Interview With Chris Moneymaker
By Steve MarzolfThe first WSOP champ to win his entry through an internet satellite tournament, Chris Moneymaker has tapered off his play lately to spend more time with his family. Besides the online time he clocks at PokerStars, Moneymaker has appeared in only a handful of tournaments in 2006, winning $10,000. He'll show up at the Word Series again this year, though, and he told us how it feels to return to the scene.
How did you get started playing poker?
"I started playing because I was a sports gambler and a blackjack player, and I kept losing money at both of those. I liked going to casinos but hated losing my money all the time, so I started playing poker. Then 'Rounders' came out and Texas Holdem took hold. It just opened everybody's eyes to the game. Before that, I'd never even heard of Texas Holdem."
When did you start playing online?
"I started playing online in 2001, about six months after I started playing in casinos. I probably dumped $40,000 total over a three-year period. I'd jump up and play $10-$20 and $20-$40 at times, but I was mostly playing $3-$6 and $5-$10. I was losing at first, very badly; then I started winning as I was getting closer to the World Series. In retrospect, it was a lot better than it would have been if I'd still been at blackjack or sports betting. Sports betting was a big leak, so I was definitely losing less playing poker. By the time I went to the World Series, I was actually making some money back. But, I was so far in the hole that it would have taken me a long time to get out."
How experienced do you think you were when you took down the World Series?
"Not very. I didn't even want to play because I didn't want to go play against the best in the world. I didn't think I had the experience - and I really didn't. I played really conservatively, and big hands came my way when they needed to. And, I made some big bluffs when I needed to. As far as experience goes, I was probably one of the least experienced in the field. But, things were just working right for me, and I was playing my cards the right way for that tournament."
What do you think the normal luck-to-skill ratio is in the World Series?
"Early on in a tournament, the skill factor's about 90 percent. And, as the tournament goes on, the luck factor increases every time they raise the blinds. By the end of the tournament, the luck factor's probably closer to 75 percent and the skill factor's really diminished. I hate it. Whenever I play in tournaments, I really get frustrated when we get down deep. You play perfect for X amount of hours, then all the sudden it turns into a straight crapshoot, where you're pushing all in with a pair of eights or nines, which you were laying down earlier to play the correct way. You're constantly running races - it's gone from out-playing people to winning 50-50 races."
What was that week right after you won the World Series like?
"I went home Sunday and had a big party with all my friends. Monday morning, I was back at work. I didn't even throw the party - it was at the restaurant where I worked in the upstairs catering room. There was no money spent out of the ordinary."
Originally, you sort of ducked the publicity. What changed your mind?
"It wasn't that I wanted to duck the publicity, it's just that public speaking was one of my biggest fears. So, when they asked me to go on David Letterman, I said, 'No.' I just didn't want to get on TV. Basically, my friends and family were saying it was a good thing that would be so cool to do, so I decided to give it a shot. It wasn't that bad, so after I did that one, I didn't mind doing anything else."
What effect did the money have on the people around you when you won the Series?
"It had a big effect. I lost my wife. I lost some friends. Money has a strange effect on people. I had people rob from me; everybody wanted to borrow money. I had a couple friends who thought they won the World Series, too. It really destroyed their lives more than anything else - it was tough on a lot of people. I played it pretty tight. I knew I'd won a big score, and I didn't want to chew it all away. I'd heard of lottery winners who were broke two years later, and I didn't want to be one of those guys. So, I played it pretty close to the vest; I probably gave $40,000 or $50,000 away to friends and family, but I kept pretty much everything else."
You lived out the start-up player's dream, what advice do you have for guys going for the gold this year?
"Be patient. You've got time. It's not like any tournament you've played in before, where you have to make decisions and run races. If you get A-K or pocket Aces, and the flop comes down and you don't have much money committed, I'll lay down pocket Aces early going. The only way I'm going bust is if I get a bad beat. A lot of people will go broke trying to defend top pair. When you're playing the World Series of Poker, not many people are going to get their money in the pot with worse than two pair. You see it more now than you used to. When I won, you never saw that. With as many bad players as there are now, you see it some."
Do you think of people feel like they have to go for the glory?
"In the World Series, yes. In normal tournaments, you're dealing with 500 people who all know what they're doing. In the World Series, you'll have 8,000 people: 200 world-class players, 2,000 real good players and 5,000 complete morons who watch it on TV and think they know what they're doing. So, you address that quite a bit in the World Series. It's happened to me in the past two years - people go all-in for random, unknown reasons. In one case, he should have folded. In the other case, he would have gotten all my money anyway, just the way the hand played out. But, the fact that he moved it all in preflop made no sense."
A lot of players get angry with dead-money players kicking them out of tournaments, but having won as a beginner yourself, how do you feel about it?
"Of course you're upset when you get beat by someone you think you're better than. It still stings me when I get beat. I had a guy who shakes my hand and says he's a big fan of mine when I'm leading a tournament. He has a one-outer to beat me on the river and catches his fourth six. I would love that to be a cash game, where I could continue to play with the guys. In a tournament, it sucks, because you have to get up and leave. You gotta realize breaks fall either way. I've had some rough breaks, but I had good breaks in 2003. And, I want all the bad players there. That's why the World Series is so great to play in - because the prize pool is so big."
Are there any pros who have helped you along the way?
"No one's taught me anything. I've pretty much learned it all on my own. I always go back and look at my hand history and everybody else's and how they played. I look to see how I played a hand and whether I could have gotten more money off a guy or lost less. How would I play it differently when the situation comes up again? I continuously try to do that. You just learn more as you go, whether it's pot odds, situations, position. You just learn more."
What poker projects are you working on?
"Basically, right now, I'm just working on Moneymaker Gaming, which is high-end poker chips, tables and accessories. We're also working on slot machines going into casinos. We've partnered up with Playboy, Nascar, Jesse James and West Coast Choppers and the WWE as well."
Do you feel pressure to win the World Series again?
"I feel no pressure. None at all. I know the realistics of trying to win it twice is almost impossible."
Do you think it's sad that we're not going to have these big, multi-championship players like Doyle Brunson and Phil Hellmuth Jr. anymore?
"It's not sad. I prefer it that way. You can get fourth place now and get more money than you could ever have dreamed of for first place back five years ago. First place is obviously a big thing, but as big as the prize pool is, fourth place is tons of cash."
What about the mythology of the game?
"I'm not a big "revere the game" type guy. I play poker because I make money and support my family. I could really care less about the history of poker or the future of poker as far as the game goes. I don't sit there and read poker history. I couldn't tell you who's won the World Series of Poker more times - I don't even know how many World Series tournaments there have been. That's just not me. When you sit down at a poker table, you're not there to show off a great game; you're there to kill off everybody else at the table. That's the simple truth of it. I could sit here and tell you I love the game and the money isn't that big of an issue for me, but that's not the truth. I play for money."
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