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Home / Features / Moneymaker in Reno, or, “The Greatest Ambassador”

It was no small feat for Chris Moneymaker to make it to his own tournament at Run It Up Reno.

The first event on this year’s Moneymaker Tour finished up in Sochi, Russia, last weekend. That’s nearly 6,600 miles from the Peppermill Casino, so getting here was always going to take a while. But the route Moneymaker took was about as hectic as it could have been.

First he flew from Sochi to Istanbul, Turkey. His flight from there to London was delayed, which caused him to miss his flight to Detroit. Once he got to Detroit he had to stay overnight, but his bags were still in London and had to be sent back home to Memphis. So he went to a 24/7 Wal-Mart in Detroit to buy clothes a few hours before catching a morning flight to Salt Lake, and then connected to Reno on the day before his tournament was set to begin.

The man from Memphis took it all in stride — and then promptly crashed once he arrived on property.


The Moneymaker Tour Platinum Pass event began the next morning at 10 a.m. sharp. Unfortunately Garry Gates, PokerStars’ Senior Manager for Player Relations (and 2019 WSOP Main Event 4th-place finisher!), had some bad news.

“I quit!”

But there’s no quitting when they name the tournament after you, so Moneymaker went ahead and showed up. In the end Stapes didn’t embarrass him as badly as he could have. Moneymaker told the crowd what they would be playing for, along with some of the fringe benefits of winning a Platinum Pass. Then he instructed the dealers to “shuffle up and deal” and the game was underway.

Joe Stapleton and Chris Moneymaker get the game underway

(By the way, you don’t want to miss the latest episode of Poker In The Ears, where Stapes and James Hartigan are joined by Survivor winner and Run It Up Reno regular Tyson Apostol. You can listen to the whole thing right here.)

Late registration was still open for a while yet, so Moneymaker headed back to his room to enjoy some hard-earned rest.


Two hours later the world champ was refreshed and ready to go. As he arrived near the end of late registration to buy in, Moneymaker was greeted by Don Wilson, a cab driver from right here in Reno. “I don’t usually do this, but would you mind recording a video with me?”

“Sure,” said Moneymaker.

“I’ve played here a couple of times now,” Wilson told me later. “It’s a great event, fantastic environment and great people. It’s great that we get to do this twice a year.” He would end up finishing 10th in the tournament, collecting $1,340 to go along with his Moneymaker selfie video.

Some poker players get treated like rock stars when they walk into a tournament room. With Moneymaker, the reaction is more like seeing an old friend or a long-lost cousin. The journey to his table was leisurely and full of stops to say hello to his fellow players. He’s been to Run It Up Reno several times before, so many of these people had either played poker against him or met him at an earlier event. But even the players who didn’t already know him received warm greetings.

Those he knew better got a few needles. Poker pro Ronnie Bardah was recently the first person voted off of the new season of Survivor, and Moneymaker let him know that he knew.

Moneymaker explained to his tablemates that there’s a tradition on his tour. In a Tennessee spin on Barry Greenstein’s habit of giving a copy of his book Ace On The River to anyone who busts him from a tournament, anyone who knocks Chris Moneymaker out of a Moneymaker Tour event gets put in a headlock. His tablemate Stewart, who deals here at Run It Up Reno when he isn’t trying to win a Platinum Pass, was all about it.

While the game went on, Moneymaker’s cheap Wal-Mart shirt didn’t want to hang onto his Team PokerStars Pro patch. Luckily, being surrounded by friends means someone always has your back.

Soon enough another Survivor alum joined the table. Fresh off her second consecutive victory in the Karaoke Night contest, Shirin Oskooi was ready to play.

His second bullet went a lot further than his first, but Moneymaker wasn’t destined to win another one of his namesake tournaments this time. And so the headlock made an appearance.

With no more poker to play for a while and his halfway-round-the-world journey still weighing on him, the champ decided to grab a bite and get some more rest. On the way out of the room he stopped to give Arlie Shaban a hard time, knocking over his chip stack just for fun. Shaban stacked back up, Moneymaker headed to his room, and the tournament continued playing down to a winner.


Eight hours later Moneymaker was back in the tournament area to take a winner’s photo with Drew Gonzalez and Team Thirst Lounge. He recorded a video congratulating Gonzalez and awarding him his Platinum Pass, and with that his official duties here in Reno had come to an end.

The unofficial duties never stop, though. The champ wouldn’t leave the tournament area for nearly another hour, staying to chat, snap photos, and share stories with his fellow poker players. Just when it seemed like that part was over and sleep was near, a group of young men approached him.

“You bluffed my dad live on stream here last time!” one of them said. His friend quizzed Moneymaker about the hand in question while he got his dad on the phone. “We’re here with Moneymaker!” he said excitedly. “Hurry up or I might have to hold him against his will!”

Eventually Dad showed up with a Sharpie in hand and the champ gladly signed his hat and shirt for him. Holding Moneymaker against his will would have been pretty difficult because he would have had to be unwilling to be there in the first place.

He’s a man who understands his place in the poker world. When players in casinos on his tour look at him, they see themselves. He’s the everyman who took a shot, wrote his name in poker history, and embraced the game’s every facet — and everyone loves him for it.

“Hey Chris, thanks,” said the young man who’d called his dad back up to the tournament room at nearly midnight. “It was nice to meet you. You’re the greatest ambassador.”

Read more from Run It Up Reno IX:

Drew Gonzalez wins Platinum Pass in Moneymaker Tour event
Karaoke Night hits the high notes
Out of Position at Run It Up Reno
Friends, family, and laughs at Run It Up Reno Comedy Night

Photography courtesy of Run It Up, Nick Higman Photography, and Sebastian Diaz Photography.

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