This year's marks the 20th anniversary of Chris Moneymaker’s historic win in the World Series of Poker Main Event. That victory helped kickstart the poker boom of the 2000s and he was among those in the Horseshoe on Thursday to get things started for Day 1D.
The day is expected to be the biggest of the series and organizers announced early in the action that the tournament had already broken the previous record of 8,773 entries from 2006, making it the largest in history. WSOP Vice President Jack Effel’s introduction focused on just how big the Main Event has grown since Moneymaker recorded his win at Binion’s Horseshoe in 2003 for $2.5 million.
“He had the perfect name to be world champion,” Eiffel said. “He also had the perfect style, fearless, capable of historic bluffs and taking out legends. When he won the 2003 Main Event and millions watched on ESPN, an entire generation of poker players were born. Now I'm willing to bet many of you played your first tournament after watching that television series. That's what's known as the Moneymaker Effect in 2003. There were 839 total entrants. We had more late entrants than that yesterday just on Day 1C alone.
“Chris has been an amazing ambassador for the game, playing poker around the world, growing interest in the game, and spending his life helping the industry get to a moment like today. The World Series of Poker thanks you, the entire poker industry thanks you. Whoever wins this record-setting tournament will definitely thank you.”
When Moneymaker took the microphone, he focused a bit on how much poker has changed since then. Many poker rooms were closing down and not many seemed willing to jump in the game. His massive win on television, combined with growing interest in online poker, helped fuel major growth.
“It’s really special for me to be here 20 years later to kick this event off,” he said. “Looks like we're going to break the record like Jack said, which is truly phenomenal because … 20 years ago, what a lot of people don't realize is poker was a dying game. They were shutting down poker rooms across the country. It was hard to find a game. You wouldn't have daily tournaments. You wouldn't have tournaments that you could just go to anytime, anywhere you wanted to. It was really hard to find a place to play. Obviously, if you look at the landscape now, we can play just about anywhere in the world.”
Moneymaker also spoke about the wide range of players today. An average tournament will see players of all ages and backgrounds, he said, and added that the number of women in the game has also risen. When it was time to kick things off, Moneymaker handed the duties to 100-year-old Gene Calden. Moneymaker said he lost many pots to Calden in a recent tournament in Daytona Beach, Florida, and the World War II veteran delivered the classic “shuffle up and deal.”
Much of the 2003 champ’s time now revolves around promoting and running his Moneymaker Poker Tour, along with executive manager Tony Burns, former tournament director at the Seminole Hard Rock in Hollywood, Florida. He said the idea for the tour came after talking with Burns a lot about the idea. They believed there was a market for something between a major tour like the World Poker Tour and some of the mid-major series – in the $2,500 to $3,000 buy-in level.
“We want to try to hit that niche in the middle area,” he told PokerGO. “I really like mixed games, so we're trying to add as many mixed games into our stops as we possibly can. You come out here to the World Series and you get to play them all the time. But it's really hard to find mixed games anywhere outside of Vegas. So we want to really look at trying to expand the mixed game selection, and so our tournaments are going to offer a lot of those different events. And really, the tour is all about just giving people life-changing opportunities.”
The tour is a passion project for Moneymaker. He envisions owning clubs as well where he can hold events, but also still running tournaments across the country and internationally. So far, several casinos have jumped on board, he said, and the tour is already filling up dates for the second season. Moneymaker says players can expect plenty of bang for the buck.
“We can put as many fun spins on as we want,” he says. “We're not going to be a corporate brand at all.”
Looking Back on His Win
While he doesn’t reflect often on his 2003 victory, Moneymaker is amazed at how far the game has come. After his victory, media outlets around the world reported on his WSOP triumph and he became an instant poker celebrity. That was completely unexpected.
“I thought I was going back to work and it would just be business as usual,” he says.
Today’s numbers now seem staggering compared to the tournament he won, which was the largest field ever at that time. Just a year later, that number would more than triple and continue to rise in the coming years.
“Now, granted, $10,000 is not what it used to be, it was a lot more money in 2003, but it's still a ton of money,” he said. “And just seeing 8,000 to 9,000 people ponying that up is mind blowing.”
Looking back, Moneymaker offered some insight on one aspect of the tournament that most people may not know and points to just what an amazing tournament he experienced.
“Every single level in the Main Event, with the exception of one, I was going up in chips,” he said. “There's not one two-hour period that I went down in chips except for one and that was on Day 2. It was a pretty sick run.”