It’s hard to believe that it has been ten years since Chris Moneymaker helped spark the poker boom by winning the 2003 World Series of Poker Main Event. The then 27-year-old baby-faced accountant from Tennessee sported a pair of Oakley Straightjackets sunglasses on his way to a $2.5-million payday and poker immortality.
“I have no clue. I lost them that night,” Moneymaker admitted when asked whatever became of those iconic sunglasses. “I think I may have given them away at the after party. Honestly that’s one piece of memorabilia that I lost.”
While the glasses may have vanished, Moneymaker’s influence on the game has never wavered. Not long after parlaying a $39 investment in a PokerStars qualifier into poker immortality, Moneymaker joined Team PokerStars and has been representing them ever since.
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“Oh, it’s been phenomenal,” Moneymaker said of his relationship with PokerStars. “They’re the best partner anybody could have in poker. They’ve been supportive and work with me if I can’t make tournaments. In the ten years it’s definitely transformed. It went from sort of a mom-and-pop shop to a big global corporation.”
PokerStars’ growth over the last ten years is due in no small part to Moneymaker, as are many advancements in the game.
“Obviously the aggression factor is the biggest difference,” Moneymaker said when asked what’s changed the most in poker over the past decade. “Back in 2003 I had a really simple strategy. There were a lot of rooms back then that only had limit poker, there was really no no-limit to be found, and some rooms even had rules where you couldn’t check-raise. The culture was such that there wasn’t a whole lot of check-raising done. If people had hands they led out. I just made sure in 2003 that I played my position and when it got checked to me I bet. If it got bet into me I only played when I got good hands. I semi-bluffed a lot, which was not as common back then. It was so much easier. Now there are so many more plays. People didn’t float back then, people didn’t three-bet unless they had strong premium hands. If you were four-bet back then it was always aces, kings, or ace-king. There just wasn’t as much creativity as there is today.”
Since his historic win, Moneymaker has racked up $988,787 in winnings as he’s traveled the world as a preeminent poker ambassador. Of that, $130,00 came from an eleventh-place finish in the 2011 PokerStars Caribbean Adventure Main Event, a deep run Moneymaker considers among his proudest poker accomplishments.
“The fields are so tough now, and I was leading with 12 people to go,” Moneymaker explained. “I was put in a lot of tough spots, I took some bad beats, but I stayed strong. I got short stacked at one point, battled back. In my past I’ve punted off some tournaments when I’ve gotten short stacked. I push a little but too much, and that’s one thing I’ve been battling with, so I was really pleased with how I played that tournament. Tournaments now are so difficult now with the variance that comes with it, so that’s one of my proudest moments.”
There’s no denying the game has changed since 2003, and Moneymaker has done his best to keep up.
“I definitely feel more confident now,” he said. “I’ve put in some time, I’ve studied a lot, I’ve gotten better. I still have a propensity to bust late in the evening. I get tired and my decisions just aren’t as clear. To be honest, as I was looking at things I had to make a choice. You’re looking at 21-year-old kids who do nothing but study poker, talk poker and play poker, and that’s all they do 24 hours a day basically. Everyday that goes by I’m spending time with my family, I’m doing other things, so to be honest I’m probably falling behind those guys every single day, but I do everything I can to keep up and learn what’s going on in the industry and what’s going on with poker and how it’s changing.
Despite facing an uphill battle while carrying the title of champion, Moneymaker still enjoys the game that changed his life. “The good thing is I get to take breaks. I get to play on my own schedule for the most part,” Moneymaker said. “I’ve been pretty smart on how I manage my bankroll and don’t play super big. My normal game is $5/$10 or lower, so it doesn’t induce a ton of stress. It enables me to enjoy the game and have a good time when I do choose to play.”