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The Story Of Chris Moneymaker

Jordan C

Oct 30, 2023

Chris Moneymaker

It’s common for a single tournament win to be the defining moment of a poker player’s career, but arguably none more so than Chris Moneymaker (no really, that’s his name), the winner of the 2003 WSOP Main Event. Many people credit Moneymaker’s win as one of the catalysts for the poker boom that would sweep the world in the early-mid 2000s, and while there were a number of other factors at play, seeing an amateur player win the world’s biggest tournament had to have helped.

Since his famous Main Event win, Chris has gone on to amass over $6.1 million in tournament earnings and is still playing poker regularly to this day.

Humble Beginnings

Chris is far removed from the archetypal poker player that you see nowadays - he didn’t religiously play online poker for hours each day to earn a living and eventually make his way to the highest stakes, he had a real job and worked real hours. He plied his trade as an accountant and earned a master's degree from the University of Tennessee. 

He was just a regular guy who was introduced to the game through his family and by watching the film Rounders. Like Mike McDermott and everyone else who watched that film, we all dreamed of playing with the likes of Johnny Chan and sitting at the big table, but for Chris, that dream would soon become a reality.

Satelliting In

As Chris was living hours away from his nearest card room, he turned to Pokerstars to get his poker fix. He found that he had an affinity for tournaments, and regularly played MTTs on Pokerstars, performing fairly well. He also enjoyed playing satellites, which is where the story of his Main Event win begins.

The legend goes that he won his seat to the Main Event from a $40 satellite, but Pokerstars found that it was an $86 satellite - still an impressive feat nonetheless! Upon winning the entry to the $10,000 tournament, Chris seriously considered taking the cash, as a $10,000 windfall could have really helped him at the time.

However, his friends convinced him to take the risk and go for it - we bet he’s glad he did now!

Winning The 2003 WSOP Main Event

Anyone who enters the Main Event knows that the odds of them winning the whole thing are incredibly slim. While there are plenty of amateurs padding the field, you’re up against some of the best players in the world, and you have to run incredibly well to survive a 7-day poker tournament.

On top of all that, this was Chris’ first World Series of Poker experience! When looking back on his 2003 run, he says that he felt a mixture of self-consciousness and excitement, but not nervousness. It’s hard to imagine that you wouldn’t be nervous playing in such a big buy-in event as your first live tournament, but there’s no doubt that Chris handled the pressure with aplomb.

However, there were times when you could see he was perhaps getting a little overawed at the table - specifically one hand when he had to be reminded by the legendary Johnny Chan that it was his turn to act! Chris had been looking around the table assuming the action was one someone else, forgetting that he still had his cards in front of him.

Being viewed as the out-of-his-depth amateur likely played into Chris’ hands, as his opponents would routinely underestimate him and his abilities. But as the days went on, Chris was still there in the Main Event, still with a decent stack and in with a shot of taking down the whole thing. While he certainly had to get lucky along the way (the big hand against Phil Ivey springs to mind), he proved that he belonged at the very top with his hand against Sam Farha.

Holding the chip lead in heads-up play against High Stakes Poker legend Sammy Farha, Chris raised with K7o, with Farha defending with Q9o. The flop comes 962, giving Sammy top pair with a good kicker, and both players a backdoor flush draw. The action is checked through, and the 8 hits the turn. Sammy puts out a bet, trying to get value with his top pair, and Moneymaker raises with his straight and flush draw.

Farha quickly made the call, and the two saw the river. The inconsequential 3 changed nothing, meaning Sammy still had the best hand on the river. Farha checked to Moneymaker, who quickly shoved all in. After some deliberation, the pro threw away the best hand, giving Moneymaker a big lead in the match.

With the momentum gained from that bluff, Moneymaker would go on to win the match and the 2003 WSOP Main Event when his 54 made two pair against the JT of Farha on a J54 flop. Chris collected the coveted Main Event bracelet, as well as $2.5 million in prize money and became an overnight poker superstar.

Life After The Main Event

After winning such a considerable sum, it would be easy for Chris to sit on his laurels, counting his money back in Tennessee, but he didn’t. He also didn’t make the other mistake that players make after winning a big score, which is to start firing off in the biggest games they can find. Instead, he sought to improve his game and would regularly play in live poker tournament series around the world to build up his poker game.

Notable tournament runs after his Main Event win include winning the APPT Sydney A$1,100 event for $35,841 USD, placing second in the NBC National Heads Up Championship in 2011 for $300,000, and most recently placing 5th place in the Triton London $ 250,000 + 12,500 No Limit Hold'em - Luxon Invitational event for over $2 million.

While his live poker results may not match some of the Main Event winners that would succeed him, there’s no doubt that he’s been a fantastic ambassador for the game of poker. He has had numerous sponsorships throughout his time after the Main Event, including Harrah’s Entertainment, Pokerstars, and most recently America’s Card Room.

Summary

Chris’ Main Event win kickstarted a poker boom the likes of which we hadn’t seen before. The fact that an amateur player could rub shoulders with the best of the best and come out on top drove hundreds of thousands of players to the game.

The Moneymaker effect is still being felt today, which millions of players playing poker having watched Chris win the Main Event back in 2003. While we’re twenty years removed from his Main Event win, Chris has shown that he can still cut it at the top of poker, recently final tabling an event at one of the most prestigious poker series in the world.

Chris’ story is one that every poker player has dreamed of, and is an inspiration to millions of players after showing them that their dream can become a reality.