In 2003, in Las Vegas, the gambling capital of the world, an accountant from Tennessee qualified for the Main Event of the World Series of Poker through an online tournament. Against all odds, the young online player won what was the first live poker tournament of his life. The fate of poker was changed forever, and many famous pro players remember this story as one of the moments that motivated them to enter the game.
Today, Lucky7Bonus mascot Matoupris tells us the amazing story of Chris Moneymaker, the man who turned an $89 satellite ticket into a $2.5 million WSOP main event win.
Chris Moneymaker, predestined to win?
The first striking thing about Chris is of course his last name: Moneymaker is his real name!
Chris Moneymaker was born in Knoxville, Tennessee, USA. His father was an inveterate gambler and taught him to play blackjack from an early age. The year he turns 13, Chris' father shows him what he calls his gambling case. Chris was amazed at the sight of about $50,000 in bills and the image was etched in his mind.
In college, Chris began to take an interest in sports betting by betting on the Tennessee team in an American football game. After a little over a year and a half, he had made over $60,000 in sports betting profits. In return, his grades drop dramatically: Chris and his friends wake up at 4:00 in the afternoon, bet on the evening games, go out drinking and partying all night watching the games, every day of the week.
A series of 4 heavy losses finally awakens the young man who has just lost his entire bankroll, including the $60,000 he had accumulated. Chris comes to his senses, curbs the drinking and partying, finishes school and gets a great job as a travel accountant. At this point in his life, poker was simply a hobby that Chris played occasionally, until the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack intervened, with dramatic consequences for his job.
Chris then uses all his spare time to make ends meet by playing poker online every night.
A special ticket
When Chris entered a poker tournament with an $89 buy-in, he had no idea he was playing for a potential main event seat at the WSOP. Once he reached the final table against 3 other remaining opponents, the young player realized that the top 3 finishers in this tournament would win a ticket while the 4th place finisher would win $8,000.
Having never played in a live poker tournament in his life, Chris decided to lose his seat in order to win $8,000 to pay off his debts at the time. By playing very aggressively despite bad hands and aiming for elimination, the lucky young man ended up winning his seat in the main event.
The World Series of Poker is simply the world poker championships, held annually in Las Vegas since 1970. A large number of tournaments are played and each tournament win is rewarded with a famous WSOP bracelet.
The major tournament at the WSOP is called the main event and has an entry fee of $10,000.
For Chris, going to Las Vegas to play in what is considered the biggest poker tournament in the world is unthinkable. But his father and best friend try to convince him to enter and between them they buy half the seat, allowing Chris to get $5,000 and still have the opportunity to play in the tournament.
Online Player in the WSOP Main Event
Chris Moneymaker arrives in Las Vegas for the first day of the WSOP main event, and his primary goal is simple: folding in every hand guarantees him a spot in the second day.
But with a pair served, Chris played his first hand in two hours and flopped a flush draw, going all-in and coming out on top with 60,000 chips, allowing him to advance to Day 2.
More relaxed, Moneymaker plays a good game and survives Day 2 by gaining confidence, already getting very close to the payouts.
But on Day 3, he noticed that two-time main event winner and living poker legend Johnny Chan was sitting two seats to his left, making the amateur player extremely nervous.
So much so that Chris forgets to play, and glares at all of his opponents for many seconds, before Johnny Chan himself asks him, "You know it's your turn?"
The amateur realises his mistake and realises that he hadn't folded on that hand before apologising to the laughter of the table and commentators. A few hours later, he goes all-in against Chan with a pair of Aces and a flush draw, calls and eliminates the legend Johhny Chan from the tournament.
On Day 4 of the WSOP main event, Chris is luckier than ever. In an all-in against the great player Humberto Brenes and his pair of Aces, the amateur is in a bad position: he is holding a pair of 8s and the only cards capable of saving him from this situation are the other two 8s left in the deck. The turn shows an 8 and Moneymaker eliminates Brenes from the tournament.
In a huge pot, Phil Ivey, now considered one of, or the best poker player in history, goes all-in with a full house against Chris and his set of queens. With only a 17% chance of winning, Moneymaker eliminates Phil Ivey with an ace on the river.
Chris doesn't stop there, eliminating Benvenisti and Jason Lester from the tournament before being left to face off against Dan Harrington and Sam Farha. Filled with confidence, Moneymaker then began to play very aggressively and raise every bet of his opponents in an unpredictable way.
After eliminating World Champion Harrington, Chris finds himself in the heads-up final table of the WSOP main event against Sam Farha.
The two players meet in a restaurant the night before the final event and Chris offers his opponent a deal: both players split the tournament winnings, ensuring a larger share for the loser. The amateur says he is willing to accept $1.8 million in exchange for $2 million for Farha. The latter wants a bigger share and Chris refuses the offer. The winner will walk away with $2.5 million and the loser with $1.3 million.
89 turned into $2.5 million!
With his confidence boosted by a series of incredible events, Chris raises his game a little more and calls an absolute bluff against Farha. The Knoxville accountant goes all-in with absolutely nothing against Sam with a pair of 9s. Sam folds, leaving a huge pot for his opponent on a bluff.
Moneymaker flops two pair (5 and 4) while Farha flops a pair of jacks. The latter bets all his chips before the amateur calls. Being ahead, Chris is already imagining himself winning as the river shows a 5, giving him a full house and further validating his title as World Poker Champion.
After qualifying for an $89 tournament, Chris Moneymaker wins the main event and $2.5 million!
Chris Moneymaker's post-WSOP life
So what did the 2003 WSOP world champion do with his $2.5 million winnings?
After winning the big prize, a large share is naturally taxed, alleviating the winnings by about $750,000.
Then his father and best friend had to be paid about $500,000 each, since they had bought half of his tournament seat.
This leaves Chris with about $800,000 left over after his win. Pokerstars contacted the young man and offered him a contract to travel and play in tournaments in exchange for a large salary. However, his wife at the time did not accept this lifestyle and asked for a divorce. She proposed a deal to Chris: in addition to half of the remaining $800,000, he would have to pay her half of everything he could generate from his contract with PokerStars. He refused and paid him the full $800,000 in exchange for his freedom.
In the end, after winning $2,500,000 in the WSOP main event, Chris Moneymaker will not have received a penny of his winnings!
Huge consequences for the future of poker
More than just a lucky player, Chris was good enough to become a professional:
In 2004, a year after his incredible win, Moneymaker finished 2nd in the Shooting Stars and won $200,000;
He finished 11th in the Pokerstars Caribbean Adventure in 2011 and won $130,000;
In the same year, he lost in second place in the Nation Heads Up Tournament and won $300,000.
In total, his live tournament winnings now stand at over $1 million, not including the $2.5 million from the WSOP!
Today, Chris Moneymaker is widely regarded as one of the people responsible for the explosion of poker in the United States and around the world, as WSOP main event entries have grown from less than 900 in 2003 to nearly 2,600 in 2004!
Chris is being inducted into the Hall of Fame of poker in 2019 alongside some of the greatest legends of the card game.
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