In every field of human endeavor, there are always people who push the boundaries of accepted wisdom. People who develop, change and improve the way things have always been done. Like with all progress, the thing that has evolved – be it science, fashion, sport – will never the same again. Dick Fosbury is a perfect example. After struggling with conventional technique, he developed his own way of doing the high jump, winning Olympic gold and forever changing the sport in the process.
So who’s doing the same with poker?
Negreanu may be an obvious place to start but that shouldn’t rule “Kid Poker” out. The stats speak for themselves: the Canadian has amassed more than $32 million to date, 6 WSOP bracelets and 2 WPT wins. The Hall of Famer was also the first player to reach the final table in all three bracelet winning locations, and won a bracelet at each one to boot. (He is also the only player to have won the WSOP player of the year more than once.) On top of that, Negreanu is an active advocate of the game, regularly appearing on TV, and connecting with his hundreds of thousands of followers across all modes of social media. However, the detail that really nails his entry here is his cameo in X-Men Origins: Wolverine – a clear testament to his prevalence.
No one has had a greater influence on the modern game than Chris Moneymaker. His achievement in the 2003 World Series of Poker is the stuff of Hollywood, and has literally inspired countless millions of people to follow in his footsteps. The Moneymaker Story has been told many times, but for those who’ve been living under a rock for the last decade and a half, here it is in a nutshell: in 2003 Moneymaker – who was working as an accountant at the time – won a seat at the table of the WSOP main event via an online low buy-in satellite tournament. It was Chris’ first live tournament, and he not only reached the final, he won, scooping $2.5million. The rest, as they say, is history.
It may seem odd having one of the world best soccer players on this list, but there is a very valid reason. The Real Madrid and Portugal star is one of the world’s most followed people when it comes to social media, and he was the first athlete in the world with a combined total of 200 million followers across Twitter, Facebook and Instagram earlier this year. When Ronaldo does something, the world sits up and takes notice. And one thing Ronaldo does a lot of – as well as scoring goals – is play poker. And he’s extremely good at it.
The name may be unfamiliar, but few people have done more to help the woman’s poker game, and to encourage more women to the table, than Linda Johnson. While she’s won close to $400,000 in tournament winnings, Johnson has truly excelled in her championing of the game with the establishment of the Tournament Directors Association, the foundation responsible for creating a standardized set of tournament rules used across the world, including at the WSOP and WPT.
There is little doubting that technology has had a massive impact on the recent success and popularity of poker. But it should not be forgotten that no matter how reliant we become on technology, as a species we still need role models who can show us the way and make those first tentative but brave steps into new territory to revolutionize the game as we know it.