Chris Moneymaker knows the type. The player whose eyes widen when the 2003 World Series of Poker champion brings his chips over to a table.
"There's always one guy that, right when I sit down, he perks up and says, "I'm going to bust his [rear end]," Moneymaker says.
If that sounds appealing, you have your chance to do just that this weekend in Charles Town, W.Va., where Moneymaker will be playing in a handful events, including Saturday’s $1,800-buy-in Hollywood Poker Open regional main event.
It’s the fifth of seven stops in a tour that concludes in Las Vegas in June. Moneymaker, an event ambassador, comes into Charles Town fresh off a victory at the St. Louis regional event earlier this month.
Now 38 with three kids, Moneymaker is almost 11 years removed from his memorable World Series victory, when he unknowingly set off a poker boom by winning $2.5 million as a previously unknown accountant.
He stopped by The Baltimore Sun newsroom on Thursday afternoon to chat about his current life, the state of poker and what it’s like to always play with a target on his back.
Baltimore Sun: I guess there’s no better way to start than to look back to 2003. Does it feel like it’s been almost 11 years since you won the World Series?
Chris Moneymaker: Well, yeah, some kid told me at the last tournament I was in playing that, "When you won, I was 11."
It doesn’t feel like it was 11 years until someone reminds you. … When I’m playing against a kid who’s 21 and he’s telling me he was 11 or 12 when I won, it's like, "Aghhhh."
And of course the body feels old. Back when I was 28, I could play 60-hour sessions. Now, if I try to play a 10-hour session I’ve got to try to find a bed, because I’m just too old.
You mentioned the young guys. What do you think is the biggest thing that’s changed with the game in the past 11 years.
By far just the amount of knowledge that’s out there in the game and the resources that people have to improve on their game. Back in 2003, there were a handful of [poker] books and most of them had bad information. Now there’s hundreds, probably thousands of books. There’s training sites. There’s coaches. Someone who picks up the game today – if they’re serious about it – they can learn the right way to play in a short period of time, where they just didn’t have those tools available back in 2003 or prior. …
[Growing up] I played chess. I’m a little bit of a dork. Mostly I played soccer and wrestling, so I was real competitive. As I got older, again the body doesn’t work like it’s supposed to, so I couldn’t be as competitive as I wanted in those endeavors. So, I turned on to poker. One of the main reasons I play is that I like to mess with people’s heads and be competitive and manipulate people. It sounds really great when you put it in the paper.
I know you’ve embraced being an ambassador for poker since you won the World Series. Does it ever get cumbersome or annoying when you go to a tournament and everyone wants to shake your hand or take a photo or get an autograph.
No, I mean, it’s actually really cool. Because it was a big accomplishment and I know that I am representing the game of poker, and it is cool to have fans. I know when I’m going in there that it’s my job and that’s what I’m doing, so I embrace it. It’s always enjoyable.
What was the biggest challenge in trying to follow up that high of winning the World Series?
Well, the biggest challenge for me personally was that I don’t do public speaking. If you put six people in this room, I couldn’t have a conversation in front of them. They wanted me to go on David Letterman and do all this stuff and I was like … there’s no way in cold hell that I’m going to do that. That literally was my biggest fear, so getting over that hump personally was the biggest challenge.
Poker had the big boom after you won in 2003 and then it’s sort of leveled off in terms of interest. What is the state of the game, from your vantage point.
I think it’s at a good leveling point. The biggest thing that’s hurt poker is the Internet [poker websites] being taken away and, when the Internet gets taken away, the TV side of it gets taken away a bit.
The TV side probably got a little bit saturated with probably too many shows going on. But now there’s just not enough. There’s probably only one or two shows out there on TV. So, that needs to get back on. That’s what drives the popularity. …