If you asked someone who knows very little about poker to name a card player with a beard, chances are they would say Dan Bilzerian. It might be that he’s the only poker player they know. But Bilzerian’s main disqualifying factor among people who do know their stuff is that the Vegas-based one-man lifestyle brand doesn’t even seem to play very many poker tournaments. One 180th-place finish at the World Series of Poker in 2009 does not really cut it in the professional game, even if the beard is indeed very nice.
Instead, we invite you to look at a handful of other poker players prominent both for their abilities and for their facial hair. From the dastardly stylings of a notable German, through the tangled thatch of a man who once even hid a camera in there, here’s a look at some of poker’s best facial hair.
ALEX KEATING’S ESPN-BAITING BEARD
What’s the real purpose of growing a huge beard? To be honest, there’s probably not an answer to that. But Alex Keating certainly found a few benefits to showing up to the WSOP in 2016 sporting a jungle on his chin. Though his 35th place finish earned him $216,211, he received far more camera time, including hours on the ESPN feature tables, than players going similarly deep. In fact, at one point the ESPN crew even embedded a small camera in the very depths of the whiskery tangle in a bid to give viewers a beards-eye view of the action. This segment never aired, but they certainly tried it. And Keating is now very much on ESPN’s list of players to watch, which is always a useful selling point to anyone seeking sponsorships.
A GALLERY OF WSOP CHAMPIONS – WHO’S GOT TIME TO SHAVE?
Lots of things need to be sacrificed to make a deep run at the World Series of Poker Main Event. Friendships, sleep and a healthy diet are among the first to fall by the wayside through poker’s longest marathon, and by the time the multi-million dollar final gets closer, who has time for shaving? Perhaps that’s why our WSOP Main Event champions have tended to be an unshaven bunch, from Jack Straus’s shaggy caveman look, through Joe McKeehen and Scott Blumstein’s didn’t-even-think-about-it approach. Of course, the manicured inverted pyramid of Joe Hachem, and Qui Nguyen’s pencil-thin stylings, suggest they might have spent a few precious moments in the morning tending to their chin gardens, but the point remains: if you want to get a WSOP bracelet, think about getting a beard first.
STEVEN VAN ZADELHOFF – A POGONOPHILE’S DELIGHT
The best thing about Steven Van Zadelhoff (apart from his poker skills, of course) is the fact that he is a pogonophile’s delight, whichever way you approach him. From the front, he offers a view of a long and dense thatch; from the rear he displays a beautifully-ordered plait. But get this: sometimes it’s the other way around, with the back allowed to hang free and the front tied and tended like the finest topiary. The former WCOOP Main Event champion is a clear contender for poker’s best hair, regardless of category (facial or head).
STEVE ZOLOTOW – THE MAYFAIR’S MING THE MERCILESS
Poker’s “Bald Eagle” has been rocking the Ming the Merciless moustache at the tables for longer than most of today’s young talents have been alive. Never blessed in the follicle department on top of his head, Zolotow has made up for it with trademark droopy wisps that he has worn all the way from New York’s legendary Mayfair Club to no fewer than 20 World Series final tables, two of which he has won. He has been a professional gambler since the 1960s, but there’s never been any risks about his moustache. And why change a winning formula?
PHILIPP GRUISSEM – A DASTARDLY TWIRLER
There’s something particularly pleasing about facial topiary that takes everyone by surprise, and the poker calendar lends itself rather efficiently to providing this delight. Though it’s certainly possible to be playing a poker festival just about every week, many players leave it a month or so between events, which is just about enough time to grow something spectacular. Philip Gruissem did this a few years ago. At one event he presented himself as the clean-shaven, clean-living, laser-focused German super high roller that we’d known him to be for years. Then at the very next event, he had suddenly transformed into the rakish, machiavellian, silent-movie villain, solely thanks to the addition of thin moustache that he took to twirling between his fingers. He remains a laser-focused German super high roller, but he might also tie fair maidens to train lines these days.
JASON MERCIER – THE BEARD OF CONTENTMENT
When we first met Florida’s Jason Mercier in 2008, he was a clean-shaven, clean living young PokerStars qualifier whose victory in the EPT Sanremo main event began one of the most glittering careers in modern poker. Few players put in as many hours as Mercier did over the next decade, and he won five WSOP bracelets among numerous other accolades. But then, after a romantic on-stage proposal to his girlfriend Natasha, Mercier retreated from the poker tables, got married, started a family, and found some shrewd investments for his money. (He backed Garry Gates to fifth place in the WSOP Main Event.) In January, Mercier hopped on a plane for the short ride from his Miami home to the Bahamas and the $25,000 PSPC, and we all did a double take. Mercier has taken to retirement and fatherhood very easily, and his fulsome beard of contentment shows someone not unduly concerned by things so bothersome as a razor.
DANIEL NEILSON – BEFORE AND AFTER
Just because it’s entertaining to see how players change during their poker careers.