Another round-up from the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure as Lee Davy sits down with PokerStars ambassador, Chris Moneymaker, to talk about his experience with enemies, who and what he is envious of and much more.
August 2018, and Cliff Ellefson defeats 812-entrants to win a $30,000 Platinum Pass at the Stones Gambling Hall in Citrus Heights, California. A month later, and Ori Kossonogi beats 756-entrants in the Gardens Casino, California to get the same prize. A duo, who under normal circumstances would never compete in a $25,000 buy-in event.
There was nothing ‘normal’ about the PokerStars Player’s No-Limit Hold’em Championship.
There was nothing ‘normal’ about the Moneymaker PSPC Tour.
Kossonogi finished 135th, turning $86 into $35,000.
Ellefson finished 96th, turning $86 into $39,500.
PocketFive’s Donnie Peters called the Moneymaker PSPC Tour one of the best poker promotions ever.
Here was Moneymaker’s reply.
The name of the tour made it the best poker promotion/event ever https://t.co/XAbAItWUnI
— Chris Moneymaker (@CMONEYMAKER) January 10, 2019
Of course, Moneymaker’s tongue was firmly rooted in the inside of his cheek, but he’s on point. When it comes to grassroots poker in America, Moneymaker is an icon, and one of the reasons people jive with him so well is because despite his success he has and always will be one of them.
We find a hidden hallway, grab a couch, and I ask – what has PokerStars just done?
“They created an epic poker buzz,” says Moneymaker. “We sent 320 passes out into the universe and gave people a chance to change their lives. Just coming down here is an experience that they may never have had. Visiting this great venue, playing in a $25k event, which, for many people, myself included, is a bucket list item. It’s a really cool project. It was a huge success with the numbers that we got. I was thinking maybe 800 players, and we got over a thousand.”
When I heard Moneymaker tell me that competing in a $25k event is a bucket list item for him, I switched off. I didn’t hear anything else. When PokerStars said they were going to create the experience of a lifetime for their players, I didn’t think that would include people of Moneymaker’s ilk.
“This year has really put what I do into perspective, because I have been doing this for 15-years, and you go from stop to stop, you play a poker tournament, you bust, you play a poker tournament, you bust…and you may win one… you get the idea,” says Moneymaker with a grin. “We created the Moneymaker Tour to hand out a lot of passes to this thing. To be able to hand out a $25k buy-in pass to someone, and to see their passion and excitement for it, it makes you question why you’re not as excited to play in events like this.
“I get excited to play the WSOP Main Event each year, and the PCA, but outside those two events, I go to a lot of events, and I am going to do my best, but I’m not giddy with a ball of nerves. But I found this year, even with the $86 buy-in Moneymaker events I was really excited just to be there, be a part of it, experience it. I have seen it through their eyes. I realise that I am so privileged to do what I do, whether that’s a $86 or a $25k event.”
It feels like gratitude kicking Moneymaker in the arse.
“I get to do this for a living, and it’s surreal, but after you do it for a while you become used to it,” says Moneymaker. “This year, I have learned to cherish every tournament moment, and realise that so many people would do damn near anything to have the same opportunity. I don’t think poker players, in general, feel this way, and I didn’t either until I did this Moneymaker Tour. To give Damon a pass – I haven’t teared up since my father passed away. And I physically teared up giving that away, and that never happens. It was a surreal experience last year for myself and 320 other people.”
I asked Moneymaker to describe what it was like when the septuagenarian, John Mokhtari won his Platinum Pass during the Moneymaker PSPC Tour?
“It was the most surreal one because I don’t think he knew what he had won,” says Moneymaker. “He was like, “I am not sure if I can go, I will have to check my schedule”. We needed his email, and he didn’t have one, but maybe his wife did! I was staring at Lee Jones, thinking, “This is what we wanted”, but it wasn’t what we expected. He was a local grinder playing small tournaments, and for him to win that pass was pretty incredible, and yet he was the only one who didn’t realise what he had won. Had he not won it I don’t think he would have been so upset. The toughest thing on the Moneymaker tour was watching the people who came second. We had several second place guys cry, breakdown and get so emotional because they came so close. He was definitely a unique winner, and special for a different reason.”
I tell Moneymaker that I saw a tweet from someone who had competed on the Moneymaker PSPC Tour thanking him for being such a down to earth guy, and I ask him if success has ever seen him move away from that ideal?
“If it ever does my wife, my father-in-law, my friends that don’t play poker – they would all beat my arse,” says Moneymaker. “I won a poker tournament and went to work on Monday morning. It was awesome, don’t get me wrong, but because you win a poker tournament doesn’t make you any better than anyone else. We play a game. My hobby has turned into a job. If someone doesn’t know and asks what I do, I tell them I am self-employed. I view it as a job. Everyone sees the glamorous side of things, but as you know there is a lot of grind and unsexy points to it where you are sitting in hotel rooms, taxis, busting from tournaments.”
Moneymaker is a very likeable character, but I wonder what character traits he dislikes in others?
“I don’t like tardiness,” says Moneymaker. “Everyone else shows up for you; you should show up for them. Then I guess overall rudeness or people trying to think they are better than you. When you play a lot of poker, you see youngsters berating older players, calling them names, fish – they feel like they are superior in some way, and those people always irritate me.
“If you didn’t have these quote on quote lesser players you wouldn’t be doing this, you would be doing something else, so for you to downgrade someone else for not playing the way you play – granted there are more mathematical ways to play, but you don’t scold someone when they put their money in the middle and bad beat you.
“I love Phil Hellmuth, he’s a great human being when it comes to a lot of things, but that’s his biggest downfall when he scolds people. If he scolds a professional player whatever, most pros aren’t going to care. But sticking it to amateurs? I think he’s gotten better over the years.”
I ask Moneymaker if he defends people when he sees this happening at the table?
“It depends who it is,” says Moneymaker. “If it’s against someone who’s not defending themselves, or maybe new to the game, then I am going to stick up for them. I have stuck up for several people when someone has been out of line. I had to step up to a point where the guy I was talking to complained to the floor, and the floor looked at him and said, “Yeah he’s fine.” The guy was a dick. I am going to step up, especially if it’s just some guy being belligerent. But if it’s pro on pro-violence, I let it go. But a newer player or a woman who is not as comfortable sitting in a poker environment, because it can be overwhelming, then I think it’s everyone’s responsibility, if you have been playing for a long time, to help the players who are just getting started because we all got started at some point. The last thing you want is for someone to have a first poker experience, and some arsehole berates you for calling with a pair on the river where he would never do.”
I ask Moneymaker if he has ever had an enemy?
“Of course, everyone has enemies,” says Moneymaker. “I have been a very competitive person all of my life. I wrestled and played soccer in high school. I had other teams who were enemies. My whole weight division was an enemy. If I didn’t beat them, they would take my spot on the team. I am very competitive when it comes to someone trying to take what’s mine. I am a nice guy, but I am not afraid to fight.”
How does he deal with adversity?
“It had to be physical, I was playing in physical sports,” says Moneymaker. “If you’re wrestling, and some guy is trying to take your spot, you have to kick their arse, or they take your spot. Every year, from Freshman to Senior in high school, at the beginning of the year you had to fight everyone in your weight class, and that person is the varsity person on the team, and halfway through the year you have to do it again.”
The poker world thinks Moneymaker is pretty fucking fabulous, but what fabulous side of him does the poker world rarely see?
“I’m just generally fabulous,” kids Moneymaker. “I don’t know. I am an open book. I don’t hide too much. The only things that people don’t know about me is I am a little bit socially awkward. If I go to a function at my kid’s school, or church, or something else that’s not poker orientated, and nobody knows who I am; I am the guy who sits at the back. I am not one of the talkative people. You would not know I am there. I am really quiet.”
Given who Moneymaker is, if he were not playing poker, what would he be ideally suited to do?
“Would you like fries with that,” jokes Moneymaker. “That’s a tough question because I am suited to do a lot of different jobs. The biggest problem with being a pro poker player, and why I tell younger players to view poker as a hobby and not your full-time job is because if I was to quit poker, there is nothing on my resume. If I go to an interview what have I done for 15-years, I have played a game.”
I ask him to name some of the people he has been envious of and why?
“I am not an envious person, but if I had to pick, it would be Brad Pitt because he was married to Angelina Jolie for a while,” says Moneymaker. “I guess I am envious at people who can eat anything they want and not gain weight. I used to be that way, and now I am not, and that really bothers me because this physique I have now is difficult to maintain. I am battling with my weight, and it sucks, but overall I am not an envious person. I know a lot of people who wish bad on successful people, and I am not like that, the only person I kind of wish mini-bad on is Donald Trump because he is affecting so many lives, but successful people I am happy for them. People who are jealous just don’t try hard enough.”
How does it feel to be Chris Moneymaker?
“Honestly it feels normal, I guess,” says Moneymaker. “I don’t feel different. I do live two separate lives. When I am at home I am a dad, husband – we do school, church, eat, sports, we are taxi services running our kids around doing different things like a normal person in the community, and then I come out here, and things are different obviously.”