From Chris Moneymaker to Phil Hellmuth, here are the most famous poker players that have built brands for themselves through TV appearances, digital extensions, and charity work.
For as long as there have been professional sports, there have been big names that manage to make it out of the crowd and become famous in pop culture. In tennis, there are the Williams Sisters. In basketball, there’s LeBron James and Shaquille O’Neal. And in American football, you have Tom Brady and Payton Manning, just to name a few. This is also true of competitive games like poker. The game has created a number of huge celebrities, each with their own intricate stories and successes. Here, we’ll be looking at five famous poker players who have built popular personal brands from themselves.
01) Phil Hellmuth: The Poker Brat
Phillip Jerome Hellmuth Jr was born in Madison, Wisconsin on July 16, 1964. Hellmuth has won 15 World Series of Poker (WSOP) bracelets. He’s now one of the best American professional poker players in history. His journey into the world of pro poker started in 1988 when he achieved his first big finish at the WSOP. Hellmuth won $1,500 and placed 6th in a Seven Card Stud Split game.
The very next year, Hellmuth returned and became the youngest player ever to win the WSOP Main Event. A record he held until 2008. Hellmuth continues to play professionally. As of August 2017, he’s won over $14 million at various WSOP tournaments.
It’s probably due to his fantastic record that Hellmuth was able to get involved in other projects such as TV shows and book publishing. In addition to creating mobile games and online casino software, he has appeared in multiple seasons of the game show High Stakes Poker, was a coach on Fox Sports Network‘s Best Damn Poker Show, and even became a commentator on Bravo‘s Celebrity Poker Showdown. It was his appearance on NBC’s Poker After Dark that really helped Hellmuth create a brand, though, when the infamous Poker Brat moniker was created.
In the first week alone, Hellmuth was seen telling fellow poker pros to stop talking while they played and, when they didn’t comply, he threw a bit of a tantrum, stating he’d never work on the show again before storming off. Hellmuth has also been known to overreact while competing at WSOP events, often becoming quite rude and being, well, a brat. Though this can’t have made him many friends in the industry, it certainly is a brand Hellmuth has come to be known as, and if it’s working for him, then that’s good enough for us.
02) Gus Hansen
One pro poker player who has witnessed Hellmuth’s meltdowns first hand is Gus Hansen, who also appeared on Poker After Dark. Gus was born in 1974 on the outskirts of Copenhagen, Denmark, and, while he is undeniably brilliant at poker, it is by no means the first hobby he has turned into a career. Before becoming a professional poker player in 1997, Hansen had already reached the top ranks of backgammon players and was even a youth tennis champion in his home country. It seems that poker was his true life purpose though, as in just two decades, he has won 3 World Poker Tour titles, a WSOP bracelet, an Aussie Millions main event, and the champion of Poker Superstars Invitational Tournament season one.
Still, it seems Hansen refuses to put himself and his personal brand into a box. In addition to playing in tournaments, he’s also known for his athletic challenges. Gus will have people place bets on his ability to complete athletic challenges, such as boxing. As for business ventures, it seems Hansen is quite the philanthropist. He’s helped found multiple online casino sites with integrated charities. He is also known to support cutting-edge technology such as online poker gaming software and apps. In February 2009, he even launched his own poker broadcast called GusHansenTV.
03) Martin Jacobson
Speaking of philanthropists, though, Martin Jacobson is also known to be quite the altruist. Born in Stockholm, Sweden in 1987, Jacobson is one of the top Swedish poker professions on the circuit having won multiple cash games and cementing his spot as a brand ambassador for 888poker.
Before becoming a poker pro, he had studied to be a chef. But Jacobson soon found his love for poker, joining the likes of Hellmuth and Hansen. Jacobson won his first live cash game back in 2008, placing 3rd at the European Poker Tour before winning the runner-up title at the World Poker Tour in Venice the following year. Over the next few years, Jacobson continued to play in high profile events. His largest was from a 6th place finish at the 2013 WSOP Big One for One Drop High Rollers event. The following year though, he won the WSOP Main Event title and officially became a pro poker player to watch.
In 2015, it was reported that Jacobson has won over $15 million in his poker career. Though he certainly hasn’t hoarded his cash. The Swede is a vocal member of Raising for Effective Giving. The organization allows poker players to donate at least 2% of their winnings to charities.
04) Mike Matusow: The Mouth
Mike “The Mouth” Matusow, is an American pro poker player born in 1968, in Los Angeles, California. He first made his way into the world of poker after discovering online video poker at the age of 18. A game he loved so much, that he had to be treated for repetitive strain injury. He moved into the world of tournaments many years later in 1998, when he partially paid for Scott Nguyen‘s entry into the WSOP.
After Nguyen won the no-limit Texas Hold’em Main Event, he gave $333,333 to Matusow as a thank you. The next year, Matusow himself won the same title and bagged his first WSOP bracelet, which he now has four of having won in 2002, 2008, and 2013. Matusow is worth over $9 million with over $3.5 million coming from WSOP tournaments alone.
Like Hellmuth, though, Matusow is known to get a big mouthy while playing poker, hence the nickname. That said, this has actually helped The Mouth create a brand for himself as he sure has a lot to say about his world of professional poker. Matusow has hosted both a podcast and an online video show during his career and has attracted a significant audience over the years due to his mouthy nature. In 2009, he even released an autobiography entitled Check-Raising the Devil.
05) Chris Moneymaker
Finally, one of the most famous poker players is Christopher Bryan Moneymaker from Atlanta, Georgia. Before becoming a professional poker player, Moneymaker was a successful accountant. He even received a master’s degree in accounting from the University of Tennessee. It wasn’t until 2003 that Moneymaker won a seat at the WSOP Main Event. In fact, most of his competitors had no idea who Moneymaker was when he first turned up, but his skills soon grabbed their attention and he went on to win the $2.5 million first prize.
Following his win, Moneymaker promptly quit his accounting job. He then became a spokesman for the WSOP as well as numerous other franchises. Now, even the most casual poker fan knows his name. When it comes to making yourself a brand, Chris Moneymaker has certainly managed to do it with ease. He now supplements his tournament earnings with his books.
Who Are Your Favorite Famous Poker Players?
As some of the most famous poker players in the world, these men have all managed to transcend the table and become brands. That said, if we’ve missed out on your favorite big hitter, then please let us know in the comments below.
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Frank Wilson is a retired teacher with over 30 years of combined experience in the education, small business technology, and real estate business. He now blogs as a hobby and spends most days tinkering with old computers. Wilson is passionate about tech, enjoys fishing, and loves drinking beer.