Chris Moneymaker: Meet the man who helped change poker fortunes overnight


Of course, he was the 2003 World Series of Poker (WSOP) chip leader after miraculously and literally battling all odds to reach the final table out of 839 participants. And now, from his initial entry fee of $ 86 for the satellite granting him a seat at the WSOP – the admission price to participate in the tournament at Binion’s Hotel in Las Vegas could have been $ 10,000 – a payout million dollars was guaranteed.

Over the course of a week in May, 837 contenders were eliminated, leaving this amateur online player to face seasoned pro Sam Farha. And while playing heads-up Texas Hold ‘Em, Moneymaker must have wanted the glory of winning poker’s most prestigious prize, not to mention the $ 2.5 million offered to the winner.

And regardless of Farha’s starting hand, Moneymaker’s five of diamonds and four of clubs didn’t really inspire confidence. But at this point, fate was clearly calling.

Judging by the name, you might think Chris Moneymaker was believed to have been involved in money trafficking. And you would be right.

Growing up in Knoxville, Tennessee, Moneymaker became an accountant and – as he told CNN Sport in an interview discussing his involvement in sponsoring BICYCLES with the World Series of Poker, which highlights how skills of poker can be translated beyond the table – – he admitted that translation also played a role in his last name.

“My father is a Moneymaker, and we have a long line of men in our family tree,” he says. “From what I was told […] they made silver and gold coins.

“The name was originally Nurmacher. And when they went to England they took the literal translation of someone who made the silver and gold coins and that was Moneymaker.”

Moneymaker’s love for card and table games has made poker a regular fixture in his routine. But that probably wasn’t going to lead to a career change, and even his participation in an $ 86 satellite tournament, leading to a follow-up tournament where a famous WSOP seat was on the line, wasn’t his top priority.

In fact, Moneymaker says it was more important not to win that second tournament – to the point of trying to lose on purpose – because a fourth place meant a cash prize.

Moneymaker says that “it was a complete mistake” that he even went in to try and land a WSOP berth, “I thought I was playing for money. [five players left] and I’m actually a chip leader and actively trying to get fourth because I want the $ 8,000 in cash.

“I don’t want the seat to go play in the World Series of Poker to go play against the best players in the world because I’m just an amateur player playing with friends. I’ve never played against a pro. of my life And $ 8,000 would go a long way to pay my bills and help with things around the house.

“My goal was to make those eight thousand dollars. And a buddy convinced me to take the seat, and that’s how I got the World Series seat. And the rest is history.”

Like a Hollywood script

History indeed. Moneymaker’s magnificent run in 2003 coincided with what he calls “a dark time” for the iconic hobby. “The poker rooms were closing,” notes Moneymaker. “The game was in decline. It was really kind of a back room, you know – what you’d see in the movies, basically.”

And the movies are a fitting metaphor because what Moneymaker achieved was the stuff of legend, typically imagined by Hollywood screenwriters.

His victory even forged a phrase: the Moneymaker effect. Essentially, the rapid expansion of online poker players who, inspired by Moneymaker, competed in tournaments against experienced professionals, hoping to make a lot of money.

TV coverage played a role, as the innovative use of cameras showing the “hole” cards – the two starting cards a player starts each hand with – has removed much of the mystery, turning it into something akin to to a sport itself.

And too bad for 839 players: 2019, the field of 8,569 players would have been the second largest in WSOP history. The live WSOP did not take place last year due to the coronavirus pandemic, but a return to physical action this year finds 6,650 entries, with a prize pool of over $ 62 million.
For a while, Moneymaker stepped back the years and went pretty far in the 2021 tournament, eyeing a second WSOP bracelet, but ultimately released in a respectable 260th place, totaling $ 38,600.

“The bluff of the century”

In 2003, the then 27-year-old Moneymaker embarked on a race where, fueled by Red Bull and water, he knocked out some of the biggest names in the game – a sporting tale of David and Goliath for them. ages.

Some hands have since become legendary, most notably the flush (all five cards of the same suit) that knocked out the legendary Johnny Chan, whose heart suit was lost because Moneymaker included the all-conquering ace.

Moneymaker sent the great Phil Ivey on a roller coaster with one hand, where at one point Moneymaker seemed certain to win, then lose, before another ace pulled him out and sent Ivey to do it. his suitcases.

And when it was Moneymaker against Farha to decide the title, a monumental courageous bluff saw Moneymaker go all-in, meaning he was essentially willing to bet his tournament life on nothing more than a king’s high card. .

Farha not only had the upper hand in every way – a pair of nines – but knew it. “You must have missed your flush draw, huh?” Farha said at one point.

The problem was, if his reading of the situation was incorrect, Farha would have been eliminated and therefore decided to fold. ESPN announcer Norman Chad described Moneymaker’s decision as “the bluff of the century.”

Moneymaker became an overnight poker name after his stunning 2003 WSOP winning streak.

And therefore to this final hand. Moneymaker’s five of diamonds and four of clubs were lower than Farha’s jack of hearts and 10 of diamonds, but another miracle happened when the three community card flop was revealed by the dealer.

Not only did Moneymaker match his own cards with a five of spades and a four of clubs to give him two pair, but Farha actually had the best pair with the jack on the board, which made it look like he was. in a better position.

This time Farha would go all-in, which was an easy decision for Moneymaker. The turn card produced an eight of diamonds, and the fifth and final river card was a five of hearts, to secure the win and give Moneymaker a full house in the process. “It’s beyond fairy tales. It’s inconceivable!” Chad exclaimed.

Almost 20 years later, Moneymaker can seemingly remember every moment. “When you could see an amateur like me bluffing like that, it gave everyone hope that they could do it too,” he said, referring to the so-called “Bluff of the Century”.

When told that his detractors said he was just lucky, Moneymaker doesn’t necessarily object, but adds an important caveat.

“You can’t win a poker tournament without being lucky. It’s part of the game. But you also have to put yourself in a position to be lucky. That’s what makes the game so good. best player ever won, no one would play. “

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