won a major WSOP event, but his 19 cashes have delivered $6.5 million, plus a slot in poker’s top tier. By comparison, the #1 player on the World Poker Tour, Carlos Mortensen, has $6.4 million
As impressive as those numbers might be, WSOP rankings are deceiving. They don’t take into account earnings at ring games or online. Nor does income derived from poker-related investments, endorsements, appearances or book royalties figure in. And how much is really left to spend of those winnings after liabilities are deducted? When all is considered, only four of the WSOP’s ten best players are ranked among the world’s richest.
Members of the Top 20
Thanks partly to a World Poker Tour victory at the Bellagio worth $2.2 million, Australian Joe Hachem has parlayed his $8.1 million in WSOP earnings into a net worth of $16 million for the #12 spot among poker’s Top 20 wealthiest players. Phil Hellmuth ranks #10 with $20 million and Jonathan Duhamel is #6 with $32 million.
Jamie Gold hasn’t done as well as his cohorts in amassing poker wealth outside the WSOP. His net worth of $12 million ranks him #15 overall, tied with Canadian Daniel Negreanu and a step behind Dewey Tomko at $14 million.
With a net worth of $8 million, pro Mike Matusow holds the #20 spot, online specialist Tom Dwan Jr. is #18 with $10 million, and familiar face Scotty Nguyen is ranked #17 with $11 million. Dublin-born Phil Laak has a net worth of $18 million, good for #11.
The Hollywood Contingent
What’s shocking among the 20 wealthiest poker players in the world is how many have acting talents that don’t involve card play. For example, Morris Chestnut, who played teenage father Ricky Baker in the 1991 film “Boyz n the Hood,” is an avid online player worth over $14 million, which ranks him at #13.
Fashion model and “American Pie” actress Shannon Elizabeth has claimed only $3,828 in WSOP earnings, but elsewhere she’s garnered a whopping $9 million in poker net worth for #19. Meanwhile, Jennifer Tilly, an Academy Award nominee for her role in 1994’s “Bullets over Broadway,” won a WSOP bracelet in 2005 en route to piling up $25 million, which puts her at #8 among the Top 20.
Representing the “small screen” at the poker table is Gabe Kaplan, star of the 1970’s television hit, “Welcome Back, Kotter.” Kaplan has also served as co-host and commentator for TV’s “High Stakes Poker.” The actor is worth a cool $30 million in net poker worth, making him #7 overall.
Rising to the Top
Two of poker’s richest individuals, Chris Ferguson and Howard Lederer, were heavily involved as owners of the web site Full Tilt Poker prior to the indictments of “Black Friday.” With net assets of $25 million and $60 million, respectively, they currently rank #9 and #4, although the future of their tenure among the Top 20 is now in the hands of the U.S. Justice Department.
By contrast, the #5 wealthiest player in the world has a solid day job and thinks of high stakes poker as a form of recreation. That’s California real estate investor Bob Safai. Although he has never cashed at a WSOP event, the property expert has still managed to find ways to accumulate some $50 million at the tables—not shabby for an “amateur.”
Appropriately enough, the three podium positions of poker’s wealthiest ranks belong to professionals. By virtue of outlasting his contemporaries and playing well into his golden years, Hall-of-Famer Doyle Brunson holds spot #3 with a net worth estimated at $75 million—and he earned every nickel of it from poker. Deadlocked in a tie above Texas Dolly are Ishan “Sammy” Farha and the “Tiger Woods of Poker,” Phil Ivey. They are reportedly worth $100 million each, much of it earned in high stakes cash games.