Moneymaker (yes, it is his real name) has written a poker dream story by turning a $40 entry fee into online poker tournament into $2.5 million cash and the coveted World Series of Poker gold bracelet. Before he won he was a ground-down accountant on $40,000 a year and now he plays poker with movie stars, appears on television regularly and has written a book about his experiences.
The Tennessee native grew up with cards in the family home – he played bridge with his grandmother and learned blackjack with his father. But it was a film, Rounders, that really switched him and his friends onto the game of poker. He started playing regularly with friends, mainly former students from his accountancy course at the University of Tennessee, and online at one of the many newly developed poker sites, PokerStars.
Moneymaker regularly entered small scale tournaments and cashing in some of them, so when he entered a $39 pre-qualifying tournament for a World Series of Poker qualifier he had high hopes. He won the pre-qualifier and then the qualifier and a couple of months later was on a plane to play in the most prestigious tournament in the poker world.
The 2003 World Series of Poker was held at Binion’s Horseshoe Casino in Las Vegas and attracted 839 entrants, a record at the time but a small percentage of the runners that today’s tournament attracts. By the end of day one Chris Moneymaker had turned his $10,000 starting stack into $60,000, putting him up among the chip leaders. Thanks to some skilful card play and a fair amount of luck, he hit the final table with a decent stack and founded himself heads up against pro player Sammy Farha. When he flopped two pairs he put himself all-in against Farha’s flopped set of jacks but he made his house on the turn to be crowned, at the age of 26, champion of the 2003 World Series of Poker.
Moneymaker plays extensively on the poker circuit, although it is understood that most of his stake money comes from his sponsors rather than his previous winnings. When asked about what he has done with the $2.5 million jackpot, he replies that much of it has gone to pay taxes to the US government and he expects at least half to disappear in a divorce settlement.
He claims to have only watched televised poker a handful of times since winning the World Series, preferring to play when he is not chasing commercial deals. He names Ben Affleck, James Wood, Tobey Maguire and Mimi Rogers as among his celebrity poker buddies, claiming: "They think of me as just as big a celebrity as they are."
His book, Moneymaker: How an Amateur Poker Player Turned $40 into $2.5 Million at the World Series of Poker, is the first venture of his new company, Moneymaker Gaming. Moneymaker is also in discussions about a film of his extraordinary rags to riches poker tale.