Chris Moneymaker was as soon as at a celebration when somebody approached him from behind and put their fingers on his shoulders.
“Wow, I’m an enormous fan,” the stranger stated.
By no means one to disregard a supporter, Moneymaker rotated. And the winner of the 2003 World Sequence of Poker Principal Occasion was surprised to see who was standing in entrance of him.
Actor Leonardo DiCaprio.
“I’d watched all his films and had been a fan for a very long time, and he’s arising and telling me that he’s a fan,” Moneymaker stated. “That was clearly a reasonably surreal second for me. Nonetheless to at the present time I’m like, ‘What the hell occurred there?’”
It’s been 20 years since Moneymaker’s unforgettable victory helped spark a poker increase, the results of that are nonetheless being felt to at the present time.
Over time, some Principal Occasion winners who adopted Moneymaker have light from the highlight, and a few walked away from the sport fully.
However because the 54th annual WSOP opens Tuesday at Horseshoe Las Vegas and Paris Las Vegas on the Strip, Moneymaker stays as related as ever, selling the sport internationally.
He has embraced his position as an envoy, and continues to make use of his clout to push for laws to legalize on-line poker that might ignite one other surge in poker’s recognition just like the one a era in the past.
“Even 20 years later, he represents the Everyman in so some ways on the poker desk,” skilled poker participant Daniel Negreanu stated. “He’s nonetheless that fun-loving man that individuals can relate to. The concept of that Moneymaker dream nonetheless lives by means of him and what he does in poker right now.
“It introduced the Everyman nearer to the World Sequence, and 20 years later, folks nonetheless make it a bucket checklist merchandise to play within the World Sequence of Poker Principal Occasion.”
‘It was so loopy’
Moneymaker remembers nearly all the things from his victory, from staying up previous 4 a.m. every day till his desk draw was posted to feeling outclassed on the desk.
An accountant from Tennessee, Moneymaker certified for the $10,000 buy-in No-limit Maintain’em World Championship by means of an $86 on-line satellite tv for pc.
The novice outlasted a subject of 839 entrants to assert the $2.5 million first prize, knocking out a number of prime professionals alongside the best way, together with 10-time WSOP winner Phil Ivey. Moneymaker’s run additionally included a well-known hand towards runner-up Sam Farha throughout heads-up play that ESPN announcer Norman Chad known as “the bluff of the century.”
“It was so loopy,” Moneymaker stated. “My purpose was to only get by means of the day each single day and attempt to survive.”
The victory got here at a time when on-line poker was rising and the World Poker Tour debuted on the Journey Channel.
Mixed with Moneymaker’s title, distinctive backstory and ESPN’s protection, which allowed viewers to see gamers’ gap playing cards, poker broke into the mainstream.
“It was actually simply an intersection of many issues taking place on the similar time,” Chad stated in a 2017 interview with the Evaluate-Journal.
After Moneymaker’s victory, the 2004 Principal Occasion subject greater than tripled to 2,576, then greater than doubled once more to five,619 in 2005 when the WSOP moved from Binion’s Horseshoe to the Rio Conference Middle. Participation peaked in 2006 with 8,773 entrants, which stays the all-time report.
Poker rooms flourished across the nation, and tv turned prime professionals like Negreanu, Phil Hellmuth and Doyle Brunson into celebrities.
WSOP government director Ty Stewart was so captivated by Moneymaker’s win that he left his job in 2005 as director of built-in advertising and promotions with the NFL to start out a profession in poker.
“Life modified drastically after Chris gained, for positive,” stated WSOP vice chairman Jack Effel, who was working at a on line casino in Tunica, Mississippi, on the time.
Poker’s recognition took successful following the Division of Justice’s crackdown on on-line poker in 2011, however Moneymaker remained one of many sport’s largest promoters regardless of a modest profession on the tables.
Moneymaker served as an envoy for PokerStars.com for 17 years earlier than parting methods in 2020 with the web site on which he famously certified for the 2003 Principal Occasion. He has represented on-line poker website Americas Cardroom since 2021.
Although Moneymaker by no means duplicated his Principal Occasion success, he has amassed greater than $4 million in profession stay match earnings, in accordance with the Hendon Mob Poker Database.
Moneymaker was inducted into the Poker Corridor of Fame in 2019 for his influence on the sport.
“I simply wished to assist my household and develop the sport,” Moneymaker stated, earlier than joking about his status. “For years, folks thought I used to be just like the worst participant ever. Over time, folks have realized I’m not the worst. I’m one of many worst, however not the worst. I’m shifting up the ladder slowly.”
One other increase?
Moneymaker, 47, doesn’t play poker as usually as he used to and as a substitute is targeted on his household. He remarried in 2005 and has three youngsters, the youngest of whom is 11.
“When he turns 18, I’ll in all probability be on the market (on the WSOP) for the entire summer season,” Moneymaker stated.
However Moneymaker takes a selected curiosity in the way forward for poker.
This yr, he launched the MoneyMaker Tour, a poker match sequence with buy-ins starting from low- to mid-stakes. The primary cease at Palm Seaside Kennel Membership in Florida ended Wednesday and awarded greater than $1.4 million in prize cash over two weeks of motion.
In September, he opened the Moneymaker Social Membership in Paducah, Kentucky, which supplied stay poker together with pool, darts and different leisure. Nevertheless, the membership was pressured to close down its poker operations in February below the specter of prosecution from the county lawyer’s workplace.
Moneymaker additionally works to assist efforts to extend feminine participation in poker, together with regulated on-line poker within the U.S. Nevada is certainly one of six states, together with Delaware, Michigan, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, to have legalized on-line poker.
“My purpose is by the point I get to Doyle’s age (89), hopefully we’re all in a position to play poker wherever we wish, every time we wish,” Moneymaker stated.
Whereas it’s uncertain there will likely be one other increase just like the one which adopted Moneymaker’s victory, poker loved a resurgence through the coronavirus pandemic as many have been launched to or rediscovered the sport by means of YouTube or Twitch.
After falling 110 gamers wanting the report for Principal Occasion subject dimension in 2022, WSOP officers are assured they are going to smash the mark this yr when the match begins July 3.
It’s one more instance of Moneymaker’s lasting influence.
“Chris had the highlight thrust upon him, and he’s at all times been a gracious gentleman, sacrificing his privateness, his time and touring the world selling poker, serving to the sport and its occasions be larger and higher sooner or later,” Stewart stated.
“We owe an excellent debt of thanks.”
Contact David Schoen at email@example.com or 702-387-5203. Observe @DavidSchoenLVRJ on Twitter.