Hundreds of poker players have influenced the game of poker. From its top-earning players to everyday enthusiasts, players from all parts of the world have impacted the game in ways and propelled its evolution. It is the nature of the game as it grows throughout the years.
There are, however, a select few players who have profoundly changed poker. Their contributions to it may have been subtle or seemingly unimportant at the time, but they all been a part of substantial changes that made the game what it is today.
Read Part Two Here: Changing the Face of Poker – The Contributors
Read Part Three Here: Changing the Face of Poker – The Events
Doyle “Tex Dolly” Brunson
The “godfather of poker” was one of the first players to bring the game from the underground to the casinos. Doyle Brunson became a professional player in Texas and neighboring states in private games but eventually moved to Las Vegas and became a staple in cash games and tournaments at places like Binion’s and later Bellagio. Not only did he make the transition from backrooms to the spotlight, he also became one of the first big personalities in the game and authored one of its greatest books: Super System.
Thomas “Amarillo Slim” Preston
As one of the original players in the early World Series of Poker games at Binion’s alongside Brunson, Amarillo Slim also helped bring poker out of the saloons and into the casinos. But it was his 1974 appearance on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson that helped popularize the game. He was one of the earliest prop bettors in the game, and despite a scandal later in life, remained one of the more colorful characters in poker.
Linda “First Lady of Poker” Johnson
One of the first women to proudly declare herself a professional poker player, Linda Johnson forged a path for women in a male-dominated game. Moreover, she also made poker her business as one of the first publishers of a poker magazine (CardPlayer) and eventually moved on Card Player Cruises. She served as the tournament director and one of the first consultants for the World Poker Tour and founded the Tournament Directors Association.
A poker grinder for many years, Mike Sexton became better known to the poker community at large when he became one of the first consultants and the first commentator for the World Poker Tour. He was part of the original team of poker minds at PartyPoker, who showed the poker world what a true ambassador of the game should be. He was also the creator of the first Tournament of Champions, and he was a pioneer in the field of poker generosity, paving the way for other pros to make charitable donations a part of their games.
Phil “Poker Brat” Hellmuth
In 1989, Phil Hellmuth became the youngest person to win the World Series of Poker at 24, and he went on to garner the most WSOP Main Event wins, a number that currently stands at 14. Never afraid to show his emotions at the table, he became a loved/hated personality in the game, which he eventually turned into a brand. He has also been one to capitalize on his poker fame and take poker into celebrity and political circles, places the game had yet to gain mainstream popularity.
The first African-American player to become a star in the world of professional poker, Phil Ivey became a fan favorite while remaining humble. His story of playing underage poker in New Jersey and working his way to becoming a pro captured the attention of many fans, and his rise to the world of high-stakes poker still fascinates fans and other players alike.
The Canadian-born poker pro is one of the most well-known personalities in the game, known specifically for his friendliness with poker fans as well as his record-setting accomplishments in poker. Daniel Negreanu shone a spotlight on satellite tournaments as well as the ability to turn a poker career into more than tournaments and cash games. He was one of the first players to draw mainstream attention, obtain a celebrity agent, and garner a lucrative sponsorship with an online poker site.
His 2003 World Series of Poker Main Event win was historical. Chris Moneymaker was the first player to win after qualifying for his $10K seat via on online poker site qualifier, and his lack of professional poker background catapulted him to fast fame. He is widely regarded as the person who launched the poker boom.
She took the game by storm, as do many players, but Vanessa Selbst set herself apart as a scholar who played poker in her spare time. She was a graduate of Yale Law School and founder of an anti-police brutality organization, but she also quickly went on to earn millions in poker and become the highest female earner in the game. She was also openly gay and the first to express love for her girlfriend-then-wife in public at final tables and in victory photos.
Bertrand “ElkY” Grospellier
In some ways, Bertrand Grospellier was one of many poker players who emerged during the poker boom and found success. But he was the first player of note to have garnered worldwide attention for his professional video gamer status, coming from the top of the rankings in games like StarCraft and Warcraft. He led the way for many others to make the switch from gaming to poker.