The Oral History of the 2003 World Series of Poker

I sent this out on Twitter a few days ago – are you on Twitter and you still don’t follow me?  Why not?

Anyway, Grantland has a great article – The Oral History of the 2003 World Series of Poker.   This was the WSOP that triggered the poker boom, after amateur Chris Moneymaker took home the bracelet and the $2.5 MM first prize.

The article is a tremendous read.   Here are some tidbits (not contiguous – these are excerpts):

Moneymaker: I would normally keep a couple thousand dollars in my PokerStars account. I started with $200, I believe it was, and then I would get up to $2,000, $2,500, cash out. In April ’03, I had 60 bucks in my PokerStars account. I remember I’d cashed out more than I wanted to pay some bills, and then I started a pretty terrible poker run. I sat down to play an 18-player sit-and-go,4 and back then, PokerStars didn’t have it broken down all nice and neat like they do now. The satellites and the cash tournaments were all grouped together. I saw that there was a $39 sit-and-go with 17 of 18 seats filled, and I just clicked on it really fast to try and get the last seat. I just jumped in and started playing. It turned out it was a satellite where the winner earned entry into another satellite where the top three finishers would get a seat in the World Series of Poker main event. To be honest, I didn’t know it was a satellite. If I knew I never would have played it.”

Moneymaker: I won the first satellite, then I made it down to the final table in the final satellite, and I was one of the chip leaders. The top three got seats in the World Series plus $1,000 spending money. Fourth place paid $8,000 cash. My friend Bruce [Peery] was watching me play from another computer, and he saw me starting to lose chips. He called me up and said, “What are you doing?” And I said, “I’m trying to get fourth place.” And he’s like, “Dude, don’t do that. Take the dang seat! You’ll never get to play in that tournament ever again.” But I said, “Why do I want to play against the best in the world? I play as a hobby. I’m playing for my house.” But Bruce convinced me to go after the seat after promising me $5,0005 in exchange for half my action. So I went ahead and won the seat.”

Dalla: At the end of Day 1, I’ve got the chip-count slips, and there are people all over the world waiting for this information. There’s this huge pile of slips, and I’ve got to type up the chip counts, one by one. You’d write, “Doyle Brunson, Las Vegas, Nevada, 23,300.” I had to do that for all 385 players that survived the day. And I come across this slip — for his name, it said, “Chris Moneymaker.” So I’m thinking Chris is his first name and Moneymaker is his nickname. Chris “Moneymaker” Jones. My first reaction was, “Who is this joker?” If you go back and look at the official end–of–Day 1 chip counts, I put “Chris Unknown” or something. I would not even honor the man by writing “Moneymaker.” So the next day comes and I find Chris Moneymaker. And I said, “Are you Chris? What’s your real last name?” He said, “Moneymaker.” And I’m like, “No, no, what’s your real last name?” And of course, this man has heard this his entire life. So he handed me his driver’s license. And I look at it and all I could do was say, “I’m sorry, I didn’t know that.”

Lederer: Look, he got lucky. He moved in with eights against Humberto and hit his two-outer. But that also scares the shit out of you when you hear about that hand, because he’s capable of anything. And another thing I have to say about Moneymaker is that he was mentally tough. Dan Harrington once told me that one of the most important things you do in a poker tournament is you try and identify the guy at the table at that moment who wants to leave. For some people, that’s right at the beginning of the tournament. Just the pressure of being in the main event is making them so uncomfortable that they want to get out of there. Whatever stage you’re at in the tournament, usually there’s someone who’s at the point where if he goes broke, it’s not so bad because he’s out of the pressure cooker. I was always waiting for that to happen to Moneymaker, and it never did. He wasn’t the greatest player, but he was tough as nails and he was unpredictable.

Boyd: I was playing with Moneymaker on Day 4. I got a pretty good tell on him. He was the kind of player who, if you checked to him, he was going to bet. All the time. And he had something, it was almost like out of a Hollywood movie, where he would flare his nostrils when he was weak. It was like a bunny, man. So I was like, This is going to be so easy. All I gotta do is check to him and let him bet, and I’ll just look at his nostrils, and if they start flaring, I’ll come over the top of him. And that’s what I did in our big famous hand.

Harrington: I’ve played a lot of different games, chess, backgammon, whatever, where you had to put in long, grueling hours. If you get down near the end, where victory depends on you being alert, I could dig down and get something out of myself to give that final push. Well, at that final table, I dug down, and there was nothing there. I hit the wall. Here’s how bad it was: When it got down to me, Sammy, and Chris, I wanted to bet 75,000, which was the right bet for that situation. I sat there and I couldn’t calculate how to make the bet. I had a whole bunch of 25,000 chips in front of me, and I could not figure out how to get to 75,000. It was an insurmountable problem.

Harrington: I couldn’t come up with a coherent strategy. When it was just the three of us left, Sam Farha was sleeping at the table, I was dead on my feet, and there’s Chris Moneymaker over there bouncing around like this was the greatest thing since sliced bread.

Harrington: After I busted in third place, ESPN asked me for a prediction, and I told them, “No one over 40 is ever going to win this tournament again.” It’s become an endurance contest. The next year, I was at the final table again. I was sitting next to a younger player. He nudged me and said: “I know you tell everyone how brutal it is on you to get down to this point in the tournament, you don’t have the energy. Well I’m 28, and it’s brutal on me, too.”

Moneymaker: The stress really kicked in when I saw the money. So I started thinking maybe Sam and I need to talk about a deal here. I said to Sammy, “Let’s leave the table and go to the bathroom.” So we walked into the bathroom and I said, “You want to split the money evenly and play for the bracelet?” Sammy’s response was, “Instead, we can put it all together — the $2.5 million and the $1.3 million — and play for the whole thing.” Like winner take all. At the time, I thought he was joking. But knowing Sammy now, he probably wasn’t. He said, “In all seriousness, I have more experience. I think I need a little bit more.” Like I should give him more than an even split. I’m like, “Dude, I got you 2-to-1 in chips! Are you crazy?” He’s like, “I think I need more.” So I’m like, “We’re playing it out then, straight up.” Him thinking he deserved more — that really pissed me off and made me want to crush him.

Farha: He said, “Let’s chop it.” I said, “No, chopping is not fair.” He said, “Give me an offer, I’ll do whatever.” I said, “Well, I don’t want to embarrass you with my offer.” That’s exactly what happened. Honestly, I knew I’m making a mistake, but it’s an ego thing. Even though I’m so tired, I figured this kid can’t beat me, even if I die on the table.

Click over and read the entire account:

Grantland – When We Held Kings


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