The goal of poker is to develop an edge over other players so that you can win long-term profits. Of course, it always helps when luck is on your side and you’re able to go on a big hot streak.
Many poker players have found themselves on heaters that lead to big profits in cash games and/or tournaments. But only a select few are able to win millions of dollars in the process.
The following 11 players have managed to accomplish this feat while making themselves poker legends in the process. Keep reading as I cover 11 pros that experienced hot streaks in tournaments, online cash games, or live cash games.
1 – Justin Bonomo Becomes All Time Poker Winnings Leader in 2018
Justin Bonomo became an infamous poker player in 2006, when he was caught multi-accounting in partypoker online tournaments. Bonomo was subsequently banned from several poker sites afterward and had hundreds of thousands of dollars confiscated.He was only a teenager at the time and sincerely apologized for his actions afterward. Bonomo has since become a reputable player and lays claim to what is the greatest run in poker history so far.In 2008, he’s gone on an incredible heater in live tournaments that has seen him win nearly $25 million. 2008 isn’t quite over with at the time of this post, which makes it all the more impressive that Bonomo still has time to add to his $24,945,435 in winnings. His huge year has him the winningest player in live tournament history with $42,979,591.
Bonomo’s started 2018 off right with a runner-up finish in the PCA $100k Super High Roller ($1,077,800). He followed this up by winning the 2018 Super High Roller Bowl China along with HK$37,830,000 (US$4,823,077).
The 32-year-old is a former Magic the Gathering competitor who first started playing poker seriously in 2005. He’s since gone on to have an outstanding poker career that includes $42.79 million in live winnings along with millions more through online cash games and tournaments.
2 – Dan Colman Goes on $23.4 Million Heater in 2014
Like many future poker pros, Dan Colman’s origins began as an online player. Up until the early 2010s, he had barely done anything in live tournaments. But this would change in 2014, when he went on an amazing run that saw him tally a number of big high roller finishes.In April 2014, he won the EPT Monte Carlo Super High Roller and $2.1 million. He’d easily top this score by winning the 2014 WSOP Big One for One Drop and $15.3 million.Colman’s success continued as he took second in the EPT Barcelona Super High Roller ($1.1m), followed by first place in the Seminole Hard Rock Poker Open ($1.4m).What’s impressive about these two finishes is that they came just 10 days apart.
Colman rounded out 2014 by winning the WPT Alpha 8 London event ($957k) and an ACOP Macau tournament ($373). These victories finished off a year that saw him earn $22,389,481 overall. Colman has never regained the magic that he captured in 2014. But he did cash for seven figures from 2014-17.
3 – Viktor “Isidur1” Blom Dominates High Stakes Online Poker in 2009
No other online poker player has ever come from out of nowhere to create the type of impact that Viktor “Isildur1” Blom did in 2009.The Swedish high stakes player rose from obscurity to play against top internet players at the time, including Phil Ivey, Tom Dwan, Patrik Antonius, Cole South, and Brian Townsend. Even while taking on poker’s elite, Blom won nearly $6 million in Full Tilt cash games from September to November of 2009. The poker world was abuzz about the new phenom who was dominating the high stakes world. This buzz even came from the players who were competing against him. Appearing on the Finnish radio show Radio Rock Korporaatio, Ilari Sahamies commented that there must be something mentally wrong with Blom. “He’s been playing nine tables at once against Patrik Antonius, Phil Ivey, and Tom Dwan durrrr,” said Sahamies,“the guy must be missing a chromosome.”
Patrik Antonius, another elite Finnish online pro, was nicer in his assessment. Antonius noted that Blom is “extremely dangerous,” because he puts so much pressure on opponents.
Interestingly enough, it was Antonius who was dangerous to Blom after winning a $1.4 million pot off him — the largest in online poker history.
Who was this mysterious poker player, who came from out of nowhere to win millions off the game’s best grinders? Blom got his start with poker at 14 years old, when his older brother introduced him to the game. The Swede then taught his friends how to play no-limit Texas hold’em.
The group began playing micro stakes poker with each other after school and during lunch breaks. Blom built a small bankroll out of these live cash games, which he deposited at an internet poker site at age 15. After just a few weeks, Blom was grinding in $530 sit-n-gos. He accumulated a $275,000 bankroll over the ensuing months.
Blom’s first foray into the high stakes scene saw him lose his entire bankroll. Undeterred, he made another $3,000 deposit and built this to over $50,000. From ages 16 to 18, he ran his bankroll to over $200,000. He then took another shot at high stakes on the iPoker network and won $1.7 million over a two-week span. After failing to find more action at iPoker, he switched to Full Tilt Poker and started playing against the aforementioned pros. By December 2009, Isildur1 had won $5.98 million in the Full Tilt nosebleeds.
Much like Sahamies explained, Isildur1 was/is highly aggressive and often multi-tabled against top online pros. This insane combination helped him — or rather his screen name — gained international fame during his illustrious poker run.
But the bottom fell out for Blom in December 2009, when he lost $4 million to Brian Hastings in a single session of $500/$1000 pot-limit Omaha. Afterward, he challenged Ivey to a heads-up NL Texas hold’em duel at $500/$1000 stakes. Blom lost $3.2 million and later said that Ivey was a toughest player he’d ever competed against.
4 – Fedor Holz Is King of High Rollers in 2016
Many live tournament players take a while before they truly find their groove. But Fedor Holz needed only a few years of experience before taking the poker world by storm at age 22.The German embarked on a highly impressive run in December 2015, when he won the WPT Alpha 8 high roller along with $1,589,219. Just a month later, he won a 2016 Triton Super High Roller Series event and $3,072,748.Holz experienced a string of six-figure cashes during the next few months. In May 2016, he triumphed yet again by winning the Super High Roller Bowl and $5 million. His outstanding year continued with victories in the 2016 WSOP High Roller for One Drop ($4.98m) and EPT Barcelona 8-Handed High Roller $1.47m).
By the end of his high-roller rampage, Holz collected $16,093,402 throughout 2016. If you add his $1.59m cash at the beginning of the year, he earned over $17.6 million in less than 12 months. Holz explained his poker success by noting that he frequently studies with other German pros. These study sessions have helped him become one of the world’s best players.
5 – Phil Ivey Earns $7.3 Million Profit in Online Poker in 2008
Phil Ivey has gone on so many runs throughout his poker career that it’s hard to pick just one to discuss. But if I have to choose the one that impresses me the most, it’s when he earned over $7.3 million in online cash profits in 2008.Ivey was part of internet poker’s golden age, when players like Tom Dwan, Ilari Sahamies, Viktor Blom, and Phil Galfond ruled the cyber felts in the late 2000s. He benefited greatly from these days, winning $7.34 million throughout 2008. But this was far from the only good year that he had online.Ivey also won profits of $1.99 million in 2007; $6.33 million in 2009; and $3 million in 2010. It’s a wonder what could’ve happened if he’d been able to keep playing online. But the legal events of Black Friday on April 15, 2011 essentially ended the high stakes action at Full Tilt.
When this site returned along with its nosebleed tables in 2012, Ivey failed to recapture the same glory. He lost several million dollars and eventually stopped playing at Full Tilt to pursue business interests.
These days, Ivey continues spending little time on the poker tables. Regardless, he’s one of the most-decorated players of all time and was inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame in 2017.
Some of his career highlights include winning three gold bracelets at the 2002 WSOP, becoming the first player to beat “Amarillo Slim” heads-up in a WSOP event, and finishing seventh place in the 2009 WSOP Main Event.
He’s reportedly one of the most-successful players to ever participate in the $4000/$8000 mixed game at the Bellagio. Ivey is still well known for his appearances on TV shows such as High Stakes Poker and Poker After Dark.
6 – Dan Cates Wins $5 Million in Online Poker in 2010
Dan “Jungleman” Cates is one of the best of stories of poker perseverance of all time. Raised in Bowie, Maryland, Cates started playing poker at age 17. He was such a bad player and lost so much money that he continued working at McDonald’s to replenish his bankroll.Besides having what was perceived as an internet poker problem at the time, he also spent countless hours playing the game Command and Conquer.After graduating from high school, he began studying economics at the University of Maryland. He was also played low stakes poker in his free time. Fed up with losing at $0.25/$0.50 stakes, Cates took a new approach and used “reverse game selection,” where one seeks out the best players at their stakes.
Grinding against better players on a daily basis was the key to Cate’s moving from low-limit NL hold’em to $25/$50 stakes in a two-year span. He also dropped out of the University of Maryland to pursue poker full-time. Cates took a shot at high stakes in 2009, but would lose his bankroll to Blom. He still continued preserving and rebuilt his bankroll throughout the rest of the year.
By 2010, Cates had become one of the world’s top online NL hold’em players. He frequently took on the game’s best and won profits off them. Jungleman earned $5 million in total throughout 2010, which made him the biggest online winner of the year. He also made headlines for taking on Tom Dwan in the “Durrrr Challenge.” The challenge was supposed to last for 50,000 hands, but it remains stuck at just over 19,000 hands.
Cates is currently up over $1 million against Dwanand stands to win another $1.5 million if his opponent ever commits to finishing the challenge.
7 – Erik Seidel Can’t Stop Winning in Early 2011
Erik Seidel wasn’t exactly new to the poker scene in 2011. In fact, the former stock market trader was 51 at the time and had been playing the game for three decades.But Seidel experienced a resurgence this year that saw him dominate a number of tournaments. He started off 2011 by winning an Aussie Millions Super High Roller ($2.47m) and finishing third in another high roller ($618k).He followed this up by winning the NBC National Heads-Up Championship in March along with $750,000. April saw him triumph in the Five Star World Poker Classic Super High Roller and earn $1,092,780.
Seidel had one more big cash in him, finishing second and earning over $604k in a tournament held by the now-defunct Epic Poker League.
The rest of the year was comparatively quiet for Seidel since he didn’t rack up any more seven-figure cashes. But he wound up with over $6 million in winnings during this short span.
8 – Archie Karas Wins Millions in Poker during “The Run”
Archie Karas’ poker heater was part of a larger gambling run that saw him go from $50 to $40 million in three years. But poker was definitely a big part of what’s been dubbed “The Run.”Karas’s story began in December 1992, after he’d lost nearly all of his money playing high stakes poker in L.A. With just $50 to his name, he drove to Las Vegas in hopes of turning his fortunes around.Here, he met an old poker friend who staked him for $10,000. The Greek-born gambler used this money to win $30,000 in Razz – $20,000 of which went to his backer. He used this money to build a multimillion-dollar bankroll by hustling pool games in Las Vegas. Eventually, though, the pool games dried up and Karas switched to poker.
He parlayed his $4.2 million in pool winnings to earn another $12 million playing against poker legends like Doyle Brunson, Johnny Chan, Johnny Moss, Puggy Pearson, Chip Reese, and Stu Ungar.
His heads-up match against Reese was particularly interesting. Chip was largely responsible for busting Karas in L.A. and was looking for another big win. But Karas, being on a massive heater, won $2 million off Reese. They played stakes as high as $8,000/$16,000 during their matchup.
Nobody wanted to play Karas in poker anymore, which is when he made a fortuitous switch to craps. He won another $23 million and his bankroll peaked at $40 million. Sadly, Karas kept gambling in baccarat and craps, eventually losing all of his money. He also rematched Reese during the losing streak and lost $2 million to the late legend.
9 – Tom Dwan Rakes in $5.4 Million in Online Poker in 2008
Tom Dwan experienced an incredible internet poker rise in the late 2000s that earned him recognition as one of the game’s top players. He started out by winning $312,800 in 2007 on Full Tilt’s cash tables. He followed this up with an even bigger heater in 2008, earning $5.41 billion in profits.From here, Dwan has experienced many swings in his bankroll. He lost $2 million in the middle of 2007, only to recover throughout the following year. He then lost another $3.5 million in 2009, which he was able to recover after playing for the next six months.Dwan dropped $2 million to a combination of Ilari Sahamies and Phil Ivey in October of the same year. His most devastating moment was when he lost $5 million to Blom in December 2009.
Despite all of the money that he parted within 2009, Dwan was still sitting at $1.4 million in overall Full Tilt profits. He stepped down in limits at one point and was able to win $1.6 million over the next year.
Following Black Friday, Dwan moved to Macau and has been dedicating most of his time to live cash games there ever since.
10 – Johnny Chan Nearly Wins Three Straight WSOP Main Events
Johnny Chan makes this list not for winning an exorbitant amount of money, but rather for an amazing run that he experienced at the WSOP Main Event from 1987-89.<.br>Chan first rose to poker fame after winning the 1987 Main Event along with $625,000. He made it back-to-back after winning the 1988 WSOP Main Event and $700,000. Chan beat Erik Seidel heads-up in the 1988 Main Event, a scene that’s featured on the 1998 cult classic poker movie Rounders.Johnny made a deep run in the 1989 ME too and was looking for a three-peat. But he would fall just short after losing heads-up to Phil Hellmuth. Chan continues to play poker sparingly. However, his main focus these days is running his restaurant chain in Las Vegas.
11 – Ilari Sahamies Wins $9.3 Million in Online Poker in 2008/09
Ilari Sahamies is perhaps the most-entertaining player in internet poker history. The Finn became well known for trash-talking his opponents.And he had plenty of things to say during a heater that saw him win more than $9.3 million from late 2008 to early 2009.Sahamies was actually $2.5 million in the red in online high stakes games when his miraculous run began. The pot-limit Omaha specialist had one of the strongest online poker runs ever while competing against the likes of Blom, Dwan, Ivey, and Antonius.Antonius brings an interesting element to this story, because Sahamies actually learned how to play poker at his house at age 15. The teen then began playing in poker home games with his friends on a regular basis.
Unfortunately for Sahamies, he’s always had a bad habit of drinking alcohol while playing online poker. He estimates to have lost around $3 million during drunk poker sessions..
His career online cash winnings peaked at close to $7 million. He’s since gone on some downswings, but is still up around $1.5 million for his career.
Some heaters in this post involve players who were already successful before they started winning. Justin Bonomo, Phil Ivey, Erik Seidel are good examples of pros who were already established before getting hot.
Other players didn’t start out with massive bankrolls, but rather built their winnings through a hot run. Viktor Blom, Dan Cates, Tom Dwan, Fedor Holz, and Ilari Sahamies are some of poker’s best rags-to-riches stories.
Long story short, there’s no telling how far you’ll go in poker if you can combine skills with luck. But it always helps to have a large bankroll when you are on a heater.