The Chris Moneymaker Story: a Breakthrough for Poker Popularity

Over the past 5-7 years, several factors have contributed to the rise in success and popularity of poker. Television and the emergence of the hole camera, celebrity involvement, the release of several poker films, and the increased number of online casinos and increased accessibility, have all had their part in this. But, one could make the argument that the real breakthrough perhaps came in 2003. It was at the World Series of Poker that year that a confluence of several of the previously mentioned factors combined with a Cinderella story to vault pokers popularity to the next level and ignite a surge in public attention and participation.

By now, most likely all professional and amateur poker players (and even many people completely detached from the game) know the story of Chris Moneymaker and his exploits at the 2003 WSOP. For those of you who dont, however, the following account serves to offer hope to every aspiring amateur online player and illustrates how Moneymakers success and resulting mainstream media attention are yet another reason for the sports rise in prominence.

Inspired like so many others by the 1998 film Rounders starring Matt Damon, Chris Moneymaker (yes, it is his real name) began playing Texas Holdem only 3 years before the 2003 WSOP. Initially Moneymaker played with friends. When it was time to look for more opportunities to enhance his skills however, he couldnt be bothered making the 4-hour trip to the nearest casino and so, he began playing online in virtual poker rooms.

Online poker provided Chris, like it has so many other amateur players, the ability to play multiple tables and quicker hands and hone his skills while in the comfort of his own home and according to his own schedule. Acknowledging himself that he practiced almost entirely through online games with small bets, Moneymaker, 27 years old at the time, had developed the skills and knowledge that would soon allow him to shock the whole poker world.

After initially putting in $40 to play in an online satellite tournament, Chris won that tournament, then another, and ultimately, entry and a $10,000 buy-in, to the 2003 WSOP in Vegas. Not being able to cover the travel expenses for the week in Sin City, Moneymakers father and a friend took care of the his flight and travel costs in exchange for a portion of his winnings. On the final day, Moneymaker, through a combination of good fortune and an aggressive style of play, found himself at the final table holding two pair – 4s and 5s. His opponent, Ihsan “Sam” Farha, went holding a pair of Jacks. When the dealer laid down the two remaining shared cards, an 8 and a 5, Moneymaker held a full house of 3 fives and 2 fours and had beaten his opponent to become the first player to win the tournament by qualifying on the internet. And oh yeah, he also had just won $2.5 million and beaten several former WSOP champs in the process.

An amateur with only 3 years of Holdem experience built exclusively on participation in online poker rooms had now become the poster-boy for aspiring champs everywhere. If someone like Moneymaker could turn a $40 investment into $2.5 million, why couldnt anyone else? Although many people have said that Moneymaker owed his win to an incredible amount of luck, he has continued to be successful since 2003 and now lectures and plays extensively. His victory not only propelled him to the upper-levels of the poker world, but it and his Cinderella story also propelled poker and its online variety to the upper-levels of popularity across the United States and elsewhere. The moneymaking experience certainly represents something to which any aspiring amateur can relate and everyday, more and more people are signing up to play the game online with the hope of one day duplicating Chris Moneymakers success.