Chris Moneymaker may not be remembered as one of the greatest champions in poker history, but his contribution to the game might be more important than anybody else’s in the modern era.
In 2003, Moneymaker was a 27-year old accountant living in Tennessee when he entered an online satellite tournament for $86. He qualified for the next tournament, and in that tournament, he won a seat to the $10,000 World Series of Poker Main Event in Las Vegas. It was his first live poker tournament.
High stakes poker tournaments were a relative unknown to recreational players like Moneymaker, so when he went on to win the Main Event, it led to a similar realization for millions of players just like him watching on television. Lots of amateur poker players on their couch thought “maybe I could do that, too.”
Moneymaker bested a field of 838 players to win $2.5 million. The following year, another recreational player who qualified through an online satellite, Greg Raymer, was the last man standing in a field of 2,576 players and won $5 million.
Thanks to what has since been referred to as the “Moneymaker Effect,” the popularity of the Main Event continued to skyrocket, and in 2006, amateur player Jamie Gold won $12 million after beating a record field of 8,773 players. There have been at least 6,300 entrants every year since then. In 2019, there were 8,569 players, and the first-place prize was $10 million.
An important part of Moneymaker’s legacy is the way his performance showed recreational players they might have what it takes to go toe-to-toe with professional players.
One of his most memorable hands was when he was heading up with Sam Farha. On the river, Moneymaker moved all-in with king-high and got Farha to fold a winning pair of nines.
An earlier hand against a big-name pro set up Moneymaker’s big stack heading into the official final table. Moneymaker had an A-Q and was up against 10-time bracelet winner Phil Ivey, who had 9-9, and Jason Lester, who had J-J.
The flop came Q-6-Q, and Moneymaker bet. Ivey called, and Lester folded. Ivey hit a 9 on the turn and moved all-in after Moneymaker bet. Moneymaker called and looked disgusted when he saw Ivey had hit a two-outer on him.
Moneymaker was saved when an ace came on the river and eliminated Ivey in a thrilling finish.
Although Moneymaker never made another WSOP final table, he has not been a one-trick pony. He placed second in the World Poker Tour’s 2004 Shooting Stars event for $200,000, and he placed sixth for $139,000 in a $10,300 buy-in event during the 2008 World Championship of Online Poker.
He also placed 11th in the 2011 PokerStars Caribbean Adventure Main Event for $130,000. That year, Moneymaker followed it up with a second place finish at the National Heads Up Poker Tournament for $300,000.
Moneymaker’s autobiography titled “Moneymaker: How an Amateur Poker Player Turned $40 into $2.5 Million at the World Series of Poker” was published in 2005.
Before his big win, he had an ordinary life as an accountant. His success at the 2003 Main Event gave him the itch to become a touring poker professional, and that put a strain on his marriage. Moneymaker and his first wife got a divorce, and he began traveling around the world to play poker.
He has since remarried, to someone he met in Las Vegas, and they now live in Nashville, Tennessee.
Chris Moneymaker stats
Total live tournament winnings: $3,908,482
World Series of Poker
0 final tables
Highest main event finish: 1st (2003)
Total WSOP winnings: $2,584,979
World Poker Tour
1 final table
Total WPT winnings: $213,000