Chris Moneymaker, a name that speaks for itself. The 2003 Main Event Champion never guessed he would find himself at the eye of the storm when poker exploded in popularity, later called the “Moneymaker Effect.” The Tennessee accountant reshaped poker in his image when he parlayed a $40 online satellite into a $2.5 million bracelet winning performance when he brilliantly outplayed, or out-lucked depending on who you ask, Sammy Farha.
The first Main Event Champ to qualify for the tournament through an online satellite, Moneymaker did not enough money for travel and hotel when he won his entry so he had to sell stakes of himself to his father and a family friend to make the trip. Moneymaker was working two jobs at the time and his daughter was born three weeks before the WSOP.
Moneymaker arrived at the WSOP with no live tournament experience. His only experience was from playing online, and he didn’t have high stakes experience online either.
During his heads up match with Farha ESPN cameras caught what Norman Chan called the “Bluff of the Century.” With a board of 9s-2d-6s both players checked, Farha holding Qs-9h had top pair and Moneymaker held Ks-7h. The turn brought both a spade draw for both players. Farha fired a bet of 300k and Moneymaker raised it to 800k total hoping for another spade. When the river brought a 3h and missed Moneymaker’s flush and straight draw Farha checked to him. Moneymaker moved all in, staring rigidly with his hand covering his mouth. Farha seemed to know he had the best hand, cracking a smile and telling Moneymaker he could make a crazy call, but with such a dangerous board and the tournament on the line, he laid it down.
To fully understand what Moneymaker’s win did for the Main Event look at the numbers. There were 839 entrants in 2003, which was up 208 entrants from 2002. There weren’t more than 200 entrants in the Main Event until 1991. In 2004 there were 2,576 entrants, more than triple from 2003. Then that number more than doubled in 2005 with 5,619 entrants. So within two years of his win the Main Event grew an astonishing 500%.
Moneymaker won $2.5 million for his prize; Greg Raymer won $5 million dollars in 2004 for his win. The only time the prize had jumped so dramatically was in 1972 when it went from $30,000 to $80,000.
Since his win Moneymaker left his two job life behind and has been a spokesperson for PokerStars. He has continued to play poker and came close to another bracelet in 2004 in a Pot Limit Omaha. He has not found much success in the Main Event since 2003 but he continues to play each year hoping to catch lightening twice.