Poker is one long game played throughout a lifetime and movies about poker barely come close to scratching the surface of what lies beneath the poker face of people that play the game and keep coming back for more.
All In: The Poker Movie was written and produced by Doug Tirola, with a cast that included movie stars, professional poker players, home game players, poker announcers, and many more in various professional fields. Tirola's documentary pulls apart the layers to reveal the complex design of man's nature in relation to a game of cards.
One player featured in the documentary is responsible for sending poker out of basements and backrooms into the mainstream. That player is Chris Moneymaker. Moneymaker ran a $39 online poker satellite on PokerStars into a World Series of Poker Main Event Championship in 2003 with a $2.5 Million payday.
Chris was kind enough to share his time and thoughts in the following interview:
LG: I dealt poker to you at Bellagio some years ago.
Chris: Did you deal me winning cards?
LG: I have no idea, you know how poker is, such a blur.
Chris: I do! I do!
LG: I’m not sure I’m asking all the right questions but these are the ones that are interesting to me. In the movie All In, you described the life of a degenerate gambler before your Main Event win. Did you feel that you were going to win when you were sports betting/gambling? The picture you created of college and hitting the grind to bet sports, did you believe you were going to win or was it a 'feed the rush' type of venture?
Chris: I always felt like I was going to win. I never really placed a bet thinking that I was going to lose. I was always an optimist and always thought my next big payday was right around the corner. I guess I had to wait a few years for 2003 to get there but I…no…I always felt that whenever I placed a bet, I was going to win.
LG: I’ve always had the feeling that when people gamble it’s to feed the rush. Not because they really think they are going to win so that’s basically what that question was about.
Chris: I understand, there is definitely a rush of adrenalin. It’s enjoyable to do it of course but I really did feel that I was going to win and it was stuck in my head that I really thought I had an edge. Obviously you don’t. But I always felt like I did in the sports betting.
LG: When you won the Main Event, what happened to your lifestyle? Did you buy a house, travel, or make any long term investments?
Chris: I actually went back to work Monday morning and I continued to do that for eight months. We moved into a little bit bigger house, not much but a little bit, and basically I knew that I was 27 years old, I’d won a lot of money but you’d heard so many stories about lottery winners that won all this money and were broke two years later. I just wasn’t going to be that guy. I was going to be smart with the money. I wasn’t going to put it back.
For four or five months we never even looked at the money or did anything with it. We just sort of set it back and let it set there so we could make some good decisions about what we were going to do with the money. And for the longest time that’s what we did.
LG: That doesn’t sound like the typical poker player I know. *laughs*
Chris: When I was being my degenerate self, I knew I was doing things I shouldn’t be doing but I was broke over time and I was doing things that I really didn’t like. But once I hit all that money and I had basically a life-changing moment on money. It really did change my life. I knew that something had happened to me that doesn’t happen to many people and I could squander it or I could make the most of it. And I was just determined to change my life and make the most of the situation given to me and not blow it.
I didn’t want to be…you know…back to where I was before. I mean as interesting as it sounds to be doing the sports stuff, it’s pretty miserable when you don’t have a whole lot of money to eat on, you have to eat ramen noodles or you wake up one day and you don’t have any money to put gas in your car. Not a fun life, and I didn’t want to go back to that way of life ever again.
LG: Just about everybody I’ve dealt poker to, mostly the pros, they just play higher. They’re usually broke and borrowing within six months to a year. And I’m impressed with the fact that you put the money away and thought about it. Did you travel to play live poker - feel like you wanted to play live action and higher limits?
Chris: Yes I did travel to play and it was all sponsored events. And to this day that’s pretty much what I exclusively play. I don’t really ever put my money into action too much unless I’m playing cash games. And the cash games that I play, on a normal day-to-day basis, I play $2-$5 and $5-$10. My consistent games have always been that. I have played the $50-$100 game before when the line-up was really good. I’ve played the $100-$200 game when the line-up was very good. But as a typical rule if there’s a $25-$50 game in the room, I could definitely go play in that game, but I’m much better suited to go sit down in a $2-$5 game where there’s 7 or 8 bad players that I know I’m going to make pretty consistent money and it’s just more enjoyable. You know the $25-$50, most of those guys are, you know…in there trying to make a living and they’re grumpy. It’s just not really a fun atmosphere.
LG: Boy don’t I know it. After dealing to them for years and years and years, they actually look like they’re going to die if they lose this hand.
Chris: In a $2-$5 game you don’t get that. You get guys that are there vacationing and there are some players that are trying to make a living but the majority of the players in the $2-$5 game are enjoying themselves, having a good time. And those are the tables I like to be at – where everybody’s just gambling it up and having a good time.
One is because you make more money and two is because it’s more enjoyable. If I sit down at a table and there are six guys that I can tell are sitting there trying to make a living and they’re just not giving any money away, I’ll just get up and leave.
I don’t want to play with guys that are there to just make a living and not have any fun. There’s always a new game tomorrow. That’s one good thing I’ve learned is poker is not going anywhere and I can pick my spots as to where I want to play. And I never did play any bigger because I just didn’t feel the need too, I don’t want to risk my whole bankroll to try to go play with the best.
I don’t have any envisions of being the best player in the world.
LG: I dealt to Bill Gates in a $3-6 H game at the Mirage - all the high limit players kept sending messages to him to try and get him to come and play with them, they offered to change the game and said they would play whatever he wanted. Has this happened to you when you're playing live?
Chris: Every day I show up at a casino, someone wants to start a higher game. And it’s not really just the fact that they think I’m a bad player, they know I have money and they think I would go play the higher game just to get the game started. They just want to play big, they don’t really care who’s in the game. Someone like Bill Gates, you want him in the game because he’s very well off and he’s not going to play good, that’s why they want him in the game. They want me in the game because they know I’ll start the game.
But, yeah, every time I go to the casino, if I’m playing 2-5, they’re trying to start a 10-25 or 25-50 game, they try to go as big as they can; there’s always someone in the room doing that. I just tell them that I appreciate the offer but I’m happy here and this is where I’m going to stay.
It’s pretty much left at that. I don’t have a problem telling people no. When I travel, I don’t travel with a ton of money by design. One - I don’t want to risk any of it. Two - I can usually bring two or three thousand dollars with me and I can play whatever game I need to play and if I do go on tilt, which does happen with me, I’ve got a pretty bad tilt button…
LG: YOU DO?
Chris: I just don’t lose that much money. I’m not going to wake up the next day and be like “I can’t believe I lost $30,000!” I’m going to wake up, “You know I lost $3,000. It sucks but it’s not a big deal.”
LG: Were you suspicious of playing online poker when you first started? I’m referring to some of the comments in the movie about people playing online. I can remember back to when I was dealing $30-60 at Bellagio and my first thought was that I would never play online. I thought that was ludicrous, but then later on, obviously, I did play online and enjoyed the hell out of it. Were you suspicious of it or did you just jump in and start playing?
Chris: Both. I jumped in and started playing and I was suspicious but when I played, I tried to play heads-up. I never really wanted to play against a lot of different people. I felt like people might be colluding against me. So I always tried to play heads-up whenever I could. Whenever a third person would sit down, I’d usually get up and leave. One - because I like the action, I like to play heads-up…to this day I like to play heads-up and short-handed games. I think playing a nine-handed poker game is quite boring…I’m sitting there folding all the time. I’m there to enjoy myself, I like to play and, you know, I don’t like to sit there and fold all day.
That’s also the reason I play the stakes I play. I can’t sit there and play every hand if I play a bigger game. Like Jamie Gold, he played way too many hands in big cash games where I can play 2-5 and play every hand if I want to. That’s why I like playing short-handed.
So yeah, I was a little bit skeptical of what was going on but at the same time I did enjoy the fact that I could sit there on my computer and play poker without having to leave my house. And this was before the World Series though, if I could get my gamble on without leaving the house, it was definitely something I was going to be doing.
LG: Did you play online regularly up until Black Friday?
Chris: I did. Yeah, I was playing just about every day. Usually my routine when I was at home, I’d get up in the morning and get the kids off to school, me and my wife would go run errands and then I’d spend, like an hour in the afternoon playing before we went and picked up the kids. Then we’d get the kids bathed and in bed after dinner and me and my wife would go watch TV and while we were watching TV I’d usually start up a tournament. Especially like Super Tuesday on Tuesday night and the Wednesday One Quarter Million on Wednesday.
I always played those tournaments throughout the night and when everybody was sleeping, I’d stay up playing heads-up PLO. Tuesday and Wednesday nights were my big nights for playing and then I’d play some on Sunday as well. That was pretty much my routine when I was at home. Obviously that all changed though on April 15th.
LG: Did you play solely on PokerStars when you first started or did you play other sites and after the Main Event just stay with PokerStars?
Chris: When I first started I was playing on two sites. I was playing on PartyPoker and playing on PokerStars and I started migrating more and more to PokerStars just because I liked the software. PartyPoker had the worst players but PokerStars had bad enough players and the fact that their tournaments were so much better than Party, I started migrating there because I liked the tournaments that they held.
After I won the World Series, I pretty much went 100 percent PokerStars. For awhile I may have stayed at Party but mostly I was involved with PokerStars and by 2006 after the UIGEA hit, I was 100 percent PokerStars and never played anywhere else.
LG: Do you travel to and play all PokerStars events or just select the ones you want to play in?
Chris: I’ve got a really fortunate situation where I don’t have to travel to play all the events. I pick and choose where I want go. I try to find locations that either I’ve never been to before or the ones that I found the most exciting. I could have basically bought into every one I wanted to go play.
People used to ask me ‘why don’t you play every single event?’ but playing every one of them is just crazy. I’ve got a family. I’ve got other things going on in my life. So I pick and choose. Monte Carlo’s always a fun one I like to go to, London is a good one that I go to, there’s one next week in Italy that I’m probably going to go to. You know, I just like going to different places that I normally would never get to see. I’ve been to Croatia – I thought that would be cool; I went to Ireland…you know…just basically new experiences.
LG: PokerStars has dropped some of their pro players as we all know and I’m not asking you to give up any information as to what your deal is with them, but I was wondering if you felt at any point that you wouldn’t be associated with them at some point in pro status?
Chris: No! I’ve always felt like we were going to be partners even after April 15th. The day April 15th happened I was on the phone with PokerStars and they were trying to figure things out and so was I. And we had this discussion and we always had an open line of communication. I know people pretty well and I’ve always had very good communication to and from, so I’ve always been really comfortable working with them. And I’ve never had any question as to whether or not I was going to be a team pro going forward.
The only question was, you know, what would be my game plan as far as moving out of the country, staying in the U.S.; those type of things and what we were going to do about that. What were my options – that’s what we sorta discussed. We both agreed on something that worked for both of us and sort of where we are now is my deal was ratified a little bit but I was able to stay in the U.S. I would just travel a little bit more than what I was in the past. I think it works for them and it definitely works for me.
LG: Wikipedia said that you were a celebrity spokesman for Harrah’s Entertainment and PokerStars. Are you still in that relationship with Harrah’s?
Chris: I do one-offs at Harrah’s. Harrah’s doesn’t really traditionally sponsor individuals, they’re more of their brand and they’re more about…I don’t want to say squeaking every penny but they try to get every penny out of a dollar they can so they don’t really find deals with players that often.
But I have done appearances where I go into a Harrah’s or something like that and make an appearance at different locations and I’ve done that with many different places.
I’m actually the sponsor for a poker room up in Eerie, Pennsylvania called Presque Isle Downs. I’ve had that relationship for almost a year now and it’s a really good relationship to have. April 15th opened the door for me, I’m starting to do a little bit more brick and mortar stuff.