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Chris Moneymaker: Winner of the 2003 World Series of Poker Championship

Chris Moneymaker, appropriately named considering how easy it was for him to make money through playing poker, is an inspiration to all amateur poker players out there that want to someday take it to the next level.

Having started off playing poker from the comfort of his own home, Chris somehow managed to take a $39 investment in PokerStars and turn it into a $2.5 million win at the World Series of Poker Championship.

  • How did Chris pull this off?
  • How was his life effected?

To find out the answer to these questions and more, please spend some time reading through his extensive biography.

“If I didn’t win the WSOP, I probably wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing now. I wouldn’t have the family that I have now. There are so many good things that I have in my life, and I’m very thankful for that.”– Chris Moneymaker

Life Prior to Winning the WSOP Championship

For as far back as Chris can remember, people have been questioning the legitimacy of his last name. What they don’t know is that when his ancestors first came over to America, their last name was Nurmacher.

They were forced to choose a name that sounded more American once they arrived at Ellis Island, so because they used to produce silver coins back in Germany for a living, they chose the name Moneymaker.

Chris was born on November 21st, 1975 in Atlanta, Georgia to Barbara and Bernie Moneymaker. The family would eventually move from Atlanta to the beautiful town of Knoxville, Tennessee. When Chris was younger, he spent a great deal of time playing cards with the members of his family.

Although he didn’t learn how to play poker until he was older, he became an exceptional bridge and blackjack player during his youth.

All throughout high school, Chris was very advanced in Mathematics, so he went off to college to pursue a career as an accountant.

In between his studies, Chris spent much of his free time gambling, placing bets on anything from horseracing to pool.

He ended up graduating from Tennessee State University with a Master’s Degree in Accounting. Life changed quickly for Chris after that, as he got married to his high school sweetheart, Kelly Weaver, and started working as a full time accountant from home.

Kelly gave birth to their first born daughter, Ashley, just months before Chris’ life would be changed forever.

Journey to Winning the 2003 World Series of Poker Main Event

Chris had been regularly playing poker since college ended; sometimes he would play with his friends, while other times he would play by himself online. His favorite variation of poker to play was Texas Hold’em, and he actually made decent money doing so on the side.

Chris opened several accounts at several different online poker sites, but PokerStars was definitely his favorite.

Chris spent $39 to get the last seat in the online PokerStar Tournament, unaware that the seat was a satellite tournament and that winning it would mean he would earn a spot at the World Series of Poker.

His personal goal for the tournament was to win fourth place, as that came with a guaranteed $8,000 cash prize and his family could have really used the cash at that time.

Luckily his friend was there to encourage him
to try to win first place, which he did.

As soon as he won and came to the realization that he would now be travelling to Las Vegas to compete against a number of world renowned professionals, he called his father for advice.

Even though his father had very limited knowledge about what the WSOP even was, he told Chris that he had a strong inclination that he was going to win. He even volunteered to go to Las Vegas with him and help him settle into the competition.

Once Chris arrived in Vegas, he started noticing all of the professionals who he had only heard of or seen on television. Seeing players like Johnny Chan, Phil Hellmuth, Phil Ivey, and Howard Lederer overwhelmed him, but at the same time he felt privileged to play beside them.

As expected, the first day of the competition was very intense; Chris made several beginner’s mistakes including betting and checking at the wrong times. Once his nerves settled though, he felt more confident in his skills. Pro sports handicapper, Lou Diamond, recognized Chris’ talent early on in the competition and predicted he would win it all.

Lou was probably the only one who thought that, as everyone else just looked at Chris as a newcomer that wouldn’t have a chance of moving forward. On day two of the competition, Chris woke up late to find he had missed part of the tournament.

Luckily his only repercussions for this mistake was having to be blinded off for the turns that he was absent for. Despite this minor setback, Chris continued to advance.

On day three of the competition, Chris found himself face to face against Johnny Chan: two time winning champion of the World Series of Poker main event. Chris made some bold moves, and proved himself able to take down one of the best.

On the fourth and final day of the championship, there were only forty-five players left. By the time they had reached the final table, Chris was the chip leader.

Players started getting eliminated at a rapid speed and it finally came down to two players: Chris Moneymaker and Sam Farha.

Everyone in the audience stood silent as Chris was able to win the competition through bluffing techniques that Sam just wasn’t able to detect.

How His Life Has Changed Since Winning

Chris made some drastic changes in his life after he won the World Series of Poker championship. For starters, he quit his day job and started making frequent trips to Las Vegas. He happily accepted the offer to join Team PokerStars, allowing him to play alongside other stars such as Daniel Negreanu, Jason Somerville, and Vanessa Selbst.

“When you play the WSOP, you don’t really think of winning it and having to become a spokesman for the poker community. When you do win that thing, it’s more or less understood that’s what you’re going to do,”

Chris said during his interview with PokerNews. In a way, he felt like it was his responsibility to start playing professionally, no matter what that meant for his family.

Travelling so much for a new mother and her baby wasn’t ideal, so they often stayed behind. His marriage was greatly weakened by how much he was away; Kelly would eventually file for divorce and neither she nor Ashley would have contact with him in the future. Chris may have gained a lot financially, but it was at the cost of his family.

Even though Chris was struggling with things at home, he had to keep it all together for the media who now had a newfound interest in him.

He appeared for interviews on the Jimmy Kimmel Show, the David Lettermen Show, and other popular talk shows that were intrigued by the story of this ordinary man who having never played in a live tournament setting managed to beat a slew of world renowned professionals.

Various people from all over the world who had never had an interest in playing poker before were now giving this popular pastime a try.

This phenomenon is often referred to as the “Moneymaker Effect.” Chris gave hope to the average players out there by allowing them to see that anyone truly can win at these tournaments if they’re skilled enough. In 2003, the WSOP had less than 900 attendants, but by 2006, there were over 8,000, all thanks to Chris Moneymaker.

His story spread all over the world, and soon it would be difficult to find anyone who didn’t recognize him. In time, Chris got remarried to a woman named Christy Wren; she accepted the fact that his career as a professional poker player meant he would have to spend quite a bit of time away from home.

Their marriage is still going strong today and they even have three beautiful children: Taylor, Hayden, and Will.

When asked in an interview with PokerListings if he is going to share his poker success story with his children one day, he answered with,

“It happens already that the older one gets asked by friends in school about their dad the famous poker guy. They’re beginning to realize what I do. And one day I’ll take them with me and show them the world.”

Other Poker Related Excursions

Less than a year after Chris won the World Series of Poker championship, he competed in World Poker Tour’s Bay 101 Shooting Stars Tournament in San Jose, Puerto Rico. He managed to place second in the competition, winning a stealthy $200,000.

Since then he has gone on to cash out at several other major tournaments including the Gold Strike World Poker Open, Poker Superstars Invitational Tournament, and the Hollywood Poker Open.

Chris has been an ambassador for the Hollywood Poker Open for several years now, and he’s often referred to as the face of the tournament. After each season, Chris and other leaders will sit down and discuss how they can improve, based on the feedback they have gotten from the players.

Chris is proud of how the tournament operates, believing they have a well-structured schedule and qualified dealers. He also makes sure that players don’t have to wait hours on end to get registered and that restrooms are easily assessable.

Although he invests a lot of his time to the Hollywood Poker Open, he’s still a regular participant of the World Series of Poker, and he has even managed to cash out at several different events over the years.

Outside of tournaments, he enjoys playing cash games with other professionals and he still plays poker online frequently.

Chris is known for having a very aggressive playing style, which is one reason why he’s done so well over the years.

In 2006, the United States passed the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, making it nearly impossible for online gambling sites to cater to customers from the United States anymore. At this time, Chris was still an active member on the PokerStars website and not being able to play anymore was devastating news to him.

After much contemplation, he decided to rent an apartment in Oakville, Canada so that he would have a place where he could go and play. He will take extended trips there several times a year, working almost sixteen hours each day he’s there.

Chris’ next favorite place to play other than Canada would have to be Europe. He has cashed out several times at the European Poker Tour events, including a 17th place finish at the 2007 EPT in London, where he earned a cool $24,000.

His success in Europe, Canada, and the United States contribute to him reaching number 1 on Tennessee’s All Time Money List. Over the course of his career, he has won over $3.5 million dollars in live tournaments alone.

Auto-Biography

Chris Moneymaker wrote an auto-biography that was published on February 1st, 2005 by It Books. It was titled, Moneymaker: How an Amateur Poker Player Turned $40 into $2.5 Million at the World Series of Poker.

This books gives readers special insight into Chris Moneymaker’s journey to winning the World Series of Poker and how it has impacted his life.

Goodreads gave this novel 3.5 out of 5 stars and said,

“Filled with everything from his early gambling ventures to a play-by-play of his major hands at the World Series of Poker, Moneymaker is a gripping, fast-paced story for anyone who has ever dreamed of winning it big.”

Within the pages of this novel, Chris paints a picture for his readers, making it easy for them to imagine exactly what took place during the four days of that competition.

He talks about the people he met, the friends he made, and how he felt when everything was said and done.

Those who read this book will often leave feeling like nothing is impossible.

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