Poker has given rise throughout its history to important battles that are still remembered by those who have lived through the boom of this mental sport. And in the context of the most important games, phrases have been heard that have ended up transcending and have remained for posterity.
Some of them are even known by popular culture and their projection in movie theaters, leaving an indelible mark of the importance of this game. And that is exactly what we are going to focus on, the most famous phrases ever heard at a poker table.
The 20 most famous poker player’s phrases
“If you can’t identify the fish at the poker table, it’s because it’s you.”
– Who said it: Paul Newman.
– Context: okay, maybe, even though it’s one of the mythical poker quotes, we started with a cheat. In the movie The Sting, Newman plays a character who uttered these words during a game. He ended up offering an insightful observation that has ended up being true and assumed by all contemporary players, demonstrating the importance of perceptions during the game.
“Poker reveals who you really are; it’s a mirror of life.”
– Who said it: David Haye.
– Context: the famous British boxer expressed in what is one of the most famous poker phrases of all time how poker goes beyond the cards, showing the true essence of a person through his decisions and reactions. Something he was very right about, but which at the time was not as widespread.
“I always play with my instinct. It’s like watching a movie: I know something is going to happen.”
– Who said it: Johnny Chan.
– Context: if someone who has won ten WSOP bracelets speaks, you have to listen to him. This phrase was said by Johnny Chan himself and highlights the importance of intuition in the game, comparing it to the anticipation of a twist in a movie plot. Chan’s case is unique, because he had a special intuition for reading the cards, but he was quite right in saying this.
“Wait until you have a strong hand to start playing strong.”
– Who said it: Doyle Brunson.
– Context: Brunson, the Texas poker legend, once emphasized patience and selectivity in the hands you play, suggesting that real strength lies in strategic choice. And he was quite right: just look at his style of play and the successes he achieved.
“Poker is a game of skill disguised as a game of luck.”
– Who said it: Phil Gordon.
– Context: Gordon, a key figure in poker who also developed commentary skills, stresses here the importance of skill over luck, underlining that skill and strategy are the true pillars of success.
“Poker is 100% skill and 50% luck.”
– Who said it: Phil Hellmuth.
– Context: there are many famous poker quotes, but only a few transcend. Something that has always characterized Hellmuth is his provocative style even when speaking, and here he showed it again by even throwing humor into his calculations by suggesting that, while luck plays an important role in poker, skill is everything.
“In poker, your education never ends.”
– Who said it: Joe Hachem.
– Context: Hachem, a World Series of Poker champion, highlights here the constantly evolving nature of the game, where continuous learning is essential to stay on top.
“Poker is a game of people involving cards; not a game of cards involving people.”
– Who said it: Phil Hellmuth.
– Context: Hellmuth again, yes. Here he underlined the importance of understanding the opponents at the table, stressing that the psychological aspect is as crucial as the cards themselves. And that’s just the way it is: in poker people, their ways of being, their playing styles and their reactions play a determining role. Two identical games with the same cards and different players would easily have different results.
“Winning a poker tournament is like nothing else. It’s like reaching the top of the mountain.”
– Who said it: Daniel Negreanu.
– Context: if anyone knows the taste of victory, it is Negreanu, considered by many the best poker player in the world. Little more needs to be explained: the Canadian uttered these words after being asked about his feelings after adding another WSOP bracelet to his palmares.
“Poker is the only form of the game where, even if you’re the best, you’ll still lose on a regular basis.”
– Who said it: Stu Ungar.
– Context: Ungar, considered one of the most talented players of all time, said this when reflecting on the unpredictable nature of poker. It’s a lesson and a reality check for those amateurs eager to improve: even if you’re good, you can end up losing, and no one escapes that. Not even the best, as Stu reminded us. One of the most mythical poker phrases that should be remembered often.
“If you can’t find the sucker at the table in the first 30 minutes, then the sucker is you.”
– Who said it: Matt Damon, playing Mike McDermott in Rounders.
– Context: in many ways, the movie Rounders is an institution for poker fans, and the screenwriters decided to include a more than deserved homage to Paul Newman’s famous line in The Sting, which we discussed earlier. A wink that many caught and that emphasizes the importance of not being the minnow everyone wants to squeeze.
“Poker is a game of incomplete information.”
– Who said it: James Altucher.
– Context: many may not know James Altucher, a writer and entrepreneur with great poker knowledge. This is one of those concise and indisputable phrases that, although obvious, is worth remembering. And the fact is that poker is a game that should not be taken as a game of chance, but of skill. For Altucher, it was like a puzzle that each player had to solve with his own pieces of the puzzle. He was right, to tell the truth.
“Playing poker professionally is like being the captain of your own ship, but you’re also the crew.”
– Who said it: Barry Greenstein.
– Context: Professional poker player Barry Greenstein reflects here the responsibility that comes with playing poker, and the enormous independence that those who want to dedicate themselves to professional poker must develop.
“In poker, as in life, it’s important to calculate your risks and not be afraid to bet when you know you have the best hand.”
– Who said it: Vanessa Selbst.
– Context: Selbst, one of the best poker players in the world, wanted to emphasize in one of the most famous poker phrases how important it is to be brave in the game, but, above all, to combine bravery with a proper risk assessment. This makes clear the importance of statistics and mathematics in poker for decision making.
“In poker, every time you make a decision, you are teaching yourself.”
– Who said it: Paul Wasicka.
– Context: Wasicka, one of the best players of his generation, used depth to reflect the importance of self-learning and the implications of making the right decisions during the game.
“You can’t let wins go to your head and you can’t let losses hit you too hard.”
– Who said it: Phil Ivey.
– Context: Ivey tends to hit all the right notes when he speaks, and here he highlights the importance of emotional balance to maintain consistency in performance over time. Something that is more important than it seems and that the new generations of players need to assimilate soon. Not everything is success: it is also knowing how to manage it.
“Poker is the only profession where you can lose a large number of times and still be considered one of the best.”
– Who said it: Dan Reed.
– Context: Reed highlights here the resilience needed to cope with losses in poker and how perseverance can lead to long-term success.
“The fastest way to learn poker is to play poker.”
– Who said it: Tom McEvoy.
– Context: it is one of those truisms that has more meaning than it seems. McEvoy puts the focus here on the need to not focus so much on theory and start playing. Learning by live fire is a great way to learn, and this quote is a defense of what many advocate: that we must avoid paralysis by analysis and not be afraid to play.
“Cards have memory; poker is not just a game of chance.”
– Who said it: Chris Moneymaker.
– Context: Moneymaker, whose 2003 World Series of Poker victory was key to the rise of online poker, suggests that skill and strategy influence the outcome as much as luck. It’s a quote along the lines of what Phil Hellmuth said.
“In poker, your cards don’t matter as much as your opponents’ cards.”
– Who said it: Jonathan Duhamel.
– Context: the 2010 World Series of Poker champion stresses the importance of reading opponents, suggesting that even with mediocre cards, you can win if you understand each other’s intentions. It opens an interesting melon, because in poker, although the cards are decisive, knowing how to play with mediocre cards can save you.