2008 World Series: The Pete Best of poker
Yesterday, my colleagues and I were sitting on media row beside the main tournament area when a man approached with a story to tell. This happens sometimes, and we always lend a patient ear, even though the content is often wearily familiar and usually ends in tears. Although much of the build up to this tale fitted the customary template -- the World Series of Poker, a bad beat and a reluctance to forgive and forget -- the story was nothing like many we had heard before. There's an argument to say it's the baddest beat of all time.
It took place in 2003, at Binions Horseshoe Casino in Downtown Vegas. It was the day before the World Series started its 23rd renewal and ESPN were investing more heavily in their coverage than in any previous year. The television producers were relatively new to poker and were searching in journalists' classic terrain for a story: they wanted to talk to a couple of guys who could conceivably provide a rags-to-riches hero yarn, and got themselves in touch with two players who had qualified for $50 or less.
Our narrator from yesterday was one of those guys. He'd played through two levels of satellite qualifying in the Binions cardroom and spun up a $50 original buy-in to earn his $10,000 pass into the main event. He went into the makeshift television studio to shoot a fairly standard pre-tournament interview, where he also met another guy with a similar story to tell. This other character had qualified online, at PokerStars in fact, for the princely sum of $39. He was an accountant from Tennessee, and he went by the name of Chris Moneymaker.
"You're the other guy!" said Moneymaker yesterday, according to our storyteller. He had approached the Team PokerStars Pro in the Champions Lounge, where the 2003 World Champion, as he is now best known, was relaxing and meeting the public. "You're the other guy!"
Indeed he was. Moneymaker, of course, had left the same television studio as "the other guy" in 2003 and gone out and won the World Series. He single-handedly set in motion the huge snowball that is the current poker explosion and is, in many ways, the single most important figure in the modern game. Thousands upon thousands of players line up every day and attempt to become the new Moneymaker. Moneymaker, meanwhile, is a fixture in Team PokerStars Pro and has to sign autographs for fans across the world. This is the fifth anniversary of that extraordinary triumph. It's five years since the game went "boom!"
"The other guy", meanwhile, is still working the same job he ever did. He's still playing in $50 satellites to win a seat in the World Series. He's still hoping to become that guy rather than the "other guy". He's qualified this year as well, so will have another chance.
Coincidentally, his path into the event has also been trodden by a world champion, PokerStars Pro who is celebrating an anniversary. Twenty-five years ago, Tom McEvoy was the first "live" satellite winner to take down the top prize.
McEvoy played yesterday but busted late. Similarly, Moneymaker himself already had his seat locked up as a Team PokerStars Pro, and has taken it on day 1C. And he's running good so far, up to more than 60,000 as we approached the dinner break.
If Moneymaker goes deep, there's a chance he might meet his former interview partner again and while there's no acrimony between the two men -- they had a long chat yesterday and caught up on the goings on of the intervening years -- this "other guy" is unlikely to settle for the bridesmaid's gown this time.
Moneymaker, watch out for the other guy.