Doyle Brunson

Doyle Brunson, otherwise known as ‘Texas Dolly’ and the ‘Godfather of Poker’, finally announced his retirement from poker, professionally and recreationally, in June, 2018, less than two months shy of his eighty-fifth birthday. In modern terms, his total live earnings of $6.2 million are fairly modest, but his achievements in World Series of Poker (WSOP) tournaments – which, by his own admission, he ‘never cared for’ – are anything but.

All told, Brunson won ten WSOP bracelets, including the WSOP Main Event twice, in 1976 and 1977, which puts him in a tie for second place, alongside Johnny Chan and Phil Ivey and behind only Phil Hellmuth, in the all-time list. In fact, on both occasions Brunson won the WSOP Main Event, he was dealt 10-2 in the final hand, but hit a full house on the river card to take the title; thus, 10-2 is immortalised as the ‘Doyle Brunson’ hand.

Inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame in 1988, Brunson may longer be playing WSOP tournaments, but still plays high-stakes cash games in Bobby’s Room at Bellagio, Las Vegas. At the WSOP First Fifty Honors [sic] Gala in 2019, he was named one of the four most important players in WSOP history.

Brian Molony

Brian Molony is a self-confessed compulsive gambler, who was paroled in 1986 after serving a little over two years of a six-year prison sentence for embezzling millions of dollars from his former employer, Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce. Formerly an assistant bank manager, Molony stole £10.2 million from the Toronto bank to fund gambling sprees in Atlantic City, New Jersey and Las Vegas, Nevada, where he bet, and almost invariably lost, millions of dollars at a time.

Known as ‘Mr. M’ to casino staff, Molony reputedly visited all 297 casinos in Las Vegas and, in 15 months, visited his venue of choice, Caesars Boardwalk Regency in Atlantic City, 37 times. Following his final visit, during which he lost $1.4 million, he was arrested on his way home from the airport as part of an investigation into a bookmaking ring, although his employer apparently knew nothing of his fraudulent activity until informed by the police. Molony later described his obsession as ‘insidious, destructive and exhilarating’.

His story is chronicled in the 1987 book, ‘Stung: The Incredible Obsession of Brian Molony’, and inspired the 2003 film, ‘Owning Mahowny’, starring the late Philip Seymour Hoffman. Indeed, director Richard Kwietniowski held a private meeting with Molony before shooting started.

Dominic LoRiggio

Dominic LoRiggio, otherwise known as ‘The Dominator’ and ‘The Man with the Golden Arm’, is a professional craps player, who claims to have perfected a method of ‘dice control’ which, if he is to be believed, transforms the apparently random act of rolling dice into something altogether more skilful. Allegedly, by holding and releasing dice in a certain way, a shooter can discourage spinning and rolling and thereby reduce the probability of throwing a seven from 16.67% to 16.05%; the advantage so gained is equivalent to that achieved by counting cards in blackjack.

LoRiggio has featured in several television documentary series, including ‘Breaking Vegas’ on the History Channel and claims to have been banned from numerous casinos, including most of those in Las Vegas. LoRiggio also offers a ‘Golden Touch Craps Training DVD’, along with training seminars and private lessons for those that believe in, and wish to learn, dice control. However, critics suggest that, while dice control may be possible, at least to some extent, the rules of casino craps – which require a shooter to bounce the dice off the back wall of the craps table – are sufficient to negate any advantage that might otherwise have been gained.

Phil Ivey

At the time of writing, Philip ‘Phil’ Ivey is probably best known for the $10.2 million he still owes the Borgata Hotel and Casino, Atlantic City after being found guilty, along with partner, Cheung Yin ‘Kelly’ Sun, of cheating at baccarat in 2012. However, lawsuits aside, Ivey is widely considered the best all-round poker player in the world.

Ivey has won ten World Series of Poker (WSOP) bracelets – in several poker variants but, interestingly, not including Texas hold’em – which places him in tie for second place, alongside Johnny Chan and Doyle Brunson, in the all-time list. To win his first WSOP bracelet, in 2000, Ivey inflicted the first heads-up defeat at a WSOP final table to be experienced by the late Thomas ‘Amarillo Slim’ Preston in a $2,500 Pot Limit Omaha event at Binion’s Las Vegas.

Also known as the ‘Tiger Woods of Poker’ and ‘No Home Jerome’ – the latter nickname stemming from the fake identification he used to play poker, illegally, in his early days – Ivey has total live earnings of $26.4 million and lies twelfth in the all-time money list. In 2017, he was inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame in Las Vegas.

Stu Ungar

Stuart ‘Stu’ Ungar, otherwise known as ‘The Kid’ or, later, ‘The Comeback Kid’, won an estimated $30 million in his poker career, but died, almost penniless, in 1998. Nevertheless, Ungar is widely considered one of the finest exponents of Texas hold’em poker in history. He had the distinction of being one of just two players – the other being Johnny Moss – of winning the World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Event three times. On the first occasion, in 1980, at the age of 26, he defeated Doyle ‘Texas Dolly’ Brunson to become, at the time, the youngest winner ever.

Born in New York City, to Jewish parents, in 1953, Ungar dropped out of high school in the tenth grade to focus on his burgeoning ‘career’ as a gin rummy player. Having made a name for himself in that sphere in his hometown, Ungar ultimately arrived in Las Vegas in 1977, but his continued success effectively forced him to switch his attention to poker. The WSOP Main Event in 1980 was just the second Texas hold’em poker tournament Ungar had entered, but not only did he win, but defended his title the following year.

Thereafter, Ungar was plagued by a cocaine addiction, which made his behaviour increasing erratic and, ultimately, led to his demise. Rocked by divorce in 1986 and the suicide of his teenage son, Richie, in 1989, Ungar was living in a refuge for homeless people when offered a loan of $10,000 by his old friend Billy Baxter to enter the WSOP Main Event in 1997. Miraculously, Ungar won again, splitting the £1 million first prize money with Baxter, but there would be no fairytale ending. Less than a year later, having wasted the money on drugs and gambling, Ungar was found dead, at the age of 45, in a budget motel on the outskirts of Las Vegas.

Stuart ‘Stu’ Ungar, otherwise known as ‘The Kid’ or, later, ‘The Comeback Kid’, won an estimated $30 million in his poker career, but died, almost penniless, in 1998. Nevertheless, Ungar is widely considered one of the finest exponents of Texas hold’em poker in history. He had the distinction of being one of just two players – the other being Johnny Moss – of winning the World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Event three times. On the first occasion, in 1980, at the age of 26, he defeated Doyle ‘Texas Dolly’ Brunson to become, at the time, the youngest winner ever.

Born in New York City, to Jewish parents, in 1953, Ungar dropped out of high school in the tenth grade to focus on his burgeoning ‘career’ as a gin rummy player. Having made a name for himself in that sphere in his hometown, Ungar ultimately arrived in Las Vegas in 1977, but his continued success effectively forced him to switch his attention to poker. The WSOP Main Event in 1980 was just the second Texas hold’em poker tournament Ungar had entered, but not only did he win, but defended his title the following year.

Thereafter, Ungar was plagued by a cocaine addiction, which made his behaviour increasing erratic and, ultimately, led to his demise. Rocked by divorce in 1986 and the suicide of his teenage son, Richie, in 1989, Ungar was living in a refuge for homeless people when offered a loan of $10,000 by his old friend Billy Baxter to enter the WSOP Main Event in 1997. Miraculously, Ungar won again, splitting the £1 million first prize money with Baxter, but there would be no fairytale ending. Less than a year later, having wasted the money on drugs and gambling, Ungar was found dead, at the age of 45, in a budget motel on the outskirts of Las Vegas.