Where are They Now is a series of an in depth look at all poker players - not just the pros - as they travel through one long game. Some of the players profiled are deceased but not forgotten.
An aptronym is a name that is specifically suited for its owner. Some recent examples of this are baseball father and son combination Cecil and Prince Fielder, Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt, and Lord Brain, famous neurologist. While all those are acceptable aptronyms, the one that stands out the most in my opinion is that of the 2003 World Series of Poker Main Event winner, Chris Moneymaker.
“Moneymaker” doesn’t just describe what Chris did for himself; it also describes what he did for the world of poker as a whole. With his $2.5 million victory, famously taking a $39 satellite seat all the way to the bracelet, he in turn made billions for the poker world. Without Moneymaker, many people who are now successful poker players would have never been introduced to the game. Many websites, particularly PokerStars, would have never experienced the boom they did without Moneymaker, which they readily admit. With Moneymaker you have both the end of a poker era and the beginning of another.
While a pro hasn’t won since before Moneymaker, you would have also been hard pressed to find a suburbanite who could have named you a handful of professional poker players before 2003. Now anyone who has spent any amount of time watching television can throw the names out of at least that many, and probably more. Another example of indirect ways of Moneymaker made money for others.
Moneymaker was born in November of 1976 in Atlanta, Georgia, although his family moved to Memphis, Tennessee shortly after his birth. Almost as soon as he could walk, Moneymaker was taking an interest in gambling. Much like most people who go on to be professional gamblers, he was influenced by his family, in this case, his grandmother. His grandmother taught him to play bridge, and they would play games for pocket change. Also at a very young age he became highly interested in the game of blackjack, more with the intricacies of it than the thought of making a living from it. He and his friends also spent a good part of their time gambling on just about anything they could, including sports, various card games, and even games they made up. When it’s in your blood, it’s in your blood.
Despite the passion, Moneymaker concentrated on school, completing a Master’s degree in accounting from the University of Tennessee. Putting gambling on the backburner for now, Moneymaker took a job as an accountant, happy to have a steady living, if not a very exciting one. As Moneymaker was a prime component for the poker boom, the movie “Rounders” sparked a bit of a boom itself, introducing the game of Texas Hold’em to a new generation, including Moneymaker. After seeing this movie, Moneymaker began playing this new game with friends, and logged on to his first online poker site, which was also in its infancy.
Moneymaker began studying the game and playing in $20 to $40 multi table tournaments. During this time he also had to pick up a second job, so when he won a couple of these tournaments it was a boost to both his poker and real life bankroll. Riding his success, he decided to enter a 17 person satellite for $39, with the winner joining a pool of 63 others vying for a spot at that year’s WSOP. In the 64 man tournament, Moneymaker has said that he wouldn’t have minded finishing in second place because you were given $2,000 dollars. At the time you couldn’t sell or take the cash of a satellite ticket, and Moneymaker knew his chances of even winning his money back at the WSOP would be a challenge. Luckily for Moneymaker, he took first place in the tournament and was off to Las Vegas.
Despite his feelings of wanting the second place money in the satellite, Moneymaker has said that he wasn’t nervous when he arrived at the event. Perhaps the event was too big for him to comprehend, after all, not only was this his first WSOP, it was his first live tournament of any kind, ever.
Moneymaker proved his nerves were indeed under control when he stormed to the front of the pack, earning a spot on one of the featured televised tables on day three of the tournament. Moneymaker has said that he was worried about doing something silly while on TV, and he wouldn’t have to wait long to make this thought a reality.
Sitting at the TV table with Moneymaker was the “villain” from “Rounders,” Johnny Chan, one of the few pros Moneymaker recognized. In a hand with Chan and Howard Lederer, Chan raised the pot, and Lederer re-raised, putting the action on Moneymaker. Moneymaker’s sunglassed gaze rested on Chan for about an eternity before Chan finally asked him, “You know it’s on you, right? Somehow in the glow of the TV lights, Moneymaker had missed the action in front of him, making him look like the amateur he was for the very first time in the three days of competition, and also the focal point of some laughter from the rest of the table.
Moneymaker didn’t let the momentary lapse of focus deter him, eventually working his way to the final table. It’s here Moneymaker said the nerves started getting to him a little bit, and he said he didn’t think there was any way he could win. One by one, players started dropping before he found himself heads-up with well known poker player Sammy Farha. With reality setting in, Moneymaker would flop two pair, and Farha a pair of Jacks. Farha went all in, and for good measure, Moneymaker would make a full house, the poker gods way of showing that he was indeed the 2003 WSOP Main event champion, and winner of 2.5 million dollars.
Where do you go in the world of poker after your very first tournament wins you the most coveted prize in the game? Moneymaker continued to find success shortly after his win, finishing second for $200,000 in a World Poker Tour event. However, since that score, Moneymaker has placed in only ten tournaments, with no prize over $25,000. In spite of that, Moneymaker is by no means struggling. His autobiography was one of the better selling poker books of all time. He is also a spokesperson for PokerStars, the website that helped him achieve this unlikely story. Moneymaker has said the only drawback from all of this is the amount of traveling he did immediately following his victory, which kept him away from his wife and young daughter. Obviously though, the good has outweighed the bad. While it seems like everyone and their mother, or in Moneymaker’s case, grandmother, plays cards today, everyone still hopes to become the next “Moneymaker.” Who wouldn’t?