The First through Ninth Families of Poker?

by , Aug 28, 2009 | 4:01 am

Watching the latest episode of ESPN’s Inside Deal … Laura Lane had a question for Howard Lederer, about who would win between him and his sister vs. the Brunson clan. Though Howard’s non-committal answer shows he is definitely learnin’ himself some politics, it got me thinking … really, who are the biggest poker families?

Though naturally I see yet another Dream Team tourney possibility, there could be other ways to quantify the “first family” of poker. Off the top of my head — based on people who play at least semi-regularly and have had some semblance of decent results in biggish events — you have, in no particular order:

The Brunsons

The Lederers
Annie (Duke)

The Greensteins
Joe (Sebok)

The Mizrachis

The Williams

The Schneiders

The Nguyens (Master)

The Heimowitzs

The (Belcore) Zogmans
Mary Jo

The last two were the first husband-and-wife to both book wins on the Heartland Poker Tour. More than $300k worth of prize money between them — they count. (And I had no idea Lonnie H had so many cashes!) Who else am I forgetting? I’m not sure if Phil Laak and Jennifer Tilly (+Antonio?) could count as a common-law family. But overall, I’m wondering … there’ve got to be what, hundreds, maybe a couple thousand true poker families out there in the world (active players, buying into at least the small versions of big tourneys). And one of them has to be the best …


The Les

The Hachems

The Hinkles

The Shulmans
Allyn (Jaffrey)

The Feduniaks

The Sterns

The Enrights
Max (Shapiro)

The (Harman) Traniellos

The Browns
Vanessa (Rousso)

The Breneses

The Jetts
Karina’s Mom

36 Comments to “The First through Ninth Families of Poker?”

  1. brdpoker

    Dude, what about the Le family?

  2. DanM

    Nice call. Totally adding.

    The Hachems, too.

  3. grungedave

    How about Grant and Blair Hinkle…? Both have bracelets

  4. Kevin Mathers

    There’s also Puggy and J.C. Pearson as family members with bracelets.

  5. brdpoker

    Funny, I just emailed Dan about the Hinkle brothers. 🙂

  6. Lara

    Binger brothers?

  7. BJ Nemeth

    It’s not quantified exactly, but you said the criteria were to be a semi-regular player with decent results in biggish events.

    I’m not sure I’d call the Heartland Poker Tour a “biggish event” — I hear the level of play is extremely bad. Also, based on their Hendon Mob results it’s clear that Dan and Mary Jo Belcore-Zogman are *not* semi-regular players. Based on your own criteria, I don’t think they make the list. (Though an honorable mention is deserved if they both have HPT titles.) FYI, I couldn’t find Mary Jo’s victory in the Hendon Mob database, but for now, I’ll take your word for it.

    I would nominate Vanessa Rousso & Chad Brown, who are now married. Bill & Kristy Gazes are also pretty accomplished, even though they divorced a long time ago. (Kristy is more of a cash pro though.)

    Barry & Jeff Shulman also deserve to be on the list. Barry won a WSOP bracelet in 2001, and Jeff, as we all know, is part of the November Nine (his second WSOP Main Event final table) and is the only player who cashed in the WPT World Championship the first three seasons.

    Bob & Maureen Feduniak have longevity on their side, but between them they have less than $1 million in tournament earnings. Not sure what the criteria are to qualify for this list, but in my mind, they are very close to that line. Tony Hachem would also be borderline — a lot of cashes, but none of them seem particularly impressive to me. The average buy-in of Tony’s cashes is about $7,700 (20 cashes for $154,000). In my opinion, Tony’s resume doesn’t show decent results in biggish events.

    I love Shirley Williams, but her results hardly qualify the Williams family to be on this list. She’s a recreational player who is backed into occasional events so she can have a good time and share the experience with her son. There are plenty of top players who back family members into events once in a while, but that hardly qualifies them for a list like this.

  8. BJ Nemeth

    I found Mary Jo’s victory:

    I’d definitely give Mary Jo and her husband Dan an honorable mention. As far as I can tell, they are the only married couple to both have won titles on the same tour. I can’t think of any husband-wife teams who both have WSOP bracelets, and neither the WPT nor the EPT have a husband-wife combination of winners. Perhaps the WSOP Circuit?

    A list of female tour winners would make the search easy, as long as we knew the names of their husbands. For example, Barbara Enright has three WSOP bracelets, but her husband (poker writer Max Shapiro) only has results in a handful of small events (<$300 buyin).

  9. BJ Nemeth

    Can’t believe I missed this couple, because they should’ve been among the first that came to my mind — Jennifer Harman and Marco Traniello. She’s clearly the more accomplished of the two, but Marco has 22 WSOP cashes in five years and 4 WSOP final tables.

  10. Kevin Mathers


    Max and Maria Stern?

  11. BJ Nemeth

    Now that I look at the entire list and think about which family is the “best” (without one family member carrying an unfair share of the burden, like Joe & Tony Hachem), I think I see a very clear top 3, with everyone else in a lower category.

    1. Doyle & Todd Brunson: Both have been playing the highest levels for decades.

    2. Howard Lederer & Annie Duke: Annie obviously doesn’t play as much as she used to, but she can still bring it (WSOP final table this summer). But they have both played high levels for a long time, with good results.

    3. Robert & Michael Mizrachi: Both have come on very strong in the last five years. There’s a good chance that they could catch up to Howard & Annie, but they need a little more time under their belts.

    The Mizrachi brothers actually have more combined tournament earnings than Howard & Annie, but the Lederers spent much of their careers as the best of the best in the pre-Moneymaker era, when a $100,000 first prize was pretty rare. If Howard & Annie entered as many tournaments the past few years as the Mizrachi brothers, I am certain they would have far more earnings than the Mizrachis. But the Lederers have taken it to the next level as poker celebrities, ambassadors, and entrepreneurs — which is why they clearly deserve a higher spot on this list.

  12. BJ Nemeth

    I didn’t know about Maria Stern (I’m familiar with Max), but looking at their Hendon Mob results, I’d definitely include them on this list.

    Something I should have mentioned earlier — As in baseball, I think each player needs to be compared against their own era.

    It’s much easier for an above-average player to rack up gross tournament earnings nowadays than it was for the best players in the world ten years ago. That needs to be taken into account, which is why Howard & Annie are superior to Robert & Michael, and also why Max & Maria Stern clearly belong on this list.

  13. Kevin Mathers

    The Heartland Poker Tour has the reputation of being filled with bad players, but they get some decent sized fields at a reasonable buy-in.

  14. DanM

    Is JC Pearson still alive? Think we can leave them off … otherwise we should probably be including Cowboy and Carolyn Wolford … even though Carolyn doesn’t have the HMdb numbers, she is definitely actively involved in poker.

    Bill and Kristy Gazes … not to get too personal, but hey, when they decided to split, I think it means they also gave up on their First Family contention. Likewise for Beth and Dan Shak. Could be different if they had kids who go onto greatness, or at least solid performance-ness.

    I consider HPT to be the biggest “minor league” tour … and I saw Mary Jo at the WSOP this year (she cashed in the dream team event) so they definitely count. granted, if we are actually ranking the fams, they probably don’t make the Top 10, but still, they deserve to be looked at.

  15. Haley

    “Donkey” Dan (Zogman — as opposed to “Cooler Dan” Michalski) and Mary Jo are good friends of mine, living just a few miles up the road here in the Chicago burbs. True, HPT does have some weak players, but Dan and MJ regularly crush them and are HPT regulars; their regular game plan is to travel to each HPT stop and satellite in… which they invariably do. They are indeed the first husband/wife combo to win events on the same tour. Mary Jo was also at the Dream Team event in July (the regular one, not the media one) and I believe she cashed despite fighting a bad bug.

    MJ has multiple-name entries in most DBs, too.

    My hunch is with a little more research you’ll uncover 20 or 30 family connections in poker worthy of mention.

  16. DanM

    Also including Allyn Jaffrey Shulman on Team Shulman. The families that have a third are extra impressive to me.

  17. Kevin Mathers

    Another Costa Rican example: Humberto, Alex and Eric Brenes

  18. DanM

    OK, wow, so it looks like we’ve got ourselves a field. Now it’s just a matter of coming up with a real way to rank them — which may not be possible when you factor in intangibles.

    (Are the Bingers brothers, btw?)

  19. Haley

    Yes on Bingers

  20. Kevin Mathers

    There’s also members of the Hendon Mob: Ross and Barny Boatman

    On a lesser scale:

    Vadim and Ilya Trincher

    Other married couples:
    Chip and Karina Jett
    Ming and Chris Reslock
    Nichoel Peppe and Tad Jurgens

    Former husband/wife Carlos and Cecilia Mortensen

  21. DanM

    Oy, how could I forget the Jetts! And though I don’t know her name, Karina’s mother has been beating me at tables since 2006.

  22. ThePokerPlayah

    Prahlad Friedman and Dee Luong?

  23. ThePokerPlayah

    In the online world both Tom “sbrounder” West and Tim “TMay420” West are superstars.

  24. BJ Nemeth

    Can’t believe I forgot Nick & Michael Binger. They would rank pretty highly, in my opinion. Same with Ross and Barny Boatman. I always forget about Humberto’s brothers, so I’m not shocked that I forgot about them again here.

    Eric & Alex Brenes have both won WPT titles, the only family members to accomplish that feat on the WPT.

    I think the criteria for this list (decent results in biggish events) is lower for y’all than it is for me. Maybe it’s because I spend most of my time in the industry at the biggest events, so I have a higher standard for what constitutes decent results in biggish events. It seems that you’re including anyone who plays occasional tournaments or is involved in the industry (like Max Shapiro or Pam Brunson).

    That means Shirley and David Williams (mother & son) should be put back on the list.

    Another possibility among the players we know is Steve Wong and Donna Varlotto. I’m just not sure if they’re formally married or not.

    I would also second everyone in Kevin Mathers’ most recent comment.

  25. BJ Nemeth

    I would also include both nominations from ThePokerPlayah. Tim and Tom West both play in a fair number of top live tournaments too.

    Dan, are you only looking for families that are currently active? If a poker-playing member of a family is dead, then I think they should still count. By that logic, I would also include divorced couples, provided that they both played poker while they were married — such as Bill & Kristy Gazes and Carlos & Cecelia Mortensen. If you’re restricting the list to active families, then I can see leaving off the divorced couples, but you’d also have to leave off dead players (like Puggy Pearson).

    Again, it depends on what kind of list you’re trying to compile.

  26. DanM

    BJ, I had no intentions of starting an official list, which is why i left the criteria so vague and open. i just really couldn’t think of that many “families” … but I knew there had to be more than two “great” ones.

    i think i wanna see a tournament to sort this out. it would be like The Amazing Race. (Might also be funny to see the divorced couples get back together just for the chance to win money!)

  27. DanM

    You know … if Happy were to win the Main Event, I’d think the Shulmans would have a decent claim to being the “First Family of Poker”.

  28. Poker Shrink

    I am still waiting for the sickest father-son mention.

  29. BJ Nemeth

    Like the country vs. country tournaments, a family vs. family tournament would just end up being a gimmick. It might be a fun or an interesting gimmick, but it will still be a gimmick nonetheless.

    If, for example, Blair & Grant Hinkle won such a tournament, would that mean anything to anybody? I don’t think so. They are both fine, respectable players, but the best poker-playing family? Hardly.

    A single event isn’t enough to make someone the greatest, even if it’s the WSOP Main Event. Barry & Jeff Shulman would definitely move up the list, but you’re on crack if you think they’d deserve a higher rank than Doyle & Todd Brunson. The Brunsons are clearly at the top of this list even if you take away Doyle’s two Main Event bracelets (back when the field sizes were very small).

  30. DanM

    dude, “no limit” hold’em is a gimmick when you think about it.

  31. BJ Nemeth

    The WPT did a Fathers & Sons special in 2006, which was won by Sebok & Greenstein:

    Also playing in that invitational six-family event: The Brunsons, the Shulmans, Steve & John Stolzmann, Dick & Vince Van Patten, and Michael & Romeo Simon (who I’m not familiar with).

  32. BJ Nemeth

    There is also the Sexton family (no relation to Mike Sexton) — father Keith and son Paul. There is another poker playing son in that family, but I don’t remember his name.

  33. DanM

    Oy, so many … and Tom and Mike Sexton probably count as a family team, too.

    @Shrink, surely you’re not thinking of Vince van Patten and Dick van Patten?

  34. Kevin Mathers

    Michael Simon won Reno that season.

    How’s about Lyle and Bradley Berman (who I believe were scheduled to be the 6th team in the Fathers v Sons special).

    The other Sexton is Matt Sexton, all three are FTP red pros.

  35. Lisa

    If we’re going with Dan’s “vague” qualifications, how about the GoldSteins? If we’re going with BJ’s qualifications, ignore this comment.

  36. Steve L.

    are Ben Affleck and Matt Damon related?