We've probably never heard of the biggest poker winners

We never stop hearing about the nosebleed cash players and Super High Roller stars, but the biggest profiteers of poker often keep it quiet.

I’m a sucker for a bit of ‘graph porn’ as much as anybody else, so I was blown away this week to see PLO grinder cumicon’s $7.2 million graph. This is a player I had never heard of until now (and wont again because he is retiring) and he managed to somewhat stay under the radar. It’s also worth noting that he made most of his millions in €25/€50 games and lower, not the $100/$200 to $300/$600 nosebleed games that attract all the railbirds.

cumicon plo graph
The epic cumicon graph

It reminds me all of one of the things I find particularly cool about poker, and that is that sometimes the biggest winners are people you have never heard of.

It’s easy to get sucked in to the face value impressiveness of nosebleed cash games and the Super High Roller tournaments, but often they are ‘for show, not for dough’. While it is quite cool for marketing poker to point out that a young Fedor Holz already has $26,548,871 in live winnings, or that Viktor Blom is on a $1,469,538 upswing this year, it doesn't tell the whole story.

MTTs blur who the biggest winners are

Chris Ferguson WSOPE
Was Chris Ferguson really the 'best' player this year?

The truth is that most nosebleed poker is played with backers, even in the cash games. Few players are properly bankrolled for $200/$400 or a $100,000 Super High Roller, so they sell action, because all it takes is a few bad players in them to make it a worthwhile pursuit. This is also the case in most MTTs and often the actual percentage of their own action a player has in any given game can be very low (in fact recent WCOOP Main Event winner Steven "SvZff" van Zadelhoff revealed he was only playing for 16% of himself). Combine all this with the fact that deals often get made at the final tables and rarely does a big winner actually take home what they have appeared to have won.

Of course the best recent example of this dissonance between perceived poker success and actual poker success has to be Chris Ferguson’s WSOP Player of the Year title. There were probably 80 people who banked more money than Jesus did this year at the WSOP, but because of arguably a flaw in the scoring system he managed to take down the accolade of ‘best player’ by mostly min-cashing. Well done to him but if money really is the way of keeping score, he is in the lower leagues this year.

What I like about cumicon’s results is that he has shown that a tough grinder at lower stakes can stand to win a lot more, with all their own action, if they have the will and the ability. And doing so under-the-radar was not necessarily a quirk, it was probably key to his success.

Getting it quietly

Tobey Maguire
Tobey Maguire

There have long been examples of poker players crushing the game quietly, in fact using their anonymity to their advantage. As ridiculous as it sounds, there is a very real possibility that Hollywood A-Lister Tobey Maguire and Z-Lister Rick Salomon are two of the biggest winners in poker history. This is something that potentially could have remained secret, had it not come out in Molly Bloom’s biography and soon-to-be movie Molly’s Game (for Maguire) and Pamela Anderson’s divorce documents (for Salomon). Both men probably kept winning because their huge money private games remained hush hush.

The same thing is happening right now in Macau, where the biggest games in live poker are taking place but we only ever hear rumours about them. A lot of players who seem to have disappeared off the face of the earth, and one would assume had gone bust, are actually crushing these games. However, they are very hard to get into, and if you want to get an invite into them, discretion is key.

There are some players who value prestige over money. I have interviewed many players who say that they would take a losing WSOP if it meant winning a bracelet, for example. More power to these players, I’d actually argue the case that this will keep them motivated for longer when it’s about more than just money. But cumicon’s success, and many other players we will never hear about, is a nice reminder that anonymity and a lack of ego are probably very useful in poker.

Who is the best player nobody has heard of? Let us know in the comments:

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