Poker Player Doppelgangers

[LL] “Roderick, were you at the table when we talking about how pro poker players and athletes both have trouble managing their money?”1 Leroy the Lion inquired.

[RR] “No, I wasn’t. But it’s definitely true. A lot of them treat money like it’ll burn a hole in their pockets if they don’t spend it right away”, Roderick the Rock agreed.

[LL] “That conversation made me think that every pro poker player has an athlete for a doppelganger. Start with the obvious one that’s well known… Phil Ivey is the Tiger Woods of poker. Until they were both rocked by scandals, they were at the top of their games, were respected and feared by their opponents, and were a mystery to everyone.”

[RR] “Phil Laak is Dennis Rodman. They’re borderline crazy on the outside but surprisingly deep on the inside. Laak can wax philosophic at the table, while Rodman not only met with North Korea’s president, Kim Jong-un, but he urged him to talk to Barack Obama.”

[LL] “Doyle Brunson is Cal Ripken, Jr. Both played very well for a very long time and always with class.”

[RR] “Mike Matusow is a lot like Charles Barkley. They’re known for their opinionated, uncensored mouths. They’re charismatic and have struggled with weight problems and addictions.”

[LL] “Scotty Nguyen and Joe Namath are both champions who embarrassed themselves by appearing drunk in public. Nguyen was a few sheets to the wind at the 2008 WSOP HORSE event and abused both his opponents and the waitstaff. Namath was slurring his words on the sidelines of a 2003 Patriots-Jets game and kept saying he wanted to kiss interviewer Suzy Kolber.”

[RR] “Daniel Negreanu is obviously Steve Nash. They’re both happy-go-lucky Canadians with bad hair who’ve adjusted to the young blood in the game.”

[LL] “Barry Greenstein is the Robin Hood of Poker, so that makes him Andre Agassi, who shred his bad boy image to become one of the all-around good guys with his charitable foundation. Both of them focus their philanthropic efforts on children.”

[RR] “Former MIT blackjack team member Andy Bloch is Zack Greinke, the first Major League Baseball pitcher to wholeheartedly and openly embrace sabermetrics to improve his game.”

[LL] “Antonio Esfandiari is also a pitcher, knuckleballer R.A. Dickey. Esfandiari can do magic with playing cards, and Dickey can do magic with a baseball. Both cashed in big time with their skills in 2012; Esfandiari won the million-dollar buy-in Big One for One Drop for over $18 million, and Dickey converted a 20-win Cy Young season into a $25-million extension with his new team, the Toronto Blue Jays, which guaranteed him $12 million in both 2014 and 2015.

[RR] “Chris Ferguson is a ballroom dancer, so he’d be Helio Castroneves, one of the athletes who’s won Dancing With the Stars. Ferguson won the World Series of Poker Main Event in 2000. Castroneves won the Indy 500 three times later in the decade. Ferguson is currently embroiled in the Full Tilt Poker scandal as one of the owners; Castroneves was charged by the IRS with conspiracy and tax evasion but was eventually acquitted.”

[LL] “Chris Moneymaker is like Magic Johnson and Larry Bird put together, since they really helped popularize their games. Probably a little more like Bird because of their rural roots.”

[RR] “I guess that would make Phil Hellmuth Bird’s teammate Danny Ainge. Always whining, but championship winners in the end.”

[LL] “Hellmuth is closer to the top of the game though, like current leading whine connoisseur LeBron James.2

[LL] “What about female players? Annette Obrestad is Michelle Wie. Both became famous and had their biggest success at a very young age. Obrestad started playing online poker at age 15; Wie turned pro at age 15. Obrestad won the 2007 WSOP Europe Main Event but hasn’t reached another WSOP final table. Wie had six top-five finishes in the women’s golf majors by 2006 but none since.”3

[RR] “Annie Duke has Serena Williams’s temperament, and they both have famous older siblings in the same field. Duke has been at the same table as her brother Howard Lederer, and of course, Serena plays doubles with Venus and has had singles matches against her.”

[LL] “Speaking of tennis, Vanessa Selbst is Martina Navratilova, incredibly smart players who punish opponents with their aggression. Selbst relentlessly bets, while Navratilova attacks the net for the put-away volley or killing smash.”

[RR] “And thanks to overexposure on TV, a handful of women would qualify as the Anna Kournikova of poker. I won’t single anyone out though, because they play better than I do!”


  1. See last week’s article on Bankroll Management.
  2. On March 12, 2013, Ranker placed James first on their list of the Biggest Sports Crybabies {link no longer available}.
  3. Update: Michelle Wie won the U.S. Open on June 22, 2014.

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