The History of Poker—The Players—TV Heroes




With the online poker boom from the "Moneymaker Effect" in 2003, there was an increased demand for poker everywhere, including television. The annual broadcast of the WSOP, along with shows like Poker After Dark and High Stakes Poker, would allow people to watch the most prominent poker hands and the best poker players. In this article, we look at some of the TV heroes from this era of poker.


The World Poker Tour is perhaps second only to the World Series of Poker in terms of prestige for televised poker. With buy-ins ranging from $3,500 to over $20,000, it is a major attraction for professional poker players like Phil Ivey.

Since the tournaments are televised, Phil Ivey's stellar record on it and other poker TV shows have earned him quite a following. For example, he made the final table of the World Poker Tour nine times yet was surprisingly eliminated from most of them holding the same hand—an ace and a queen.

He also made frequent appearances on shows like Poker After Dark and High Stakes Poker and was successful for the most part.

Also known as the "Tiger Woods of Poker", Phil Ivey was not only a star on television but in real life too, winning several prestigious tournaments, titles, and millions of dollars throughout his ongoing career so far.


Although Daniel Negreanu is almost fifty years old, he is still known as "Kid Poker", a nickname earned due to his lively and somewhat charming personality at the table. As a poker player, Negreanu's journey began young as he dropped out of high school to pursue life as a "rounder" looking for (occasionally less than legal) poker games in Toronto. He eventually moved to Las Vegas to play poker at the highest level.

In terms of his poker career, Negreanu is very well accomplished. He has won several WSOP bracelets and two WPT championships, along with a ton of winnings, playing in some of the biggest cash games in Las Vegas, like the "Big Game" in Bobby's Room at the Bellagio.

Daniel's personality translated easily to the small screen and made him one of the more famous players in shows like Late Night Poker and Poker After Dark. He even took a shot at commentating and hosting with the Ultimate Poker Challenge.

Other media appearances for the professional poker player included cameos in the following movies X-Men Origins: Wolverine, The Grand, and Lucky You, along with some TV show appearances.


Patrik Antonius is a professional poker player and a former tennis pro and coach, and former model. The Finnish professional player started making a name for himself by decent finishes at several prestigious tournaments in 2005, like the European Poker Tour and the World Poker Tour.

Although he has never won a WSOP bracelet yet (despite making the final table three times), he has been a part of some of the most oversized pots in the history of televised poker.

In the sixth season of High Stakes Poker, Antonius was involved in a pot totaling $998,800 against fellow poker pro Sammy Farha. Similarly, he faced off against Jamie Gold in High Stakes Poker for a pot worth $743,800 in total. And in one of his appearances in Poker After Dark, he lost a pot worth $600,000 to Tom Dwan.

Known for his stoic vibe at the table and given the nickname of "The Finn" (which is not very original given he is from Finland…), Antonius has established himself as one of the more popular poker characters worldwide.


It would not be a stretch to call Antonio Esfandiari a magician. Although the professional poker player born in Tehran might not be as good at magic as he is at poker, his nickname of "The Magician" has some merit behind it.

Esfandiari didn't shy away from showing his magic at the poker tables and has previously held the record for the highest tournament winnings of all time.

Yet, Antonio's first career choice wasn't poker. When he was 19 years old, Antonio changed his name from Amir and became a professional magician. However, he was often invited to poker games during and developed a passion for it.

Fortunately, poker would be a far more lucrative career for him. With three WSOP bracelets and tournament winnings measuring tens of millions of dollars, he is considered one of the most successful poker players alive today.

Esfandiari was also prominently featured in poker TV shows like High Stakes Poker and Poker After Dark, participating in all seasons of the two shows. He would also feature in the TV show Entourage and in Freelancers, a movie starring Robert De Niro and 50 Cent. In several of his appearances, he would team up with Phil Laak, fellow professional poker player and former roommate.


Phil Laak might not be the greatest poker player of all time, but he's one of the most interesting. Many incidents make him stand apart. For example, in the 2008 World Series of Poker, he donned a complete disguise using a latex mask and wig on the first day to play anonymously (he found out later wearing masks at the tournament was banned).

Along with his outlandish antics, he is also known for coming up with various unique terms such as "pay-off wizard," "cherry bomb,” and "upstuck." He also earned the nickname "Unabomber" due to his hooded sweatshirts and dark sunglasses at the tables. (Maybe more creative than “The Finn” for Finnish player, Patrik Antonius, but not probably anyone’s first choice of nickname).

He has been featured extensively in several poker and general television shows, including the most popular ones like Poker After Dark and High Stakes Poker.

Laak has won a WSOP bracelet and a WPT title throughout his career, with several final tables in both. An accomplished poker player and a fascinating individual, Phil Laak seemed to be naturally destined to be one of the TV heroes of poker.