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From accountant to world champion of poker
Chris studied accountancy at the University of Tennessee and after graduating he worked as an accountant. Occasionally, he played Texas Hold’em with some of his friends, but he kept his focus on work and even found a second job at a restaurant. Chris discovered his passion for poker in the year 2000 after watching the film Rounders. He began playing poker more intensively and soon discovered the world of online poker.
For Chris Moneymaker it all started with a single mouse click, after which his career as a professional poker player slowly started to take shape. He took part in a $ 39 qualification tournament, a so called WSOP satellite, on PokerStars (visiting the website right now, you will benefit from a highly attractive BonusBonusBonus welcome bonus). He beat eighteen of his competitors and at that point was only one step away from winning a seat in one of the biggest and most prestigious poker events in the world, the World Series of Poker. He managed to eliminate his last opponent as well and won the $10,000 buy in for the Main Event of the 2003 WSOP.
Yet this did not solve all of Chris Moneymaker’s problems. Despite having two jobs, Chris did not have enough money to fly to Las Vegas and pay for accommodation there. He had to borrow money from his father and his friend David Gamble (also his real name), but promised to split his winnings with them. This turned out to be a very lucrative deal for his financial supporters, who had not expected much.
It was Chris' first live poker tournament in a casino and he managed to land a spot at a table in one of the biggest poker tournaments in the world, right next to poker stars such as Johnny Chan, Howard Lederer, Phil Ivey and Paul Darden, although he had had little hope of surviving the first day. At first, it was very hard for Chris not to be intimidated. Just sitting between the biggest stars of the poker scene made him nervous. As his stack of chips built up higher and higher, so did his ambition and self-confidence. It was his chance to prove to everyone what he was capable of, and his dream of winning slowly took shape.
At first, the other players underestimated him because he was virtually unknown, but he surprised them and swept them off their feet.
Chris performed one of the most legendary bluffs in WSOP history: He went all in on the river with nothing more than a king as high card. Farha, who was already hard-pressed for money, fell for the bluff and folded his stronger hand, a pair of nines. Then, Chris also got lucky on his last hand, which brought him a title as world champion and $ 2.5 million prize money. Chris’ rather unspectacular hand of 5♦ 4♠ beat Farha’s (J♥ 10♦) with J♠ 5♠ 4♣ 8♠ 5♥ on the board, so that Chris won with a Full House.
Moneymaker revolutionizes the poker world
This is how the fledgling Moneymaker turned the poker world upside down. Not only the professionals were surprised, but Chris himself could hardly believe what had just happened to him. Just a short while ago he had been working two jobs and now he had just earned $ 2.5 million dollars playing poker: he had become the lead role in a rags-to-riches story and he was shocked himself.
After realizing that he now was a millionaire, Chris spent his first penny (or $ 25,000, rather) in a strip club. He donated another $ 25,000 to cancer research. Fate had obviously had something greater in store for him than just life as an average Joe, as his last name suggests.
Chris later admitted he had offered to split his second or first place winnings with Sammy Farha. At the time that the proposition was made, Moneymaker clearly had more chips than Farha, so that one can assume that this was solely an expression of respect. Sammy saw this as more of a sign of weakness and declined the deal.
Chris Moneymaker’s win at the WSOP revolutionized the world of poker. He is the first player who became a world champion through an online qualification tournament and so started a new era in online poker: now anyone could become a professional poker player and Chris confirmed this after the tournament by saying:
“If I can win it, anybody can.”
What followed was a downright boom of people playing online poker. Thousands of young players registered with virtual casinos to try and walk in the footsteps of the accountant from Tennessee.
Those sceptical of Moneymaker’s skills predict that, like to a “one hit wonder”, he will not last long on top. Yet Chris has already had several other successes. In 2004 he came very close to winning a WPT title, but at the 2004 Shooting Star WPT Season Two tournament he ended up second behind Phil Gordon.
At the 2004 WSOP he finished tenth in pot-limit Omaha. That same year he also placed third in the Mid-America Poker Classic and eighteenth in the Aruba Poker Classic WPT Event Season 3. In 2006, once more he took part in the WSOP and finished 28th. The next year he made it to eighteenth place at the World Poker Open WPT Event Season 5 in no-limit Hold’em, 33rd in the Deep Stack Extravaganza tournament (no-limit Hold’em) and 17th in the European Poker Championship EPT Event Season 4 (no-limit Hold’em as well).
Gentleman and family person
Chris Moneymaker is known as an especially companionable and friendly person. In his first WSOP tournament, the manner in which he dealt with other people had already given him a good reputation. He always shook everybody’s hand and showed great sportsmanship. Although his climb to the top of the poker world was quick and steep, this did in no way affect his ego. He always acts natural and gentleman-like. Chris does not yet belong to those serious and sullen players, for whom winning is the only thing that counts. For Chris, having fun is most important and he does not want to spend all of his free time playing poker.
Chris’ priorities changed significantly after he had married his second wife Christina Wren in Las Vegas in 2005. Shortly after his first big victory in 2003 he went through a divorce from his first wife Kelly. Chris explains in an interview that at that time other values were more important to him. Poker had been his top priority back then, then came work and then, somewhere in the middle, his family. His current wife Christina helped him open his eyes about what family really means. Now he says:
“I've re-prioritized my life and saw what was important and now, family comes before anything else. We do things together every single day, and I choose my travel based on what they do.”
His first marriage had not worked out because his wife at that time was not able to deal with his life as a professional poker player. She wanted everything to stay the way it was before his win at the WSOP and she was not thrilled when he had to travel to various different tournaments.
Chris once said about his present wife, “I met a girl and she didn't know what poker was and she had no idea who I was. I realized I'd found my soul-mate. She was completely supportive of everything I did. Even though she hated the travel, she went with me everywhere. Then we had a daughter. A daughter prohibits travel.”
Chris even admits that poker is now last on his list of priorities. Second most important, after his family, are his companies. After that comes his work with sponsors and finally, poker comes in fourth.
Successful in all ranks
Chris Moneymaker has his own slot-machine company, Moneymaker Gaming, as well as a chip business. He invests a large portion of his time running these companies. In addition to that, he is ambassador of the online poker room PokerStars. In 2004, he made the instructional poker video “Poker for Dummies” and in 2005 Chris released his autobiography entitled "Moneymaker: How an Amateur Poker Player Turned $ 40 into $ 2.5 Million at the World Series of Poker". Furthermore, he works with Playboy Poker and has figured as an instructor in the Playboy Poker Camp 2007.
Chris plays online poker under his old pseudonym Money800. Thus, people often recognize him when he plays online and he is frequently bombarded with questions from fans and other interested parties. Chris makes an honest effort to answer all questions thoroughly and demonstrates a lot of patience. On PokerStars.com he plays many different poker variations from $ 1 no-limit up to $ 400 limit games and also takes part in the PokerStars tournaments. Go and find Chris at one of Pokerstars’ numerous tables and compete against him! Chris focuses mainly on cash-games rather than tournaments, because these can be very time-consuming.
During an interview, in response to the question what he enjoyed most about success, Chris answered,
“The freedom, the ability to do what I want to do. You know, I’ve got my own companies and stuff; it gives me the freedom to do that.”
On the other hand, what he dislikes most about fame and his poker career is the time spent travelling. He does not like to be apart from his family and he also finds it very exhausting to constantly be on-the-go.
As a response to the question whether or not his legendary win at the WSOP 2003 changed his personality he replied, “I don’t think so. I hope not. I still do a lot of the same stuff. No, I don’t think it did.”
By now, Chris has gotten used to leading a public life and to being recognized by strangers. It is not possible for him to go anywhere without drawing attention to himself. Constantly having other people stare at him does not bother him anymore, the only thing that makes him uncomfortable is the fact that everything he does or says is scrutinized or criticized.
If he could change something in the world of tournament poker:
“I would change it from no-limit to pot-limit. It keeps the all-in sickness from happening all the time. I would love to be able to sit down in a no-limit-tournament without fear of some young kid putting me all-in when I’ve got top-two or even a set when they’re on a draw. I’d rather see it pot-limit so you can take some beats, you can take some suckouts and still survive. If you play effective no-limit, you’re really playing pot-limit anyway. None of your bets should be more than you would make it in pot-limit anyway. So, effective no-limit strategy is effectively playing pot-limit Hold’em.”
Chris also says that he has no problem putting himself in the position of young and aggressive second generation players such as Jeff Madsen. He too was ready to gamble away every last cent at the tender age of 21. He says:
“…people like that are very dangerous at a poker table. They’re willing to put their last money in there and they don’t really give a crap if they win or lose. I mean, that makes a deadly poker player. And all these young kids have that in them. They don’t really understand the value of money and they don’t really care, they just want to get in there and gamble, and if they know what they’re doing and they have that gambling instinct, then they’re a very deadly player. “
A tip from Chris Moneymaker to all those who want to be successful poker players: “Don’t get married to a hand. You must be able to throw your hand away when it is obviously beaten no matter how good a hand you started out with. This happens a lot with Ace King. Also, don’t try to beat the other players; let them try to beat you.”
When Chris Moneymaker is asked which professional poker players he respects most he answers on impulse, Joe Hachem and Greg Raymer, yet there is a long list of other players who he also looks up to. In five to ten years Chris sees himself “probably just playing poker, running my two companies and going to my children’s cheerleading games and soccer games.”
Away from the poker tables
Chris does not solely want to make a living from playing poker. He enjoys running his businesses and sees the game of poker as more of a side job which not only brings in extra money but also is fun. Chris has two daughters, one from his first marriage and one from with his second wife. He now lives with his wife Christina in Spring Hill, Tennessee.
Chris Moneymaker has definitely lived up to his surname, and there are not many people who have had to answer to the question “That’s not you’re real name, is it?” more often than he has had to. His story actually reads like a fairy tale come true.
Yet the man who became famous overnight, the one who transformed $ 39 to $ 2.5 million, has remained down to earth. He still is the nice guy next door who is comfortable living a quiet life. He is often criticized for not taking part in many tournaments, but the fact that he does not constantly feel the need to prove himself does in no way make him an inferior player. He is content and does not feel the need to constantly earn more money.
Chris would rather play with his daughter than rush from one tournament to the next, and that alone makes him a very likeable person. Chris Moneymaker is, without a doubt, an enrichment to the poker scene. Despite the fact that he has not won 10 WSOP Bracelets, or maybe for exactly this reason, he is a role model for many. He does not come across as the typical, inapproachable celebrity who had always been meant to be famous. This makes it easier for others to identify with him. His story gives many young talented players the courage and the motivation to take the first step towards a poker career.
So what are you waiting for? As Chris Moneymaker would say: If I did it, then so can you!
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