If you were a professional poker player between 2003 and 2006, you may well have got your hands on some serious cash. Today, this era is known as the “Moneymaker Boom”. The boom first began in 2003, sparking at the 2003 World Series of Poker Main Event. At this event, an accountant going by the name of Chris Moneymaker changed poker history by doing the impossible. As there was a film crew from ESPN on hand, the action was recorded and later broadcasted to the world. Moneymaker and other recreational players were being recorded to appear on the broadcast’s “Dead Money” section. These sections were featured alongside the Main Event coverage to show players who had chips to play, but no real chance of winning the tournament. The entry fee for the competition is a whopping $10,000; however, Moneymaker managed to win this via a $39 online satellite on PokerStars.
In the following months, poker started to become televised on some of the major channels. Programs like Poker After Dark and High Stakes Poker explored the high-stakes cash game scene, while the World Poker Tour acquainted viewers to a range of high-flying poker professionals. In this article, we explore some of the poker pros from the boom era who still play at an elite level.
Known to many as “Kid Poker”, Daniel Negreanu is the first player on the list. The 24-year old earned that nickname when he received his first WSOP bracelet in 2004. During the boom, Negreanu won three gold bracelets and a pair of World Poker Tournament titles. Because of this, he became one of poker’s most recognisable figures. For many years, Negreanu was sponsored by the popular online card room, PokerStars. While this contributed to his fame, he also had a number of appearances on TV poker programs including High Stakes Poker.
Since the boom, Negreanu’s success hasn’t slowed down. In the following years, he became the world’s all-time top tournament prize money winner for an extended stretch. Until Justin Bonomo’s success in 2018, the poker pro was thought to be untouchable. In total, Negreanu has earned $39,656,194 through poker tournaments. A large percentage of that money came from a single tournament when he finished in second place in the 2014 WSOP Big One for One Drop. After forking out $1 million for the buy-in fee, Negreanu came home with a whopping $8.2 million.
In 2015, Negreanu finished in 11th place at the WSOP Main Event. Just a few spots away from the prestigious November Nine, his exit was heartbreaking for both himself and his fans. However, he picked himself up and returned to the competition in 2017. During that year, Negreanu cashed 11 times in WSOP bracelet events. He continued to participate in the high-roller circuit and later finished in second place in the 2018 Super High Roller Bowl. In this event, his $300,000 buy-in was turned into $3 million.
Often referred to as the “Poker Brat”, the next player on the list is Phil Hellmuth. Unlike Negreanu, Hellmuth started playing professionally almost 15 years before the boom began. Like Moneymaker, he became a known player after winning the WSOP Main Event in 1989. At that time, the World Champion of poker was Johnny Chan who won the Main Event in 1987 and 1988. After winning the event two years in a row, many people expected Chan to receive his third title; however, Hellmuth amazed spectators with his skill, passion and dedication, and finished the competition in first place. Just 24-years-old, he became the youngest player to ever win the Main Event.
By the start of the boom, Hellmuth had earned seven bracelet wins. In 2003, he won two more and became a contender for the all-time lead. In a three-way tie with Doyle Brunson and Johnny Chan, all three players fought for the top spot. However, it wasn’t long before Brunson and Chan stopped competing regularly. In 2005, Brunson and Chan both won a bracelet to bring their total up to 10. In 2006, Hellmuth stormed ahead of his competitors and became the all-time lead. This year, Hellmuth earned yet another bracelet at the World Series of Poker and won the NLHE Turbo event. The buy-in for this event was $5,000, but Hellmuth came away with an incredible $485,082.
Hellmuth has now won 15 gold bracelets at the WSOP – a total that nobody else has even come close to. Before throwing in the poker towel, Hellmuth is determined to win another nine bracelets and bring his total up to 24.
While many players like to call themselves “grinders”, Michael Mizrachi has truly earned that title. Coming to the scene in 2004, Mizrachi participated in a number of WPT events in the first three months. During this time, he took down a side event at the WPT Five Diamond World Poker Classic and finished in 5th place at the Main Event. Shortly after, he returned to the WPT stage and pocketed $1.8 million at the L.A. Poker Classic Main Event.
While he remained a frequent player, he didn’t bag a bracelet win until 2010. That year, he won $1.5 million at the Poker Player’s Championship and finished in 5th place at the WSOP Main Event. Today, Mizrachi still gets involved in many of the high-stakes tournaments. Adding another win to his list just last year, it’s clear that Mizrachi is still playing at the top of his game.
While some gamblers make their money and get out, others stick around and enjoy the ride. Almost 16 years after the start of the boom, Daniel Negreanu, Phill Hellmuth, and Michael Mizrachi and still playing at an elite level.