Notable Poker Players in History
If there’s one thing clear about poker, it’s the fact that this is a game intended for gentlemen. While other games may attract the “common sort” at various casinos, you can be relatively certain that you’re going to meet some men of moral fiber when you sit down at a poker table. Despite the fact that poker is a highly tactical game played by fierce competitors who want nothing more than to win, most poker players adhere to a code of honor.
If you need proof, just look at some of the most notable poker players in history, fiction, and even in the modern era. These individuals often donate their winnings to charity, help each other with buy-ins to major tournaments, and perform all kinds of admirable feats as they play (and win) various games of poker.
While some of these characters may be fictional, they all share one thing in common: They all show proper poker etiquette. You only reach a high level in this game by taking it seriously and offering a degree of consideration and politeness for other players at the table. For example, one should always keep their cards on the table.
You should also pay attention to what’s going on in the game. Don’t be that person who has no idea what’s going on in the game because you’ve been looking at your phone or daydreaming. Proper players are always engaged and active.
The most confident, admirable gentlemen also contribute to a positive atmosphere at the table and some woman. Even when someone like James Bond is playing a poker game that may determine the entire world’s fate, he manages to grin and act in a jovial manner. Engage in a few harmless jokes with the other players and never repress the urge to laugh and have fun. Remember, poker is a game at the end of the day. It may be a game for gentlemen, but it’s still a game.
With all that said, let’s take a look at some of the most notable poker players throughout history, fiction, and the modern era:
1. Abraham Lincoln
That’s right, one of the most famous US presidents was also a keen poker player. During his youth, Abraham was introduced to the game when it spread into the United States during the early 1800s.
Although Abe definitely participated in this gentlemanly game and was clearly a gentleman himself, historians agree that he probably played for extremely low stakes. These so-called “penny-ante” games show that Lincoln was never one to venture outside of his limits when it came to gambling. In many ways, this is the mark of a true gentleman.
2. James Bond – Casino Royale
James Bond films have varied immensely throughout the years, but the superspy we all know and love has always maintained an affinity for poker. The movie Casino Royale focused wholeheartedly on this connection between espionage and poker. The result was a critically-acclaimed film that had us all on the edges of our seats.
The film took place in Montenegro – one of the most legendary gambling centers in the world. While the film explored fictional events, Bond showed us how to perform like a true gentleman at the poker table. Despite drinking a poisonous drink, the superspy calmly finishes his hand and excuses himself from the table. Now that’s proper poker etiquette.
3. Arnold Rothstein
Many of our readers may not be familiar with Arnold Rothstein, but he was one of the most notorious gamblers in 20th-century New York. He was also one of the era’s most famous gangsters, and some historians consider him to be the father of organized crime in the Big Apple. Although he was involved in prohibition-era alcohol smuggling and sports-fixing, Arnold’s most famous poker-related exploit came at the end of his life.
In October of 1928, Rothstein was involved in a 3-day, high-stakes poker game. This was nothing new for the gangster, as he had been gambling from the age of 10. However, this time Rothstein was in serious trouble. He ended up owing more than $320,000 and left the game in protest after claiming the other players had conspired against him. Refusing to pay his debts proved to be a fatal move, as he was shot a few weeks later.
4. Rafael Nadal
Tennis fans may know Nadal from his exploits on the tennis courts, but he’s quite a passionate poker player when he’s not swinging his racket. Some even say that Rafael plays at a professional level when it comes to poker, and he is noted for his efficient style of play. This shows that even though you might be well-known in the world for one talent, there’s no reason you can’t also be an excellent poker player in your free time.
5. Franklin Roosevelt
FDR was famously obsessed with poker. Like Lincoln, he preferred low-stakes games, but he reportedly played several games per week. Some even claim that during his trademark “fireside chats,” you can hear the former president riffling poker chips off the screen.
6. Richard Nixon
Although quite a few US presidents played poker in the past, Nixon was probably the finest player the White House has ever seen. During World War II, Richard survived through countless Japanese bombings before being transferred to Green Island. Once there, he made an absolute killing with his poker skills. One of Nixon’s Navy comrades admitted: “I once saw him bluff a lieutenant commander out of $1,500 with a pair of deuces.” Another stated that he had never once seen the future president lose a game of poker.
Nixon was so successful that he returned to the United States with thousands of dollars – perhaps as much as $8,000 – in winnings after the war came to a close. Back in the 40s, this was a lot of money. In today’s money, this sum is equivalent to well over $100,000. Some even believe that Nixon’s winnings formed the financial foundation that helped him bankroll his successful venture into politics. Throughout his entire journey with poker, Nixon stuck to the basics, playing a “boring” but safe strategy and maintaining a strict poker face at all times.