Is Phil Ivey Really the Best Poker Player Ever?


This week, the popular poker player and YouTube legend Doug Polk took time out from running his Texas cardroom to put together a list of the 20 Best Poker Players of All Time.

Announcing the list on a live-streamed YouTube session, Polk, who has won three WSOP bracelets, eventually proclaimed Phil Ivey as the greatest of all time. But was he right?

Ivey’s Legacy Discussed at Length

“I have a lot of respect for people who are willing to put it on the line and fight to be the best.”

Doug Polk shared a three-hour YouTube livestream and podcast recording in tandem with regular co-presenter Mike Brady and highly regarded fellow pro-Kane Kalas. Speaking about the players who have voted for their favorite players of all time, the trio discussed the issues of dominance, results, versatility of game, format, amd medium (live or online), the ability to beat various types of line-ups and how feared they are among the good players.

Doug Polk would go on to say of Ivey, “I have a lot of respect for people who are willing to put it on the line and fight to be the best.” And in crediting him and many others, certainly revealed an admiration for many of the pros he has taken on over the years. Ivey in particular warranted praise and it was clear from the discussion that Ivey’s legacy of greatness and air of mystique is still as intact as it always has been.

Ivey’s power at the poker felt was documented and it was clear that many top professionals still rate the 10-time WSOP winner as the best, including Jason Koon, Dan Zack, Daniel Negreanu, Andrew Neeme, Daniel Strelitz and Doug Polk himself. This was how the eventual scores set out the top 20 players in poker history.

The Top 20

The Top 20 poker players of all time according to Doug Polk’s survey.

Is Phil Ivey Really the Best Ever?

The question of whether Ivey can be considered as the best player ever to play the game is a legitimate one. Unquestionably talented beyond the level of most, he is feared in cash games, still able to mix it with the best in tournaments and has won big titles. The question for many, however, will be whether he is the master in any of the areas in which any great player is most proficient.

The most successful player in terms of WSOP tournament victories is Phil Hellmuth, who has won 16 bracelets. Ivey – one of three men on the same total with Doyle Brunson and Johnny Chan – only has 10. Ivey, therefore, cannot be considered to be the best WSOP bracelet winner, having also failed to win any super high roller variations of recent WSOP bracelet events.

Ivey has not won a live ranking NLHE tournament since 2015 in Australia, when he took down the 25-runner LK Boutique Challenge, beating players such as Erik Seidel, Scott Seiver, Doug Polk, and Mike McDonald at the final table. That may be down to playing fewer events than he used to or focusing on a different format or medium, often preferring lucrative cash games, but it is another point on the graph where Ivey does not stand out as the current leader.

Despite these marks against him, the high regard with which every poker player who has taken him on holds him is clear. Ivey is a legend to legends, and that reputation has not been gathered by being good in one discipline. Ivey is a master of them all, and while he might not be number one in any format specifically, who is greater than him in them all?

Here’s how Doug Polk rated Ivey and the other challengers to the throne.

Will Polk Take on Dwan at the WSOP?

Polk’s rating of many players will be read as fairly standard by most fans in the industry. Make no mistake, Ivey is a popular choice almost across the board, with players holding in high regard for the last two decades. But what about Polk himself. Coming in at 11th on the list, ahead of luminaries such as Erik Seidel, Isaac Haxton, and Stephen Chidwick seems preposterous, but Polk’s abilities in online heads-up cash games are probably what drives up his final ranking.

Polk, of course, threw down the gauntlet to 9th place Tom Dwan just last week as he challenged him to a bracelet side bet at this year’s World Series of Poker. Polk believes he could win more than Dwan and with three to his name, Polk might be right. Despite the evidence in their careers to date – Dwan has zero lifetime bracelets – Shaun Deeb thinks ‘Durrrr’ would stand a great chance, saying he would ‘bet his roll’ on the former Full Tilt Poker favorite.

As Polk declared, “Zero chance he says yes, but I’m willing to bet a million dollars at even money on a 2022 bracelet vs Tom Dwan. Maybe Tom can bet 500k and the fans or rich Asian businessmen can finance the rest. #DrawingDead”

Deeb stated that: “I’d do full million on Tom if Doug also does [a million dollars] vs me.” Polk was undeterred and when one fan questioned his enjoyment of poker and why he’d want to grind bracelet events at this summer’s World Series of Poker in Las Vegas, Polk was unequivocal.

“Not afraid to say I’m willing to work a summer for $1m regardless of how I feel about it.”

Who is to say where Doug Polk — and indeed Phil Ivey — are on the future players’ top 20 lists in years to come.

Discover the best online poker sites for US players, or find your new favorite online poker rooms.

Back To Top
Back To Top