The WSOP Gets Its World Rocked

The Moneymaker Era

2003 was a breakthrough year for theWorld Series of Poker. The number of entrants that year grew to 839, however it had been growing every year and that was a nice spurt but not ground breaking by any means. What clearly was ground breaking though was the arrival of a new breed of player, the online qualifier. For the first time, poker players sitting at home in front of their computers, with only a few dollars to spend, could now win a seat at the world’s biggest poker tournament. So now they not only had the online poker rooms putting up their $10,000 entry fee for them, the poker site was paying for their expenses as well as they were flown off to Las Vegas, put up in hotel rooms, and given a shot at the world championship of poker. So their dreams could now become a reality.

Land based professionals scoffed at these amateurs, who they felt were far from worthy of even sitting down at the big event, let alone winning it. It’s not that amateurs hadn’t won the event a few times over the years, however these were players who for the most part had the money to play in the event, and were generally at least somewhat experienced at land based poker. Now, young kids of all experience levels were starting to show up at the WSOP, sometimes only putting down a couple of bucks and, as the pros felt, just ended up getting lucky in some online qualifier. The majority of these players had never even sat down at a real poker table before. Surely the honor of the WSOP, purported to be an competition among the world’s finest poker players, was in jeopardy. What they didn’t consider was the fact that some of these online qualifiers were pretty good poker players indeed, as they were about to find out in the years to come.

Online poker is a totally different world than land based poker tournaments. Where land based players might play a tournament once every couple of weeks, or less often, online players can play a lifetime of poker hands in a relatively short period of time. So although some of the players were quite young, they tended to be well beyond their years in terms of playing experience. Online poker communities started to spring up, where the better online players shared their experiences and ideas, and profited further from that. By the time 2003 rolled around, online poker was in its fourth year of existence and the time was ripe for it to make a bigger splash in the world of poker.

Chris Moneymaker came by his name honestly, being a descendant of gold and silversmiths in Germany. His last name was extremely apt though in terms of what he was about to do in the poker world. Working full time as an accountant, and also working part time at a restaurant, he would also play online poker in the little spare time he had left. He entered a $39 satellite at PokerStars, with the winner going to the WSOP main event. Luck was on his side that day, and he ended up winning the satellite and his seat.

Now even back then there were some pretty big tournaments online, bigger than this to be sure, and you wonder why online players would want to play for a seat at the WSOP, where if they win, surely they wouldn’t have a realistic chance to even finish in the money you would think, let alone win the thing. They could play a tournament where the winnings are cash, and for instance if it was ten grand to the winner, that would be pretty significant, and you would think this would be valued more. However, just going to the world championship and competing is certainly a fantasy, and there are so few big fantasies that everyday people like ourselves have any kind of real shot at. Once Moneymaker showed us all that this dream can indeed come true, that ended up spurring virtual players into a frenzy of unprecedented WSOP participation in the years to come.

Now, unlike every other world championship, of anything, online poker satellite tournaments meant that anyone could at least in theory become world champion. Just the matter of going there and having the chance to sit down at the table with some of the world’s best poker players was exciting enough. Having a chance to win, and actually winning, well that was something else altogether. Moneymaker took this theory and turned it into practice, turned it into reality.

Around this time, the World Poker Tour had emerged, and many felt that they would take over the glory that the World Series of Poker had enjoyed for over three decades, and some even predicted the demise of the WSOP. They didn’t count on the huge effect that having an online part time player like Chris Moneymaker would have on the tournament. His winning the main event was of such significance in inspiring fellow online poker players to compete, and grow the WSOP exponentially as a result, that this time forward has become known as The Moneymaker Era.

Sure, online players have won the championship regularly ever since, and these days it’s a surprise in fact when a non online player wins. However, Moneymaker was the first, the everyday guy who turned $39 into millions, and along the way became the World Champion of Poker for 2003. If not for this, it might have been the case that the World Poker Tour may have usurped the WSOP in terms of its being the premier poker event in the world. Millions of online poker players were to have their say though, and the event would very soon go on to become mostly an online poker players gathering, with a few well known pros sprinkled in as more of a side attraction than anything.

Doyle Brunson would end up lamenting that the WSOP had become an anonymous event, going all the way from a social event for a very close knit poker community, to where he no longer recognized any faces in the crowd anymore at the championship. This may have been true, but the new popularity explosion at the WSOP, and poker in general, was more than enough to make up for any of his personal regrets. Things were moving forward at a very fast pace now, something that would continue for several more years to come.

For his part, Moneymaker certainly did all the online poker players sitting at home proud. His final two opponents were players of a very high caliber, including world famous player Dan Harrington, back in the top 3 again, and Sam Farha, a very experienced and well established pro. Moneymaker played very well, and got the most of the hands that he made, and also mixed in some very well timed bluffs. In the end, Farha had top pair and got his stack in with Moneymaker, who was sitting with two pair, which held up to make his journey to the pinnacle of poker complete. He also achieved instant fame as a bonus. Moneymaker of course also made some money, a great deal of money, a cool two and half million worth of it in fact.