The Post-Modern American Dream: The WSOP

By Dr. Pauly

Several decades ago, author Hunter S. Thompson set out on a "A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream," which ended up being the tagline to his most famous body of work Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. By the end of his psychedelic fueled journey, Thompson was crushed to learn that the dream is only a myth. After the rebellious waves of the 1960s crashed somewhere in the Nevada Desert, the bright and glitzy lights of Las Vegas represented the highwater mark as the revolutionary tide rolled back into the Pacific Ocean.

For the last few decades, the eternal flame of the American Dream dulled to a tiny flicker. For millions of lost souls, they found themselves sleepwalking through life, unexcited about the things, places, and people around them. That was until a mild-mannered accountant from Tennessee by the name of Chris Moneymaker became the focal point of the gambling world. By now you know the story. Moneymaker won a seat into the 2003 WSOP via a satellite on PokerStars and parlayed a $33 investment into $2.5 million.

Maybe it's the name "Moneymaker" or simply timing, but Chris Moneymaker is often listed as one of the primary causes of the recent poker boom. It's not so much a boom as a viral infection or an epidemic and if you've walked down the hallways of the Rio Casino here in Las Vegas, you'll see the Moneymaker Effect in full force. Thousands of poker players from the farthest corners of the world have flown into Las Vegas for their shot at fame and glory. Corporations are lining up as official sponsors. Television companies and channels are churning out poker-themed shows. For a while, you'd have to stay up until 3AM to see a poorly edited episode of an old WSOP final table. Today all you have to do is turn on your TV and you'll find a high stakes game, celebrity poker, or multiple episodes of the WSOP.

If you've been playing on PokerStars over the last few years, you also know about the steady growth of players on the site. In 2005, PokerStars online qualifiers represented almost 20% of the overall field. This year, over 1,600 players won their seats on PokerStars, which is almost twice as many people that Moneymaker had to beat out in 2003 for his world championship.

Chris Moneymaker revitalized the American Dream. Underneath the bright lights of downtown Las Vegas, Moneymaker's run at the Horseshoe in May of 2003 captivated an international audience as he busted poker greats such as Phil Ivey and Humberto Brenes. Moneymaker survived an epic heads up battle against local high roller Sammy Farha, which gave poker players at home something that had been absent from their lives for a very long time... hope.

In physical appearance, Moneymaker looks like any guy in your homegame or in your office. He was clad in a PokerStars branded golf shirt and hat and wore sunglasses as he stared down the slick and cool Sammy Farha, clothed in an expensive black dinner jacket and his trademark unlit cigarette dangling from his lips. ESPN's cameras caught one of the greatest bluffs of all time from Moneymaker. It's moments like that which rattled the competitive juices inside everyone who watched.

Moneymaker represented the average Joe Sixpack and he took down a Vegas shark in Farha. Witnessing that epic feat gave other players encouragement to sit down and take a shot. Moneymaker was the snowball that launched the avalanche of televised tournament poker. He passed the torch along to fellow PokerStars player Greg "Fossilman" Raymer who would go onto to win the 2004 WSOP Championship. Not only did Raymer win his seat on PokerStars, he also won the last full World Series of Poker to be held at Binion's Horseshoe.

Raymer stood out from the rest of the pack of players by his unique holographic sunglasses that he'd slide on whenever he was in a hand. He was also one of the more intelligent players in the field and didn't just come out of nowhere. For several years, Raymer was a regular player at Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut and a frequent player at the tables on PokerStars. The gregarious and fan-friendly Raymer became the perfect ambassador for poker.

While poker's popularity was boiling over in America, the rest of the world started to catch the poker bug. John Duthie launched the European Poker Tour and was astonished at the large numbers of participants all over Europe. For the first time, it was evident that poker was just not an American fad because players from all over the world were just as fascinated and enraptured.

When Joe Hachem came out of nowhere to win the 2005 WSOP, he was thrust into the spotlight. His victory was indicative of the international flavor that the WSOP had attracted. The field of players in the 2005 WSOP represented six continents and several hundred countries. The media room at the WSOP resembled the United Nations with journalists and photographers from different countries. They spoke in their native tongues, although some words were the same such as "flop" and "all in."

In the press conference that kicked off the 2006 WSOP main event, Joe Hachem explained what his victory meant to poker in his native country of Australia.

"When I left Melbourne, there was just one card room. Now there's eight."

The Moneymaker effect eventually reached Australia, with Joe Hachem as the conduit. Over the past year, Hachem gladly accepted the role of poker's international ambassador. Today, he's going to be one of several thousand other dream seekers trying to survive the fist day of action.

The Post-Modern American Dream has been exported around the world as poker experienced a boom on the international scale. Poker is just not for Americans sitting around in kitchens chomping down on stale cigars and sipping cheap whiskey. The second season of the European Poker Tour grew faster than expected. The recent popularity and success of the World Cup of Poker proved that poker will continue to grow. Team Poland won the 2006 WCP dethroning two-time champions Team Costa Rica. And eyes are set on the newest market... Asia.

In the last three years, Chris Moneymaker, Greg Raymer, Joe Hachem have been the focal point of the poker world. Not only are they members of Team PokerStars and world champions, they have been an integral part of igniting the poker boom. Only a few years ago the American Dream had been flickering on the verge of extinction, now thanks to Moneymaker, Raymer, and Hachem... the dream is a raging inferno.

Brad Willis
@BradWillis in World Series of Poker