WSOP 2015: Chris Moneymaker's guaranteed full day

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Chris Moneymaker


It's one o'clock on a Sunday afternoon, and it looks like Chris Moneymaker is limping with both legs. He groans every few steps he takes. He's been up for hours, and he feels lucky to even be standing.

When he woke, he called his wife at home.

"I need some help," he said.

It's a thing no wife wants to hear from her husband in Vegas, especially Mrs. Moneymaker.

"Why?" she said.

"I can't get out of bed," Moneymaker told her.

"Just get up..."

"No," he said, "Physically, I can't get out of bed."

It's impossible to know exactly what was going through his wife's mind at the time. A man with a history like Moneymaker has a lot of reasons he's stayed in bed for too long. This summer day in 2015, Moneymaker is hobbled for the best possible reason. He'd spent the entire day before playing soccer.

"Once I'm moving, it's okay," he says. "It's tough getting old."

It's tough, indeed, but it could be worse. Moneymaker knows that all too well.


The very first time I saw Chris Moneymaker, he was late to the opening day of the 2005 PokerStars Caribbean Adventure. He shuffled into the tournament area looking like he might have just gotten out of bed. He ordered a tall draft beer and drank it as he played his first hands of the day.

Eighteen months earlier, Moneymaker had won $2.5 million after winning the World Series of Poker Main Event. The win had come at a time when he had worked hard to give up the partying life. He'd slowed down, gotten himself together, and prepared to enter his 30s. When he won the last hand in 2003, he got a gold bracelet, a big check, and a reason to celebrate. That celebration lasted a lot longer than he'd planned.

In the span of a week, Moneymaker went from being an accountant on his way to growing up to a professional poker player on his way to a new career where his office was always next door to a bar.

That's the thing about a career in poker. There are often more bad days than good ones. In a regular job, the bad days seem to last forever. In poker, the bad ones can end almost as soon as they started. It leaves a man on the road with not much else to do than find the nearest place to have a drink.

"I spent so much time drinking, I would pass out, wake up, and start drinking again," Moneymaker said. "I would miss days because I was just partying."

Of all the pitfalls available along the poker road, Moneymaker avoided some of the worst.

"I always just stuck with alcohol," he said. "I didn't get into anything else. I was fortunate in that respect."

Nevertheless, one vice was enough to gain Moneymaker some notoriety for being a walking party. He still gets asked today about the pictures of him drunkenly wrestling a guy in a hotel hallway. He's doesn't turn away from the questions. He writes it off as a product of what he calls "my drinking days."

Today is different day.


Chris Moneymaker is playing his first hands of the 2015 Main Event. He's sitting next to Dewey Tomko, a former work-a-day kindergarten teacher who turned to cards. Tomko, 68, has proven it's possible to survive in this world if you keep your mind right. He's got three WSOP bracelets to prove it.

A while back, Moneymaker sat down with his wife and had a long talk. They came to an understanding. It boils down to this: when Moneymaker goes to work, he goes to work. It's not that he quit drinking. It's just that he quit drinking like it was a competitive event.

"It's a better life for her and a better life for me," Moneymaker says. "If I were to go out and get drunk tonight, I'd be hungover for three days."

Instead, Moneymaker has found himself with something he hadn't known in a long time. Each day is a full day. It doesn't begin at 2pm with a drink and end when he finally passes out. Instead, he hangs out with friends, does his media appearances, and plays with a clear head when he finally sits down at the table.

"It's really different when you wake up at eight o'clock in the morning and go to bed at eleven o'clock at night and you have an entire day that wasn't wasted," he says.

As he recovered from his day on the soccer pitch, Moneymaker didn't worry that he'd nurse a hangover through a full day of poker. Instead, with his body crawling toward his 40th birthday in November, the champ's only worry was that he would be too sore to sit in his chair for 12 hours.

But he made it. His championship is 12 years behind him, but he seems happier than he has ever been.

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Today, as he sits at the table, Moneymaker has a little gray hair poking out from underneath his hat. The TV cameras are hovering, waiting to see what the man who changed poker will do next. In the old days, "what's next" could've been just about anything. Today?

The cameras can't see the tall tumbler sitting at Moneymaker's feet, but if you look close enough, you can see it's half-full.

Of ice water.

A champion of a game that is often more disappointing than fulfilling, Moneymaker has found a way to fill those dead disappointing hours with something more than 12 drinks and a hangover. No matter whether he busts out before dinner or survives until the end, Chris Moneymaker will have a whole day.

"If you do the right things," he says, "you can go home happy."


is the PokerStars Head of Blogging. Photos by Jayne Furman of PokerPhotoArchive.com