The 3 Most Overrated Poker Players (Who Aren’t) [Editorial]

The 3 Most Overrated Poker Players (Who Aren’t) [Editorial]

Monday, 3 October 2011

To my shame, I spend a fair amount of time battling the signal-to-noise ratio on poker forums. The usual memes, trolls and excitable scaremongerers are commonplace there, as are the presumably busto posters who like to criticize high stakes players.

I’ve noticed a trend in who these people think “couldn’t even beat $1/$2 NL over a decent sample size IMO” and are “only famous for being lucky at the right time, they don’t stand a chance in today’s tough games”. This is why that’s rubbish:

Viktor “Isildur1” Blom

We all know about Isildur1. He came up playing on Full Tilt, destroyed the nosebleed heads-up games to the tune of $6m and then lost it all back. He is currently down over $2m on Full Tilt Poker – not much chance of making that back there – and he polarises the poker community. Some claim he is God and the best in the world, others point to his $2m loss and rabid degeneracy and say he is a fish.

Of course, the people who claim he is the best in the world include the people who have played him. He beat Tom Dwan, previously thought as untouchable in online heads-up No Limit, to the tune of $5m over several weeks. He ran at roughly expectation, give or take a few buy-ins. It was annihilation.

His major losses on Full Tilt Poker came from Pot-Limit Omaha, a game he admittedly was inexperienced in back then. The only player who beat him at No Limit Hold ‘em was Phil Ivey, the best poker player in the world. He only beat Blom because the Swedish teen was also playing six other tables against Patrik Antonius and Tom Dwan, the two other best players in the world.

It might be stupid to play PLO for nosebleed stakes on a short bankroll when you know little of the game; it might be stupid to ten-table the three best heads-up NL players in the world at once. But when you destroy them all except Ivey and he only wins playing one-fifth the tables...
Oh, and he’s beating high stakes PLO now.

Phil Hellmuth

If Isildur1 is divisive, then Phil Hellmuth is... well, not so much. Until recently. It’s a funny old thing, the reputation of Phil Hellmuth. In the 90s it was as high as it got, he racked up bracelets and tournament wins like there was no tomorrow. He was the young up-and-comer before online poker unleashed thousands of them.

In the 2000s after the poker boom, Hellmuth marketed himself as the best player in the world and got most of us to believe it even as his results dwindled and the cameras caught an increasing number of questionable plays. In the last few years, he has become something of a joke among more-than-casual poker fans.

Of course, this entry carries less weight after the most recent WSOP that saw Hellmuth gain three runner-up spots, more than $1.5m in earnings and the renewed respect of the poker community for throwing away the “brat” persona. Before that, though, the man was still damn good.

Hellmuth is unnaturally skilled at large-field Hold ‘em tournaments, which has led to his record-breaking 12 WSOP bracelets. He consistently goes deep in crapshoot fields, perhaps largely in part to his perceived nittiness and willingness to go against the maths with shortstack play. Every day, online MTT grinders criticize him and he defies them

Daniel Negreanu

Daniel Negreanu essentially gets too much flak for some torrid sessions on GSN’s High Stakes Poker. A regular on almost every season of the show, Negreanu is a lifetime loser to the tune of seven figures over several seasons. He has unquestionably ran into some cold decks – quads twice, for one thing – but many of his plays were criticised as well.

Negreanu did one thing that Hellmuth should have done many years ago – he noted the criticism and worked on it. He began playing online nosebleed games, sparking off the action on PokerStars that continues today. Today, though, it isn’t built around Daniel. He has improved his NL game immensely after admitting it had stagnated over the years and is now a bona fide online grinder, four-tabling heads-up and using a HUD and everything.

And he still smashes live tournaments, of course.

Tags: Editorial, Matt Perry, Phil Hellmuth, Daniel Negreanu, Viktor Blom, Isildur1