From Accountant to Poker Champion: The Chris Moneymaker Story and the Poker Boom

July 11, 2023
Nenad Nikolic

The 2003 World Series of Poker Main Event saw an impressive final table filled with Texas hold'em talent. Among the nine remaining players were renowned names such as Dan Harrington, who wrote the book on tournament poker, and Jason Lester, a New York pro who had earned his stripes in the challenging games at the legendary Mayfair Club. Also, present was David Grey, a high-stakes Vegas cash player. While the odds seemed to favor these seasoned pros, an unexpected contender emerged from the shadows: Chris Moneymaker, an unknown accountant from Nashville, Tennessee, who secured his Main Event seat through an $86 buy-in tournament on the PokerStars website.

Moneymaker's talent was questioned due to skepticism surrounding online poker. Established professionals didn't hold the online players in high regard, considering them easy prey. Moneymaker admitted that he was perceived as easy money but defied expectations, shedding fear and demonstrating remarkable skill.

Ultimately, Moneymaker played heads-up for the championship against Sammy Farha, a Lebanese player known for prowess in Vegas cash games. Farha, believing Moneymaker was inexperienced, tried negotiating a deal to split the winnings. Moneymaker offered an even split, but Farha demanded more than 50 percent, and they decided to play it out.

The match was intense, and Moneymaker's calculated moves and bluffs unsettled Farha. In a crucial hand, Farha folded his pair of nines to Moneymaker's empty hand. This turned the tide in Moneymaker's favor, leading to a momentous victory.

The impact of Moneymaker's unexpected triumph was far-reaching. His win ignited a poker boom, bringing unparalleled attention and popularity. He went from a regular accountant to a poker superstar, attracting adoration and fanfare wherever he went.

PokerStars founder, Isai Scheinberg, recognizing Moneymaker's star power, offered him a significant deal to represent the company as an ambassador. He faced the pressures of fame, heavy drinking, and the hectic pace of life as a poker celebrity. Despite some significant wins, his lack of dedication to studying the game affected his performance.

The 2011 shutdown of online poker sites in the United States added more uncertainty to Moneymaker's career. Fortunately, PokerStars continued to support him, but subsequent changes in ownership impacted his role as an ambassador. Feeling underutilized, he sought to play lower-stakes tournaments to promote the game but still needed to work on consistent results.

However, the pandemic of 2020 brought a silver lining. With live games suspended, Moneymaker found solace in playing online poker under the radar, using a pseudonym to maintain anonymity. This period relieved him from the pressures of public life and allowed him to focus on his game.

In August 2020, he received an offer from Americas Cardroom (ACR), allowing him to join their team. Moneymaker agreed to a million a year to do nothing. Isai Scheinberg offered him an ambassador role, which he gladly accepted.

After winning the WSOP Main Event, Moneymaker became an overnight celebrity and experienced the so-called "Moneymaker Effect," which led to a surge in popularity and interest in poker. He was sought after for appearances, meet-and-greets, and various poker-related events. This newfound fame and busy schedule took a toll on Moneymaker, leading to drinking and exhaustion, negatively affecting his poker game.

Despite some big wins, Moneymaker admitted that he didn't study poker during the following years, relying mainly on his natural ability. In 2011, when online poker was shut down in the US, he faced uncertainty about his future in the game and considered leaving poker altogether. However, he managed to stay in the game, continuing as a sponsored player for PokerStars.

When PokerStars was sold to Amaya, Inc., Moneymaker felt underutilized by the new management and decided to suggest a different approach. He proposed returning to grassroots poker, playing $600 tournaments, and spreading the word about PokerStars. The company agreed to this plan, and Moneymaker enjoyed playing and making money until live poker games were disrupted due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

During the pandemic, he found a workaround to play on America's Cardroom (ACR), an online poker site accessible in Mississippi, where he lived at that time. Playing under the username "tayhaywil," he enjoyed a stress-free experience and even won significantly in the Venom tournament, making things easier.

In August 2020, Phil Nagy, the CEO of ACR, approached Moneymaker to discuss the possibility of leaving PokerStars and joining their team. Since his contract with PokerStars ended soon, Moneymaker agreed to join ACR. He signed up with the site and continued to play poker, enjoying a different chapter in his poker career.

Overall, Chris Moneymaker's story is a fascinating journey from an unknown accountant to a WSOP Main Event champion, sparking the poker boom of the early 2000s. Despite facing ups and downs in his poker career, he remains an influential figure in the poker world and continues to play and promote the game.

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