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Best of Aaron Todd
Whose presence on televised poker shows outshines their performance on the felt? Ladies and gentlemen, your top-10 contenders are …
10. Howard Lederer
Yes, Lederer has two World Series of Poker (WSOP) bracelets. Yes, he owns two World Poker Tour (WPT) titles. And yes, he won the Aussie Millions title in 2008. But this is clearly a case of "What have you done for me lately?" Outside of the Aussie Millions win, "The Professor" hasn't had a six-figure win in six years, outside of invitation-only, made-for-TV events. As a founder, co-owner and CEO of the company that created Full Tilt Poker, Lederer may be spending more time focusing on the business end of the online business than the tournament circuit.
9. Antonio Esfandiari
Like Lederer, Esfandiari does own WSOP and WPT titles. And he made a deep run in the 2009 Main Event, finishing 24th. But the leading man at Victory Poker hasn't made a WSOP or WPT final table since 2005. Esfandiari's quick wit and penchant for table talk have made him a must-have for many poker shows, and his fame off the felt has outshined his performance on it.
8. Gavin Smith
Sure, Gavin Smith won his first WSOP bracelet in 2010. And he was the WPT Player of the Year in 2005, winning one event and finishing third in another. In the intervening time, he sprinkled in one WSOP final table, one WPT final table, and a whole bunch of made-for-TV cashes. No one likes to watch Gavin more than I do (especially if the cocktails have been flowing), but he's been on TV a lot more often than his play would warrant during those intervening years.
7. Annie Duke
Duke is one of the most well-known professional poker players, in part because she's a woman playing what has traditionally been a man's game. She has just one WSOP title, won in 2004, and until this year, hadn't broken the $200,000 threshold in tournament earnings since that year. While she did win the NBC National Heads-Up Championship this year for $500,000, she didn't post one cash in this year's WSOP, outside of the invitational-only Tournament of Champions.
6. Tony G
Tony G was the "Bonus" thing to look for in televised poker in my last column, but to be honest, Tony G has gotten a lot more attention because of his bombastic abusive treatment of other players on the table than his play has warranted. He has just three WSOP final tables and one WPT appearance (outside of invitation-only events).
5. Phil Gordon
Phil Gordon's charity work (he's one of the leading forces behind cancer fundraising efforts at the WSOP) is laudable. Perhaps appropriately, he was the winner of the Ante Up For Africa fundraiser at the WSOP this year. He has yet, however, to win a WSOP title, and has just one WPT final table (the 2004 Bay 101 Shooting Stars, which he won). Gordon, however, has managed to take advantage of his fame as a poker commentator, most famously on Celebrity Poker Showdown, as a poker author, and as an invited player on poker television shows.
4. Gabe Kaplan
We get it. Mr. Kotter played poker before poker was poker. Hey, he even made four final tables before the boom, and one after. Heck, he even made a TV final table on the WPT in 2004. But he's not one of the top players in the game. Including him in the NBC Heads-Up Poker Championship seems … charitable, to say the least.
3. Vanessa Rousso
A pretty face can go a long way. Rousso has never made a WSOP or WPT final table (she did take down an European Poker Tour event for almost $750,000 and was second in the Heads-Up Championship in 2009), but you'll often find her on televised poker shows, whether they be buy-in events or made-for-TV cash grabs. No matter what the year, it's likely that the ESPN cameras will follow her wherever she goes at the WSOP, even if she doesn't make a deep run.
2. Phil Laak
"The Unabomber" has made just two WSOP final tables. And while his more famous girlfriend — Jennifer Tilly — has a WSOP gold bracelet, he's still looking for his first. It's somewhat fitting that Laak was invited to the WPT's "Bad Boys of Poker" event in 2003 before he even made a WPT final table on his own. While he did win the WPT Invitational in 2004, his results have otherwise hardly been noteworthy. Despite this relative lack of success, Laak has locked up the primary endorsement of Unabomber Poker, has drawn attention to himself with a 115-hour poker marathon, got a spot at ESPN's featured table during the WSOP and managed to find his way into every televised cash game and invitation-only tournament possible.
1. Prahlad Friedman
Ever since the "phenom" put together the "Poker is Fun for Everyone" rap during the 2006 WSOP (he did finish 20th in the Main Event that year), ESPN cameras have followed him everywhere he goes. Perhaps he wishes they would stop. In the 2006 Main Event, Friedman memorably accused Jeffrey Lisandro of not posting an ante (he was wrong), and this year, after having the clock called on him, he was caught on camera calling an all in between the "one" and "zero" count. When his opponent flipped over two pair, he instantly mucked when the floor said that his hand was dead. The rest of the players at the table flipped out, saying that he called, and Friedman just sat there, not defending himself, also not admitting that he did indeed call.
"Prahlad is a huge cheating scumbag there," wrote "superleeds" on the twoplustwo.com message boards.
Yes, he owns a WSOP title, he won the 2009 Legends of Poker event for more than $1 million, and he was one of the first recognized Internet phenoms. But for being a cheating scumbag, and the first person in poker history to invoke a need for instant replay TWICE, I give Prahlad Friedman top "honors" on the list of poker players who get more airtime than they deserve.