Chris Moneymaker: Bringing the Fun Back to Poker Chris Moneymaker: Bringing the Fun Back to Poker
Carlos Monti - Rational Intellectual Holdings Ltd.

No person in poker is more emblematic of an “everyman” than Chris Moneymaker, the gregarious former accountant that parlayed an $86 buy-in to an online poker tournament into a World Series of Poker Main Event championship in 2003, the reverberations of which continue to shape the world of poker to this day.

Having largely contributed to the explosion in popularity of the game of poker around the world (commonly referred to as the Moneymaker Effect), Chris Moneymaker continues to have an impact on the game he loves as a brand ambassador for PokerStars, the world’s largest online poker company.

As part of the company’s year-long promotion to send over 300 players to the PokerStars Players No Limit Hold’em Championship (PSPC), a $25,000 buy-in poker tournament held earlier this month in The Bahamas, the global online poker leader sent Chris Moneymaker on a tour of the US to meet and greet his fans and set the stage for them to realize their own winning moments.

Armed with a bag full of Platinum Passes (Willy Wonka-style prize packages valued at $30,000 each that included a seat in the PSPC and travel accommodations), Moneymaker hosted 11 $86 poker tournaments in casinos across the country.

In all, the Moneymaker PSPC Tour accumulated nearly 10,000 entries and distributed over $800,000 in cash and Platinum Passes. But beyond the desire for a big score, Moneymaker noticed that some players were rediscovering poker and everyone was having fun.

We got the opportunity to speak with Chris about his experience on the tour.

What do you see as some of the biggest successes of the tour?

One of the biggest successes of the tour was getting people that haven’t played poker in a long period of time back to the tables.

the tour brought poker back to a group of people who hadn’t played for a while, and they seemed to have a lot of fun At every stop, we heard interesting stories about people who hadn’t played poker in years and some about people who never played poker before but heard it was a good value and they should go check it out. And they also knew that at that price point, there were going to be other beginning players, so they had the confidence to come out and try it out.

Then they get there, they see me having a good time and joking with people, picking on people and getting picked on back, basically being just one of the guys. So, I think the biggest takeaway is that the tour brought poker back to a group of people who hadn’t played for a while, and they seemed to have a lot of fun.

Is there anything you would do differently if PokerStars were to run the tour again?

No, honestly if we were to do the tour again, personally I don’t think we’d do anything different. I thought it was huge success. Ok, I take it back, there is one thing we could do different, and that would be to add a few more stops in the middle of the country.

Every stop was a success.As expected, there were some delays and hiccups and some of the places we wanted to create a stop with just could not move as quickly as we needed to at the time, and with time enough to let players know about the event.

A lot of people in the middle of the country felt like we just completely didn’t want to go there. Which is not the case! We tried.

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One of the biggest hang-ups was bringing cameras into the casino. That is not something that casinos like. And being associated with another brand is also difficult, especially when they have other brands that they’re working with. So, we had all these different things at play. It’s funny, because it seems like a slam dunk for a poker room, and it really is, but you’ve got everyone else who isn’t in poker pulling the strings.

So, if there’s one thing we’d do different, it is maybe trying to do a little bit more advanced planning and a little bit more promotion

But once we were on site, nah I wouldn’t change anything. Every stop was a success. I honestly can say I’ve been playing poker for 15 or 16 years and this was probably the one entire tour that I didn’t hear a single complaint. No one complained about the blinds going up too fast, no one complained about anything. Even when the dealers made mistakes, no one complained. It is quite rare in the poker world to not hear a poker player complain!

What were some of the things you learned from the poker playing community that attended the events?

When you play poker on a high level, you see a lot of the same people at times. You see the same plays, everybody’s sort of veering towards this “GTO (Game Theory Optimal) style or whatever you want to call it. Where everybody is playing the same ranges, and the same hands. So you sort of get used to knowing what to expect when they open in different spots.

When you play a Moneymaker Tour event, it’s everywhere! I mean, you’re going to face guys that are just going to rebuy. You’re going to face people who are just playing one bullet and playing really tight. Some people think they’re strong, but they’re really weak, and vice-versa. You run the gambit! It’s kind of like playing the Main Event of the WSOP, but with even more of the craziness!

So it was eye-opening from strictly a poker perspective. Seeing the different playing styles and the ways that people approach the game. Because again, once you start playing anything above $1500, for the most part, it’s a pretty standardized game. You don’t see a ton of limping. You don’t see a ton of just checking down hands when they miss. On the Moneymaker Tour you will have someone limping every time. No three-betting. You never see three-bets! So yeah it’s a different game!

If you had to guess, what would the average age of players who attended?

If I had to guess, I would say the average age of players was about 40… 40 to 45.

And I assume that is different from most EPT events, even the PSPC?

Poker for years has been getting younger and younger. It might not be as much now, because we had Black Friday happen – so I think the average age has crept up a touch, just because maybe we’ve lost some of the younger kids coming in, because they’re playing e-sports or DFS. So they deviated a little bit. But after the Moneymaker Effect, everybody played poker! It was the cool thing to do. Everybody played. But yeah, the Moneymaker Tour was definitely an older crowd in general.

I have personally seen that age-group underserved

The Moneymaker Tour was a year-long promotion of playing in a small buy-in event where you could actually win a huge buy-in.Honestly, as I am getting to be a part of that age group, you definitely see it. They’ll have one senior event in a series sometimes, but they don’t really focus on that age. Now PokerStars is doing a really good job at trying to focus on that demographic: That player that likes to have fun and works a job but wants to come play on the weekends. I think that’s one thing PokerStars has really been focused on for the last two years or so. It’s really getting back to trying to serve and recognize that player. And again, that was part of the purpose of the Moneymaker Tour – to connect to those players.

Stones Gambling Hall (Citrus Heights, CA) Aug 4-5 812 $69,832 Clifford Ellefson
Lucky Chances Casino (San Francisco, CA) Aug 19-26 1072 $92,192 Jahngir (John) Mokhtari
Foxwoods Resort Casino (Mashantucket, CT) Sep 9 1300 $111,800 Ronald Mici
The Gardens Casino – Hawaiian Gardens (Los Angeles, CA) Sep 22 756 $65,016 Ori Kossonogi
NJCOOP Moneymaker Special (Online in New Jersey) Sep 30 408 $35,088 Anthony Maio
Mohegan Sun (Uncasville, CT) Oct 4-7 752 $64,672 Arthur White
Live! Casino (Hanover, MD) Oct 10-14 1462 $125,732 Nitis Udornpim
Peppermill Hotel Casino (Reno, NV) Oct 23 825 $70,950 Nathan Manuel
Talking Stick Resort (Scottsdale, AZ) Oct 31-Nov 2 895 $76,970 Furkan Beg
WinStar World Casino and Resort (Thackerville, OK) Nov 2-4 405 $34,830 Ray Suppe
Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino (Hollywood, FL) Nov 9-11 957 $82,302 Andres “Andy” Risquez

How do you think live tournaments of that buy-in level can play a part in the overall promotion of the game of poker?

I mean obviously, poker is a game that you can play for hundreds of millions of dollars, or you can play for pennies. And it’s rare in today’s game to find live-type satellite events, unless you show up for an event and they’re running the satellites the day before. The Moneymaker Tour was a year-long promotion of playing in a small buy-in event where you could actually win a huge buy-in. I mean, you used to have World Series satellites throughout the year, but you don’t see those much anymore.

Satellites are becoming less common as a long-term type of promotion. So, this gave people that. For those that are not professional poker players, you could play the Moneymaker Tour and it was a weekend thing. You come in, you play the weekend, and if you win, or you do well, you either make a good chunk of money or you get a chance at changing your life in the Bahamas. So, a tour like that can mesh with a whole different demographic of player.

Once they came in and played the Moneymaker Tour, I bet they came back to the casino and started playing the daily tournaments every once in a while, or the weekend tournaments. Because once you start playing poker, it’s a fun game…especially in a live setting where you’re being social. It’s obviously fun and easy and nice to sit and play online. You know, you can sit there in your pajamas. It’s two different skill sets. But obviously if you’re a social person too, it’s nice to go in and crack jokes and have a good game.

Do you see a future for a regular Moneymaker Tour?

I guess for a Moneymaker Tour-type thing you can’t give away $9 million every year! From a business standpoint, that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

I would love to see the Moneymaker Tour continue in some facet. The good thing is there are a lot of tours that are now smaller buy-ins. I think some of the problem with those tours is they’re not focused on the fun player. There’s a couple of tours, I’m not going to name names that are geared more towards chasing points, trophies, rings rather than focusing just on the fun aspect and that was the key difference of the Moneymaker Tour which was getting back to basics and focusing on the social element and the game as in ‘let go play a poker tournament and have fun for the weekend.”

But even some of the smaller tournaments out there have gotten so competitive. So, I think the Moneymaker Tour could service that little fun area. Now, how that looks and how that works remains to be seen.

The Moneymaker Tour was great because it had 'Moneymaker’ on it and it also potentially gave you access to a once in a lifetime experience where you could play in a tournament with a huge prize pool where there was $9 million on the line!

In your opinion, is there anything special about the tour that has not been emphasized enough in the coverage?

the key difference of the Moneymaker Tour which was getting back to basics and focusing on the social element and the game as in ‘let go play a poker tournament and have fun for the weekend.”When you’re a professional poker player, we go from stop to stop. We play a tournament, we bust a tournament, we play another tournament, we bust another tournament – it just becomes routine. I don’t want to say you take it for granted, but if you bust a tournament, you just bust a tournament. Then you take an event like the Moneymaker Tour where you give away a Platinum Pass, and you see the people get excited, you appreciate it from a poker player’s perspective.

I mean, 300+ people came down here. Every single one of them, it was a bucket list/life-changing experience for them. They’ll probably never get to experience it again. Then there are another 700 players that will do it next week!

For me personally, it was a wake-up call to the fact that, even though this is a job, and this is what I do, poker is a great job. But it’s a job at the end of the day. We do something a little bit different than everybody else, but at the same time, we still travel, there’s still a lot of “unsexiness” (a term I heard earlier today) that goes along with the job. Everyone sees all the glamour, they see all the glitz, but the Moneymaker Tour for me sort of emphasized what’s good about poker, what’s pure about it. The fact that people want to come out and have a life-changing experience, it really makes you appreciate from a poker player standpoint that we get to play these games and play in an event like this.

Would you do it again? Was the travel difficult for you?

Nah, I mean I travel all the time, and honestly I liked doing that tour. I’ve been touring poker stops for freaking 16 years – send me on the small tours! The PSPC was different, because I had a lot of fans down here. But if I’m down here at the PCA playing with 400 pros, it’s not the same. I don’t want to say they don’t care, but they’re not fan-boying it up.

But when I go play a $1500 event, it’s exciting for people! And when they’re excited, I’m excited! In many live events, when I’m playing a $10k, I might be on my iPad half the time, because there’s a lot less talk, everybody’s got earphones in, got the hoodies up. It’s just a different environment all the way around. So, it’s easier for me to go out there, and as I say, when people are energized, I get energized, so it’s a lot of fun.