Back in the day, you simply weren’t a poker player until you had a nickname — a habit seemingly inherited from the old gunslingers who earned themselves a catchy moniker as they struck fear and awe across state lines.
Where the Wild West had its long list of Williams — “Billy the Kid”, “Wild Bill” Hickok and “Buffalo Bill”, to name but three — the poker games of the bygone era were the stomping ground of “Puggy” Pearson, “Treetop” Straus and Doyle “Texas Dolly” Brunson, with “Sailor” Roberts and “Amarillo Slim” Preston waiting in the wings. Stu “The Kid” Ungar came along a few year after that, borrowing most conspicuously from a baby-faced assassin of a previous age.
Back in that early era of organised poker (about 100 years since the heyday of the American west), the World Series of Poker introduced the idea of big poker tournaments, and your nickname typically came from your home town, or your occupation, or the way you looked. But as poker has grown into a global pursuit, played by millions on the internet, you’re just as likely now to find that people know you by your online nickname before they have any idea of what’s written on your birth certificate, nor where you’re from.
Here’s a look at some of the most famous nicknames in poker, bridging the entire history of the organised game. Some nicknames make perfect sense. Some follow the old rules. Some are just flat out bizarre.
Of course, Texas is the home of most of the oldest old-school rounders, and both Thomas “Amarillo Slim” Preston and Doyle “Texas Dolly” Brunson have names representing their heritage in the Lone Star state.
Further, if you come from outside of the United States but try to bring your crazy accent and your peculiar mannerisms to Uncle Sam’s poker tables, prepare to be identified by your home country. Just ask Marcel “The Flying Dutchman” Luske, Gus “The Great Dane” Hansen and Patrik Antonius, who was known simply as “The Finn” early in his career. By that point, Nick “The Greek” Dandalos had already been and gone, while Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder was one of the game’s earliest commentators.
The extraordinary boom of the mid 2000s brought poker to television screens across the planet, with the players whose career peaked during that period luckier than almost any other generation. They picked up sponsorship deals, appearance fees and buy-ins to any number of made-for-television freerolls. In return, they had to mine their early life for an entertaining backstory, while also discovering and playing up an engaging television personality.Nicknames became a central part of this process, and almost nobody from the period went without. While some were already in place before the cameras appeared — Chris Ferguson had been “Jesus” for a while; David Ulliott got his “Devilfish” nickname in 1997 — others seemed to be tacked on purely for the sake of the cameras. Phil Laak used to wear a hoodie and shades to conceal every part of his face, resembling an infamous police sketch, and became “The Unabomber” as a result. Young Amir Esfandiari knew a few card tricks before he arrived to the United States from Iran, but then switched out Amir for Antonio and took on his “The Magician” soubriquet.
Those two sat frequently at tables featuring the likes of Mike “The Mouth” Matusow, Erick “E-Dog” Lindgren, Isabelle “No Mercy” Mercier, and Howard “The Professor” Lederer, whose nickname, Lederer acknowledged, was dreamed up by Jesse May “out of nowhere” and ended up sticking.
At that time, the fresh-faced Canadian upstart Daniel Negreanu suited his “Kid Poker” nickname perfectly, and it has stuck even as he now assumes veteran status. Meanwhile not many people refer to Barry Greenstein as “The Bear” anymore, nor even as “The Robin Hood of Poker”. At the other end of the spectrum, however, there are probably plenty of people who recognise “The Grinder” without ever having known him as plain “Michael”.
On the internet, everyone is anonymous…unless they’re not.
For the past 15 years or so, most new poker players have played their first hand of poker online. That means that new players have had to come up with a screen-name before they even properly learned the rules — and little could they appreciate how significant that early decision might end up being.
For at least two greats of the modern game, Shaun Deeb and Bryn Kenney, the username decision wasn’t worth worrying about. They go by “shaundeeb” and “BrynKenney” respectively. Easy. But for others, including people who once went by the names Bertrand, Tom, Viktor and Dan, their online nicknames came to define them in the real world too.
Hence Mr Grospellier is almost always called “ElkY” and never Bertrand. Mr Dwan is still “durrr” more often than he’s Tom. Mr Blom is more likely “Isildur” than he is Viktor. And even Mr Cates refers to himself as “Jungle”, short for “Jungleman”, when he’s busy posting in the third person. You might also add Mike “Tîmex” McDonald to the list, because that nickname was certainly used more frequently than “Mike” when he was in his poker pomp. But don’t forget that the dot on the top of the “i” is no such thing. That’s a special character he used when he set up the account.
We have compiled a long list of popular poker screen-names with the identities behind them. In many cases, the exploits of the online avatar are better known than the real people behind them.