It’s difficult for Chris Moneymaker to walk through a poker room or casino without someone asking for an autograph or a picture. He may not be a Hollywood star, but since winning the 2003 World Series of Poker Main Event he’s become the face of the game — the amateur who defied the odds competing against the world’s best for the title and $2.5 million in winnings.
Fifteen years after winning, the now-43-year-old spent months trekking across the country in 2018 offering other amateurs and recreational players a shot to be another Moneymaker. The Moneymaker Tour offered players a chance at an $86 tournament (the same amount he spent to qualify for the WSOP in 2003), a chance to win a $30,000 Platinum Pass — which included a $25,000 buy-in — and an all-expenses-paid trip to the PokerStars Players Championship in the Bahamas at the Atlantis resort.
Moneymaker believes the tour helped add something that many feel had been missing in the game for a few years: fun.
“When they developed this tournament, we didn’t really know what we were going to do with it,” he says. “But when they developed the MoneyMaker Tour, I was excited because I love those events. Anything under $500 price points, I’ve got a ton of fans and it’s going to be exciting. Everybody’s going to have more fun than take it so serious.”
Events like the PSPC, expansion of state-by-state online poker, and rising numbers at major tournaments seem to point to a new boom not seen since the 2000s after his historic win. Reruns of his win were a constant on ESPN and it seems every channel had a new tournament or cash game to broadcast.
Moneymaker now believes poker is regaining some of that momentum lost in 2011 when the federal government basically shut down online poker.
“We had a void where there wasn’t a whole lot of poker advertising or poker marketing going on, especially in the U.S.,” he says. “It had gone more overseas. But now with states starting to regulate and starting to legalize, and sports betting definitely just gets the gambling talk going, people are getting back into poker. I think just with the advertising coming back into the market, you’re getting that buzz again.”
While he may be a hero in the poker world, at home, Moneymaker’s just Dad. Taking his kids to sports practice and games is a major part of his routine. Things change a bit when he’s on the road. And despite so many years in the game and so many photos and autographs, Moneymaker never tires of his role as an ambassador for the game, his role with PokerStars, or even being in a casino.
“For me, the tour woke me up to the fact that I’m very privileged in what I get to do,” he says. “Handing out these passes and seeing people cry, and how excited they get from the fact that this is a bucket list item for them, it really wakes you up to the fact that I get to do this for a living. How cool is that?”
Through it all, poker still remains a passion.
“Obviously as you do it over time you become a little bit numb to it, but I definitely still enjoy playing poker,” he said from the event in the Bahamas. “I don’t think I play as much as I did in the past, but I still play a lot of poker. I was playing a $220 Sit and Go with with fans last night — and everybody was having a good time.”