9 Most Iconic Online Poker Players in History

Iconic Poker Players

Online poker has seen many great pros come and go. But some of these players will always hold a special place in the game due to their achievements and/or eccentric personalities.

The 2005-2011 internet high stakes era featured the online most-successful grinders ever. Not surprisingly, this time period also produced many iconic players who are still discussed today.

I’m going to discuss the nine most-iconic players of the bunch. Note that not all of these pros are among the winningest players. But they each became famous for impacting the game in one way or another.

1 – Viktor “Isildur1” Blom

Viktor Blom isn’t the first player to come onto the high stakes online scene and immediately start winning. But he’s certainly the most memorable when considering how he dominated and confused the world’s top internet pros.

Blom got his start in poker by playing with friends in high school. He was introduced to the online version by his brother and quickly fell in love with it.

Unfortunately, this love became an addiction by the time he entered college. Blom busted his bankroll several times and convinced his parents that he needed to quit school.

But the Swede gave online poker one more try and became one of the most successful players on the iPoker Network. Bloom took his winnings and went to the famed Full Tilt Poker high stakes scene in 2009.

Full Tilt was the gold standard for nosebleeds by the late 2000s. A number of famous players competed against each other, which drew numerous railbirds.

Nobody was prepared for what the little-known screen name “Isildur1” would do. This anonymous handle proceeded to crush the top rounders for millions of dollars.

Blom’s hyper-aggressive style had yet to be witnessed by the online world. Many opponents were dumbfounded as they collectively lost millions of dollars to Blom.

Isildur1 became the toast of the poker community in 2009, with many speculating on who was behind this mysterious screen name. The anonymous player often multi-tabled against the likes of Phil Ivey, Patrick Antonius, Tom Ivey, and Dan Cates – while winning handily too.

Isildur1’s unbelievable run earned him over $6 million in profits. But all good things come to an end, as did Blom’s high stakes domination.

His downfall began when he played Brian Hastings in a heads-up session. Hastings won $4.2 million off Isildur1, which remains the online single-day record for winnings (Hastings) and losses (Blom).

Isildur1 would eventually find out that Hastings had access to hand histories from Cole South and Brian Townsend – two of Blom’s previous opponents. This insider information gave Hastings an edge in coming up with a strategy that could defeat Blom.

Full Tilt investigated the matter and only decided to punish Townsend. He received a slap on the wrist by losing his Full Tilt Red Pro status for a month.

This devastating loss saw Blom go quiet on the high stakes scene for a while. But he reemerged in 2011 and revealed his identity at the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure.

Blom has since continued his pattern of major highs and lows. He’s gone on multimillion-dollar runs over short timespans, followed by big losses afterward.

Any other player might be extremely stressed by this volatility. But not Blom, as he continues playing the highest online poker stakes.

2 – Tom Dwan

Tom Dwan is famous for taking a $50 birthday gift from his father and turning it into one of the most-successful internet poker careers ever.

Dwan reached $8.2 million in career online cash winnings at his peak. He quickly became a fan favorite among railbirds, who watched “Durrrr” compete against the game’s best.

Dwan furthered his fame by appearing on GSN’s High Stakes Poker and NBC’s Poker After Dark. Durrrr was one of the first internet grinders to play on these TV shows with established live pros.

He added to his legacy by launching the Durrrr Challenge in 2009, where he’d play 50,000 hands of no limit hold’em against other elite pros.

Dwan was so confident in his skills that he offered to $1.5 million to anybody who can beat him in this contest. Meanwhile, he only stood to earn $500,000 if he won.

His first opponent was Patrick Antonius, and they played a few thousand hands before the challenge fizzled. The “current” challenger is Dan Cates, who’s ahead by $1.2 million after 20,000 hands (this challenge may never finish either).

Dwan’s initial losses to Cates came during a larger losing streak, where he saw his career Full Tilt winnings drop from $8.2 million to $2.4 million. This, in combination with the Full Tilt nosebleeds eroding after Black Friday, convinced Dwan to step away from the online scene.

He moved to Macau and started playing in live games with wealthy Asian businessmen and other pros. Dwan still plays online and live in the US on occasion. But he mostly remains in the Macau poker scene these days.

3 – Prahlad Friedman

Prahlad Friedman is the OG of high stakes online poker superstars. He regularly crushed nosebleeds under the names “Mahatma” (Ultimate Bet) and “Zweig” (Prima Network). He later played as “Prefontaine” at PokerStars and “Spirit Rock” at Full Tilt.

Friedman, who grew up in L.A., became interested in poker as a teenager after seeing his dad have minor tournament success. He later began making trips to local card rooms while still in college.

He eventually dropped out of school so that he could focus on his budding live poker career. Friedman also discovered internet poker in the early 2000s and began playing at Paradise Poker, Planet Poker, and Party Poker.

By 2003, Mahatma was regularly seen playing $50/$100 no-limit cash stakes, which were the highest available limits at Ultimate Bet. Friedman competed against the likes of Phil Hellmuth, Phil Ivey, Mike Matusow, and Doyle Brunson.

Friedman won millions of dollars through Ultimate Bet and was widely considered the top online player at the time. However, his world came crashing down in the mid-2000s, when he became the biggest victim of the Ultimate Bet (“UB”) cheating scandal.

Mahatma was one of dozens of players who had the misfortune of competing against Russ Hamilton. The 1994 WSOP champion and part-UB owner had a “god mode” account, which allowed him to see Friedman’s and others’ hole cards.

It’s difficult to know exactly how much money Hamilton cheated Friedman out of. But the latter indicates that it was around $3 million during a recent appearance on the “No Jumper” show.

Friedman went from victim to pariah in 2010, when he signed a sponsorship deal with UB. Many players blasted him for supporting a scandalous site that cheated him.

Famed pro Daniel Negreanu was especially critical, pointing out how Friedman had previously been against signing sponsorships with sites. Friedman defended himself by saying that UB was under new ownership (they lied to him), and he wanted to represent the players.

His reputation would suffer further damage when UB Poker went down after Black Friday while owing players an estimated $50 million.

Friedman has largely remained out of the public eye in recent years. But he’s still playing poker professionally at L.A. card rooms.

He’s also launched a rap career, releasing the LP “Hazy Eyez” with his girlfriend Aida Leal Magalhaes. The two are part of a rap duo called “Pragress & Aida.”

4 – Ilari Sahamies

Ilari “Zigmund” Sahamies first started playing poker at age 15. The Finn played at future high stakes star Patrik Antonius’ home in 2000.

The two met at a Helsinki billiards hall where Sahamies honed his skills. He would later go on to win two Finnish junior billiard championships. Sahamies is truly a well-rounded individual, because he also played soccer, basketball, and wrestled.

He eventually graduated from home games and moved on to playing at Grand Casino Helsinki. It took him just a couple years to develop his skills to the point where he could go pro.

Sahamies experienced success in both live cash games and tournaments. He was also playing online poker by the mid-2000s.

Using the handle “Zigmund” on Full Tilt, he became one of the most-feared players in the game. Sahamies used a reckless style and frequently taunted players in the chat box.

Sahamies’ trash talking has characterized his career more than anything. Some of his chat box taunts have become the stuff of legends.

Of course, it’s easy to bash opponents when you’re winning millions of dollars. By December 2009, Zigmund showed $6.8 million in lifetime cash profit.

Unfortunately, Sahamies had a habit of playing drunk poker. He believes that this contributed to a major downswing that would see him lose nearly all of his previous profits by April 2013.

He resurfaced on PokerStars, though, playing under the name “Ilari FIN.” He’s since managed to win $1.3 million at PokerStars, where he still plays from time to time.

Sahamies no longer plays poker as seriously these days. However, he remains known for his success at the turn of the decade along with his notorious chat box insults.

5 – Phil Ivey

Phil Ivey reigned over the poker world for well over a decade and was commonly referred to as the “greatest all-around poker player.” This billing extended to online poker, where Ivey earned over $20 million in cash profits.

Long before this, he was playing poker in Atlantic City casinos as an underage teenager. He used a fake ID with the name “Jerome,” which earned him the nickname “No Home Jerome.”

These underage-playing days helped Ivey get a jumpstart on what’s arguably been the greatest poker career ever. At one point, he was thoroughly dominating live cash games, online cash games, and live tournaments.

He had the greatest online poker run ever during the mid-2000s and late 2000s, when he accumulated a fortune playing against Full Tilt’s best. By 2011, he’d won over $20 million in profits, which is the most that any internet cash player has ever won.

But Black Friday also impacted Ivey too. He lost his Full Tilt sponsorship and later sued them for $150 million in damages.

PokerStars eventually purchased the shuttered Full Tilt and reopened the site in 2012. Ivey then resumed playing there from his second home in Cabo, Mexico.

However, it was clear that the year and a half he spent away from online poker had affected his skills. He proceeded to lose several million dollars to other elite pros before disappearing from the online scene.

He, like Dwan, has since been spending most of his time playing in the Macau games. Despite not being one of the best online players anymore, Ivey is still likely making profits in the live arena.

6 – Patrik Antonius

Patrik Antonius became one of the most-recognizable poker faces thanks to appearances on High Stakes Poker, Poker After Dark, and in Full Tilt advertisements. Antonius was a natural for Full Tilt’s advertising campaigns when considering his model-like looks and exceptional poker skills.

As mentioned before, he hosted home games that included Ilari Sahamies as a guest. He eventually began making trips to Las Vegas for the major tournaments there and also playing online.

Antonius was one of online poker’s early success stories. He frequently battled studs like Prahlad Friedman on the Prima Network.

The Finnish pro quickly made a name for himself in the Full Tilt nosebleeds. While not as outgoing or dynamic as Sahamies or Blom, Antonius quietly became a star by winning millions of dollars.

Thanks to Ivey’s losing streak in 2012, Antonius now holds the record for most online cash profits at $15 million.

He doesn’t play much online poker these days. Instead, Antonius spends most of his time playing in live cash games and tournaments in Vegas and Europe.

7 – Randy “Nanonoko” Lew

Unlike the other players on this list, Randy “nanonoko” Lew isn’t a high stakes phenom. Instead, he’s made his money through mass multi-tabling.

Lew spent his teenage years as a competitive video gamer, excelling in fighting games like Marvel vs. Capcom and Street Fighter II.

He eventually put his competitiveness and quick reflexes to work in online poker. Lew wasn’t an immediate success, though, and had to really work on his game.

He slowly improved and also learned how to mass multi-table. These skills would serve him well throughout the 2010s.

Lew’s turning point came when he discovered the PokerStars Supernova Elite VIP level (no longer available). Nanonoko realized that he could make a good living by grinding low stakes and accumulating VIP rewards.

He eventually became the greatest multi-tabler ever. Lew has won an estimated $3.5 million when including both his winnings and rewards.

He played such a large volume of hands that he reached the heralded Supernova Elite level in five straight years. Putting this into context, many pros who’ve tried to reach this level fizzle out within a few months.

Lew is no longer the multi-tabling machine that he was a few years ago. But he the still plays the game and runs a successful Twitch stream.

8 – Dan “Jungleman” Cates

Dan Cates had a rough introduction to poker. He started out playing home games with “friends,” only to find out that some of them were cheating him.

He then found online poker, which caused him to bust his bankroll several times. Cates worked at McDonald’s as a teenager so that he could continue reloading his bankroll.

He finally solved his poker issues by using “reverse game selection,” which involves seeking out the toughest players in order to improve one’s game. This worked since he was able to skyrocket from 50/100 NL to the highest stakes that Full Tilt had to offer.

Cates’ crowning achievement came in 2010, when he earned $5 million in cash profits. This made him the biggest online poker winner that year.

Jungleman is another Black Friday victim, because he had millions of dollars on Full Tilt when they became insolvent. He was also forced to move from the US to Europe to keep playing online.

The high stakes internet scene has gone downhill ever since Full Tilt got rid of their nosebleeds in 2015. Therefore, Cates has transitioned more to playing live poker in recent years.

But he can still be found in the highest stakes at PokerStars under the name “w00ki3z.”

9 – Gus Hansen

Gus Hansen first gained poker fame after winning three WPT tournaments. He parlayed this live tournament success into creating an image that made him one of the most-marketable Full Tilt pros.

The “Great Dane” was featured in a number of Full Tilt ads. He had something of a playboy image thanks to his success with the ladies and smooth fashion style.

Hansen also gained notoriety for his appearances on High Stakes Poker and Poker After Dark. One particular episode of High Stakes Poker, entitled “Gus and the Ladies,” saw him take on a group of female opponents.

But as much as other players wanted to be like Hansen in terms of fame and fortune, they wanted no part of his high stakes online results.

Hansen become notorious for his massive losses, which total over $20 million today. He tried, again and again, to compete against the world’s best internet grinders, only to find himself losing six or seven figures every month.

Luckily, Hansen has since given up his pursuit of becoming a top online player. He now focuses on playing live tournaments and cash games around the world.

Hansen has also made enough money through business dealings and his former Full Tilt sponsorship that he’s able to live comfortably, despite the massive internet losses.


Online poker’s glory days are gone. This is especially the case when considering that the high stakes scene is no longer what it once was.

But there are still a number of internet legends who live on today. These iconic players have made a lasting mark on the games through their results, personalities, and other endeavors.

Viktor Blom still lays claim to the most-remarkable online poker period in terms of results and hysteria. He captivated the poker world over a six-month period in 2009, when he dominated the best players with an extremely aggressive style.

Tom Dwan is another player who skyrocketed thanks to his online prowess. Dwan won millions of dollars throughout the late 2000s and became revered for his unique strategy.

Prahlad Friedman was a well-known online player years before either Dwan or Blom logged on to play. Friedman was arguably the world’s top internet player until he was devastated by the UB superuser scandal.

Ilari Sahamies brought a level of trash talking that the high stakes world had yet to see. Sahamies backed up his talk by winning millions of dollars.

Will online poker ever make a comeback to the point where we’ll see more legends like these?

The likely answer is no, because the poker boom has come and gone. Furthermore, there’s more attention on the live tournament scene these days than the internet game.

But even if online poker doesn’t boom again, we’ll always have tales of these players crushing their opponents and becoming icons in the process.

Petko Stoyanov
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About Petko Stoyanov
My name is Petko Stoyanov, and I've been a gambling writer for more than ten years. I guess that was the natural path for me since I've loved soccer and card games for as long as I can remember! I have a long and fairly successful history with English Premier League betting and online poker, but I follow many other sports. I watch all big European soccer leagues, basketball, football, and tennis regularly, and I keep an eye on snooker, volleyball, and major UFC events.