Chris Moneymaker: WSOP Gold Bracelet Winner

Chris Moneymaker

Moneymaker is probably best known for winning the 2003 World Series of Poker main event. After qualifying for the WSOP in a satellite tournament, this inexperienced player was one of the most unlikely candidates to win. His victory proved to the world that with a little luck and a lot of hard work, anyone truly can win the WSOP.

To learn more about Chris Moneymaker's WSOP experience and to see how his life has changed as a result of winning, please read this thorough biography.


Early Life

Chris Moneymaker made his grand entrance into the world on November 21st, 1975. While he was born in Atlanta, Georgia, he would actually spend the majority of his childhood growing up in Knoxville, Tennessee. Moneymaker was the middle child, having an older brother and a younger sister.

His father worked for a travel agency, which provided the family with many free vacations over the years. One of Moneymaker's favorite childhood memories occurred on one of those free vacations. It was the family's first time on a cruise ship. He remembers scheming with his brother and sister about how they could sneak into the ship's casino without their parents or security noticing. They once made it to a slot machine and managed to pull the lever before being escorted out of there. Unfortunately, they didn't win any money in the process.

His mother's job didn't provide free vacations, but it did provide free booze on occasion. His mother's family owned a liquor store, so Moneymaker would spend many of his afternoons helping out there. His main responsibilities were to clean the store and help customers find what they were looking for. After a long day of work, his grandfather would allow him to crack open a beer, so they could enjoy it together.

When he wasn't at the family liquor store, you would probably find him hanging out with his brother and their friends in the basement of their house. They would shoot pool, play foosball, and even do a little gambling down there. Their game of choice was a dice game Moneymaker invented, which was basically just a watered-down version of craps. It involved 3 dice and 1 roller. The roller had to pick a number between 1 and 6 to bet on. How much the roller got paid was determined by how many times that number came up. If it didn't come up at all, the roller would be forced to forfeit his stake.

When he was younger, the stake would be as little as a few pennies to as high as a couple quarters. As he grew older, the stake reached nearly 5 dollars per roll. There was never a great deal of money involved, but this experience gave him an appetite for gambling early on. His love of card games also developed early on, as he would often play bridge with his grandma and blackjack with his father.

An Average Life

After graduating towards the top of his class from Farragut High School, Moneymaker received a scholarship to attend the University of Tennessee. After dedicating 6 years of his life to his studies, he graduated with both his bachelor's and his master's degrees in accounting.

Shortly after college, he started working as an accountant for a small chain of Nashville restaurants. It was also around this time that he married his long-term girlfriend, Kelly. The newlywed couple moved to the suburbs to start their life together, and within a couple years, they had a beautiful baby daughter named Ashley.

As a devoted husband and a new father, Moneymaker never even considered pursuing poker as a career. He enjoyed playing poker once a week with his friends and occasionally online at PokerStars, but that was all the action he needed. For the most part, he was content with his average life. The only thing that was frustrating him was his overwhelming pile of credit card debt.

2003 World Series of Poker

While we don't recommend trying to solve your debt issues by playing poker online, it did work out for Moneymaker. He entered a $39 buy-in satellite tournament at PokerStars. The top 3 winners would earn a seat at the World Series of Poker main event, while 4th place would earn $8,000. At first, Moneymaker started losing on purpose, hoping to land the 4th-place finish for the cash prize. A friend convinced him to go for 1st, though, explaining that the World Series of Poker would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. His friend, of course, was right.

On May 19th, 2003, the World Series of Poker began. Moneymaker was competing against 838 of the best poker players in the world, having never competed in a live tournament before. He arrived at Binion's Horseshoe early that morning to get in a good breakfast. He ate slowly as he watched the casino start to fill up with experienced poker players and started to wonder if he had made a mistake in traveling all the way there.

By the time the tournament was ready to start, though, his nerves were beginning to subside. Every player, including Moneymaker, started with 10,000 chips. He faced Dan Harrington and several other well-known players that day, somehow managing to keep his cool and ending with 60,000 chips to his name. That put him in 11th position, and while it was still too early to tell how the rest of the tournament would go, these results gave Moneymaker the confidence he needed to make it through the next four days.

On the second day of the tournament, over half of the competition was eliminated. There were only 111 players left, including Moneymaker, who sat in 26th position with just over 100,000 chips. This was a great way to end the day, considering he had such a rough start. Moneymaker had overslept that morning, which meant his chips were blinded off until he finally arrived.

By the third day of the event, Moneymaker was starting to get attention from the media. He had made it to an ESPN-featured table and was able to sit next to one of his biggest poker inspirations: Johnny Chan. At one point during the game, Chan had to remind Moneymaker that it was his turn to play because he was taking so long to make a move. Although he was embarrassed, he didn't let that stop him from wiping the floor with Chan and the rest of the players at their table. He ended the day with 357,000 chips, which put him in 6th position.

At the beginning of the fourth day, there were 45 players still in the running. By the time dinner break rolled around, there were only 22 players left. Moneymaker's last game of the day would lead to a heads-up battle against Phil Ivey. A mixture of skillful moves and good cards allowed him to eliminate Ivey from the competition. With 2.344 million chips, he would be the chip lead to start off the final day of the WSOP.

On day 5, the final table dwindled down to just two players: Chris Moneymaker and Sam Farha. The two faced each other heads-up for 28 hands, which equaled about a half an hour of play. It was an intense half an hour that ended with a great bluff by Moneymaker, which caused Farha to fold and the competition to be over. The crowd went wild as Moneymaker was presented with $2.5 million in cash and the signature gold bracelet. He had done it; he had beaten the odds and won the 2003 World Series of Poker main event.

A New Career in Poker

Once Moneymaker won the WSOP, he decided to quit his job and pursue poker as a full-time career. He signed on with PokerStars, becoming one of their main spokespersons. Thanks to his success story, thousands of people who had never showed an interest in online poker before started opening accounts at PokerStars and other online poker sites. The sudden attention received by the poker industry became known as the "Moneymaker effect."

Moneymaker was an inspiration. He started traveling the world, entering in as many tournaments as he could. He became a regular contender in the World Series of Poker, the World Poker Tour, the European Poker Tour, and various other well-known tournaments. Over the course of his career, he has earned a total of $3.7 million in live tournaments alone. We have provided details on his top 5 most financially rewarding wins below.

Moneymaker's Top 5 Most Financially Rewarding Wins
Event Year Position Prize
WSOP World Championship Event 2003 1st $2,500,000
NBC National Heads-Up Championship 2011 2nd $300,000
WPT No Limit Hold'em Championship 2004 2nd $200,000
EPT No Limit Hold'em Main Event 2011 11th $130,000
Gold Strike World Poker Open Championship 2009 3rd $60,110

Nearly 15 years later, Moneymaker is still going strong. More recently, he entered in PokerStars' Megastack No Limit Hold'em tournament in Atlantic City, New Jersey, where he managed to land a first-place finish and take home the grand prize of $6,220. He enjoys playing poker on the professional level and doesn't have plans to end his career anytime soon.

However, Moneymaker will be the first to admit that a career in poker is not easy, having said this in an interview with Entertainment Weekly: "But I want people to understand that poker's not all glamorous, it's not all being on TV and making tons of money. It's a hard life. It's a lot of travel. It's a lot of weird hours."

Personal Life

Just one year after Moneymaker's WSOP victory, he and his wife filed for divorce. She wasn't supportive of his decision to pursue poker as a career, and she didn't feel like she fit into his new lifestyle. Unwilling to change, Moneymaker signed the divorce papers and was ready for a fresh start. His biggest regret was that his relationship with his daughter, Ashley, suffered as a result of the divorce.

Within a year, Moneymaker married his second wife, Christina Wren. They had a small, private wedding in one of the casinos off the Las Vegas Strip. They currently live in Nashville, Tennessee, and have three children together.

Moneymaker is very generous when it comes to donating to charity, but he prefers to be private about how much he donates because he doesn't want to brag. One of his favorite charities is the Humane Society, which works hard to provide services for animals in need. Another charity Moneymaker donates to regularly is Autism Speaks. This foundation is very near to his heart because one of his daughters is actually on the Autism spectrum.

Moneymaker wrote his autobiography titled Moneymaker: How an Amateur Poker Player Turned $40 into $2.5 Million at the World Series of Poker. In this book, he talks about his childhood, his life before the WSOP, his life after the WSOP, and where he sees his life heading. Since it was published in 2005, over 40,000 copies have been sold.

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