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Chris Moneymaker's Effect on Poker and Pokerstars

In 2003, online poker was exposed to the masses thanks to a 27-year old accountant from Tennessee with the perfect name and story winning the World Series of Poker Main Event. The ten handed final table of this event was stacked with the likes Phil Ivey, David Singer, David Grey, Amir Vahedi, Jason Lester, Dan Harrington and Sam Farha, and was headlined by an unknown chip leader named Chris Moneymaker.

Moneymaker’s appearance at the final table was somewhat awkward. While others sat at the table smiling, joking and conversing with one another Moneymaker barely uttered a word. He simply sat their quietly wearing mirrored raiser sunglasses, a beige PokerStars hat and a black t-shirt. He spent much of the final table with his hand covering his face as to not give off tells, and this was often true even when he was not in the hand. Apparently thought it was his deep focus and desire to win that led to this somewhat awkward appearance.

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While Chris Moneymaker’s appearance might have been awkward his play leading up to and during the WSOP final table was nothing short of stupendous. A lot of people to this day love to refer to Chris Moneymaker as a fluke saying he hasn’t won anything since. Well let me remind you, or inform you, Moneymaker cashed for $200,000 the following year as the runner up in a WPT Season 2 Event and has cashed for five figures nine times since. Anyways say what you want about him, but from where I stand his play at the 2003 WSOP was magnificent. During the preliminary rounds he got his money in good to eliminate Johnny Chan and Umberto Brenes and then deep in the tournament when approaching the final table he made a great read against Dutch Boyd which earned him a massive chip lead.

When the hand against Dutch Boyd started Moneymaker was one of the chip leaders with 650K chips, but to his right was the tables chip leader Dutch Boyd with about 100K more. Action was folded around to Boyd who made a small raise from the big blind, Moneymaker peaked down at his cards and seen pocket threes and decided to make the call. When the flop came down 9-2-5 rainbow, Boyd checked and Moneymaker who had been playing aggressive bet 100K. Dutch removed his sunglasses and took a long look at his opponent.

Moneymaker gave him a smile which Boyd perhaps thought was disguised weakness and then Boyd moved all in. With no straight draw, no flush draw on the board Moneymaker had to feel Dutch had an over pair or was bluffing. Correctly accessing the situation taking into account all of Dutch’s actions Moneymaker correctly discerned this was a bluff and made the call. He was right, Boyd turned over King-Queen and when the turn and river came 4h Ad Dutch was crippled and Moneymaker became the dominate chip leader.

Now there is no doubt Moneymaker got lucky along the way. In the hand he eliminated Phil Ivey it was a hand no way he could get away from. Moneymaker held AQ on a QQ6 flop, and Ivey was very lucky to turn a nine while holding pocket nines. Ivey who got a lucky turn card got an unlucky river card (the Ace) which gave Moneymaker the full house. Of course we could also look at the heads up hand where Moneymaker made an all in bluff with King high and got Farha to fold pocket nines. Some might call that luck, while others see it as a bold but calculated bluff that paid off.

The truth is Chris Moneymaker played the final table with heart, and a lot of heart that is. He took calculated risks along the way, and yes sometimes he did get lucky, but ultimately though he did what he needed to do to win the tournament and who wins tournaments without some luck along the way?

So why are we talking about Chris Moneymaker now?

Chris Moneymaker was the first WSOP Main Event winner to win his seat on the internet, something that was repeated in 2004, 2005, 2008, 2009 and 2010 with the winner coming from PokerStars.com, the same site Moneymaker won his seat at, each of those years. Thanks to Moneymaker’s Cinderella-run at the 2003 WSOP, where he successfully parlayed a $39 PokerStars satellite entry into the $2.5 million dollar first place prize, live and online poker are now booming.

To put this into perspective the 2003 WSOP Main Event set a record for the most entrants ever. Its 839 entrants were 209 more than the record set the previous year. After Moneymakers victory the World Series of Poker exploded with 2,576 entrants in 2004, 5,619 entrants in 2005 and 8,773 entrants in 2006 and is still going strong with 7,319 entrants in 2010. The same exponential growth has taken place live has come even bigger online. In late 2002 the average number of players at PokerStars.com was 7,000. In March 2006 PokerStars broke the 100,000 player mark for the first time and on December 27, 2009 they actually set a world record have 149,166 in the same tournament. Nowadays there are routinely over 250,000 players online at PokerStars.com and during peak promo times traffic has broken 460,000 simultaneous players.

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Would it have happened had Moneymaker not won? Opinions on that will vary, but let me remind you of something. Around the time of Chris Moneymaker’s impressive WSOP victory Binions, who created and hosted the WSOP each year, was being shut down by Federal Marshals with funds seized to pay employees and unions. The only reason they survived is because Harrah’s bailed them out due to the value the WSOP brand had, thanks to Chris Moneymaker’s win.

If another middle-aged professional had won the event, would it have had the same value? Would there even be a WSOP today? Of course we can argue the points back and forth at what it might look like, however as someone who made a living during the poker boom, thanks to the fish exposed to the game via the Chris Moneymaker victories broadcast, I for one believe poker wouldn’t be nearly as popular or mainstream as it is today had it not been for the 27-year old accountant from Tennessee with the perfect name and story winning the World Series of Poker Main Event. And with that I’d like to thank Chris Moneymaker for being on his game that day, and thank PokerStars.com for giving him the opportunity to Satellite into that event. Once again, thank you Chris, thank you sincerely!


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