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Chris Moneymaker might have revolutionised the game of poker, but his own life also changed immeasurably after his famous victory in the 2003 WSOP Main Event – and it wasn’t all plain sailing
The script for the finale of the 2003 Main Event was inch perfect. On one side of the table was Chris Moneymaker, the amateur who qualified via a satellite on PokerStars. On the opposite end was the slick old-school pro, Sammy Farha. When Moneymaker won – against all the odds – it catapulted him into the poker big time like no other champion since. The ‘Moneymaker Effect’ has been credited for the first global poker boom, and Moneymaker has been an ambassador for the game and for PokerStars for over a decade now. But he also endured a barren spell from 2007 that left him wondering what to do next…
I’d only been playing poker for about a year and a half prior to winning the Main Event, mostly online, with the occasional trip to play limit poker in Tunica. I actually registered for the WSOP satellite by mistake. Back then the PokerStars lobby wasn’t as easy to navigate and sit-and-gos didn’t go off that often, so when you saw one filling up you jumped in.
When I went to play the Main Event my aim was to survive Day 1. Winning it never crossed my mind, but I thought I might be able to fold my way to the money. I had Dan Harrington on my table, but I had no idea who he was. I remember being overly nervous and planned to play position and good cards only. If the action was checked to me I generally bet, as back then a lot of rooms didn’t allow check-raising, so people bet their hands.
On Day 3 I was on the TV table, which elevated the tension, and Johnny Chan was two to my left. I was a trainwreck with nerves all morning. As the day moved on I busted Johnny Chan and began to get more comfortable. The money bubble burst as well and that took a lot of pressure off.
On Days 4 and 5 I never had a two-hour session where I lost money. I was always on the uptick and people were dwindling fast. Deep on Day 5 with about 15 people left, I was all-in for the first time with Threes versus Dutch Boyd’s K-Q – that was a huge moment for me. On the final table bubble I busted Ivey, although at the time I had no idea who he was either.
I felt great going to the final table. I told my father that Sammy [Farha] and Amir [Vahedi] would have a big confrontation at some point and I would go heads-up against whoever won that battle. I felt confident going in that I would make it to the final two or three players. No one approached me before the final table so I had no idea it was going to lead to anything beyond the tournament itself, but I was playing for more money than I thought I would ever make and knew I was living a once-in-a-lifetime dream.
After I won it didn’t sink in immediately. Some bits did, but it took some time to truly realise what I’d accomplished. I became a Team Pro about a month after winning, but I carried on working for eight months. I only decided to be a full-time pro after I came second in a WPT event [for $200,000]. Looking back it’s very cool to know you’ll be remembered in history and also to have an ‘effect’ named after you!
After the Main Event win I went back to work and didn’t do many things differently until it was shown on ESPN six months later. I then got second at the Bay 101 Shooting Stars WPT event and decided that I wanted to give poker a go. My ex-wife didn’t want to be with a travelling poker player – she’d wanted me to stop travelling with my old job. I had a tough choice to make and ended up becoming a poker player.
The divorce was really tough but other parts of the lifestyle change were great. I was on the road playing poker and enjoying it. I finished tenth in a PLO event at the 2004 WSOP, then played the Main Event and almost doubled on the first hand. In the end I played for six hours and lost with A-K against Nines on an A-A-7 flop. We got all the money in and he rivered a Nine.
I was still very confident in my game, but almost to the point of complacency, and I got into a really barren run with barely any results. I didn’t play as much as most pros. I played about five events during the WSOP each year and averaged about one tourney a month. I had a lot going on in my life during those years and poker was not my sole focus, which showed.
At the time I put it down to running bad, when in reality it was me not putting a priority on keeping current with the game. I wasn’t enjoying it as much and became frustrated the more I played without getting a result. I’m generally pretty positive, but at one point I started walking away from the table so I didn’t see the outcome of the hand. I felt like this was somehow helping me win races.
Thankfully I’ve got a great partner in PokerStars and they never put me under pressure to get results. I knew I needed to improve though, so around late 2010 I started watching videos and analysing my play. I focused on the new strategies and how to counter them – why people were three and four-betting so much, and the new bet sizes. I’ve always had the aggressive play-for-the-win style so I knew that I could do it, and my hard work paid off in 2011 when I came 11th in the PCA and runner-up at the NBC Heads-Up Championship. I was really happy to have some quality results for the work I’d put in.
Now I just focus on playing my best and trying to improve every time I play. I don’t have any specific title goals as I can’t control those things. I can just control my tilt and game play. If I handle those things the game will take care of itself.