WSOP 2017: Moneymaker (and the dinosaur guy) returns to the scene of greatest triumph
Chris Moneymaker today began his 2017 World Series of Poker Main Event, but the day did not get off to a great start. The 2003 champion and Team PokerStars Pro had a massage scheduled for 9am, which he then had to cancel when he had to attend a business meeting instead.
Not long after that, Moneymaker was standing in line to hand over his $10,000 buy-in and thought he had lost his Platinum Total Rewards cards, meaning he'd have to hike back to the room to get it. And then shortly after that, there was a case of mistaken identity when a security guard said he always got Moneymaker confused with "the other one, the dinosaur guy. What's his name? Yeah, Kramer."
Moneymaker said he nearly became the first Main Event champion to be disqualified for assaulting a member of Rio staff. Losing your Total Rewards card is one thing; being mistaken for Greg Raymer quite another.
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As it happened, the massage was taken by Moneymaker's room-mate, the rewards card was located in the front pocket of his backpack, and the security guard helped Moneymaker skip to the front of the line by way of apology for his slight. But even had everything conspired entirely against Moneymaker, he wouldn't have been looking for any sympathy.
More than anyone in the world of poker, Chris Moneymaker knows he has it good.
"I still get excited," Moneymaker says, returning to the tournament that he has particular reason to remember with extraordinary fondness. "This is the one that can change your life. I know that more than anybody else."
Few poker stories have been told more frequently than Moneymaker's--at least from the modern era. And that's just it: when we talk about the "modern era" in poker, we're actually talking specifically about the post-Moneymaker years.
After his story was etched into the history books in 2003--the fresh-faced everyman spinning $40 into $2.5 million--poker suddenly had a mainstream profile to match its durable popularity as a game played on kitchen tables or in college dorms. Nothing has been the same since.
These days, if you type "Chris Moneymaker" into the search field of a national newspaper website, you're given a glimpse of how taken aback the world was about his remarkable triumph. All the papers covered the Moneymaker moment, but almost none of them had any clue what they were talking about.
The London Times put the headline "Pure, blind Vegas luck" on its article discussing Moneymaker's clash with a player called "Phil Ivy" (sic). Meanwhile, The Observer was accurate to call him the "rookie's rookie", but then focused on the apparent misery of poker pros in attendance.
"Their displeasure could only be equalled by a group of US Tour golfers having to come to terms with a guy who had only ever played the game on a computer, showing up at the US Open, and being overnight leader, by five shots, going into the final round," Will Buckley wrote.
Little did anyone know that those poker pros--at least those with either the profile or the skills to really profit from poker--would quickly learn that Moneymaker's win was the best moment in their lives. Tournament fields ballooned, players suddenly became TV stars and the money poured in from the online sites.
It was never more evident than at the WSOP, where the hallways in the immediate "post-Moneymaker" era were packed with merch hawkers, players and fans.
"Between 04 and 07, I couldn't move," Moneymaker says, describing the perils of being the most significant figure in America's national pastime. "Ten years ago, just getting into this building was hard. If I keep moving, I'm fine. If I stopped, they'd pounce."
He says he had to employ his father and friends as impromptu bodyguards, forming a ring around him as he walked, just so he could get to his seat.
Although it's not quite so manic these days, and selfies have replaced autographs as the currency of choice among poker fans ("No one wants autographs anymore," the 41-year-old Moneymaker mused) he still knew he was entering a minefield as he walked towards the Amazon Room today. When he went down to play the Giant earlier in the week, he was stopped around 10 times; he put the over/under at 15 this time around.
Moneymaker also looked back on the past 14 years at the WSOP--14 years signing autographs and posing for selfies, but never again troubling the cashiers.
"I want to get that monkey off my back," he says. "It's only personal pressure. Nobody else is putting it on me, but this is the easiest tournament of the year."
[Insert your own "It must be, Chris Moneymaker won" joke here.]
In 2003, Moneymaker stayed at Binions, the venue for the tournament, alongside the other 26 players who had won their seat on PokerStars. None of them were well known, and many, including Moneymaker, were playing their first ever live tournament. But Moneymaker's name had not gone unnoticed, and nor had his quickly growing stack. Everybody knew he would make a dream winner, but no one seriously expected it to happen.
"Honestly, you can't make some of the shit up that happened that year," Moneymaker says.
This year started in pretty exceptional fashion too. From a reporter's point of view, it's kind of hilarious to watch your subject nearly get expelled from a VIP buy-in line before issuing a very uncomfortable: "But everyone knows who I am."
"I don't know who you are," the security guard said. "What's your name?"
"Oh, I know who you are," the security guard said. Then he landed his dinosaur/Kramer line.
Coincidentally, "the dinosaur guy" was actually only about 10 yards away and Moneymaker went over to greet his friend Raymer, preparing for his Main Event in a T-shirt bearing the slogan "Michigan Dad". Raymer, of course, profited immediately after Moneymaker's triumph. The 2004 field, topped by Fossilman, weighed in at 2,576 players and Raymer won $5 million.
Eventually Moneymaker did manage to exchange his bundle of cash for a tournament ticket, and headed off to the Miranda Room, where he took a seat on a pretty tough Day 1 table. Abe Mosseri was in Seat 1, Jonathan Aguiar in Seat 2 and Erick Lindgren to Moneymaker's immediate left. Moneymaker's journey was tracked all the way by a cameraman and will likely feature prominently as the tournament progresses.
But he's on his own now, looking at blinds of 75-150 in Level 1. The starting stack is 50,000, but it doesn't guarantee a thing.
"I'm ready, I'm excited, I'm jazzed," Moneymaker says.
WSOP photos by PokerPhotoArchive.com.