Chris Moneymaker Interview With Jenny Woo

Written by:
Jenny Woo
Published on:
Chris Moneymaker

I had the chance to sit down with Chris Moneymaker who is known by many as a player that started a phenomenon - also known as the "Moneymaker Effect".  He made average Joes young and old come out of the woodworks and take time from their everyday lives to try their skills at the poker table.  Some failed to impress - however some - who credit the "Moneymaker Effect" - excelled in this game that people now call a sport.  Read my interview with this family man and see what's coming up for him.

JENNY:  You seem to be somewhat modest when it comes to your 2003 WSOP win aka the "Moneymaker Effect" and were quoted in saying, "If I can win it, anybody can."  But at any point have you relished in the attention and spot light and said "WOW"?

MONEYMAKER:  I hope not.  I don't believe so.  Anytime if some reason it might appear to be so that I am - my wife or my friends will beat my head back down and make sure that I understand that I'm just a peon.  They pretty much keep me in line.  

JENNY:  How did your family deal with the transition from your quiet life in accounting to your life as a pro poker player?

MONEYMAKER:  That was the toughest part.  Like you said, going from basically a nobody to everybody knows who you are to all of a sudden everyone's asking to borrow money and everybody's asking for autographs.  It was definitely a tough transition more for me than anything else - just for the simple fact of doing interviews.  If I were to do this interview with you right now in 2003, I would have butterflies in my stomach before I called you because I would be so nervous - just because I'm not a very good interviewer by any stretch and I hated public speaking; I hated getting up in front of anybody.  I was more comfortable in this setting where I was in my house and on the phone but even then I'm thinking, "What am I going to say?  Am I going to say something stupid?  I know that they're recording this.  This is going to be live on the radio and people are driving around in their cars listening to what I'm saying."  So it was all in my head for a while and it was tough to get over that fear I guess.

JENNY:  Are you over the fear yet?  (Haha)

MONEYMAKER:  (Haha).  Oh for sure.  I'm definitely over it now.  You might as well call me up and say, "You're going to give an interview today."  And I'd be like, "Okay, no big deal."

JENNY:  You're a father of two.  I know they're still too young but do you see any future poker stars?

MONEYMAKER:  The girls - which doesn't mean that they can't play poker of course - but at the same time my oldest just started cheerleading yesterday.  I would prefer them to pursue other avenues; especially for making money.  I'll teach them how to play poker because I think poker is a fun game.  I think it's something you should learn to play with your friends.  It's a very social game and it's a very mathematical game.  So if you teach your kids the right way on how to calculate odds and calculate outs - it's something they can learn from.  It's a fun way to learn.  So to answer your question - they will play poker but hopefully not on the level that I play.

JENNY:  Are you surprised they poker is now considered a sport?

MONEYMAKER:  Who considers it a sport?  (haha)  People ask me that all the time.  I don't know if it's really a sport.  It's a game.  A sport to me is something where you exert physical energy.  That's my personal opinion - not to say that a sport is more dignified than a game. I don't see it as saying that it's a slap in the face to call poker just a game but to me that's what it is - it's a game.  I get to play a game for a living.  It's phenomenal.  I don't consider it a sport even though it's on ESPN.

JENNY:  How long had been playing online?  And how often do you play today?

MONEYMAKER:  I've been playing online since late 2001 - early 2002 and I average four hours a day probably.  I'll play during naptime of my daughters where I'll play for two hours.  Then after we get everybody in bed, there will be nights that I'll play six hours and then another night I just take the night off and hang with my wife. 

JENNY:  What would you say is your style of play online and live?

MONEYMAKER:  It varies drastically based on my opponents.  It used to be wild and aggressive - any two cards - just put it in there.  Now it's more reserved - wait and see - and I react more to what my opponents are doing.  I wait for better cards now and pick my spots.

JENNY:  You said on that poker is a "skill based game."  But how much luck do you think is involved?

MONEYMAKER:  Well let's put it this way - if I'm a better player than you and we sit down to play for fours hours - by the end of that four hours (if we're playing a cash game) - you might beat me and I might beat you.  I don't know.  But if we were to sit down and play for four hours every single night for a month - it doesn't matter how lucky you get.  I'm going to win all the money in the end.  So it's a very skillful game in that perspective.  In short term - luck is a factor.  In long term - skill weighs out everything.  The reason why tournaments are more luck than skill is because the blinds increase and force you to do things you don't want to do.  If you're playing a cash game - the blinds don't increase, you can pretty much set your own pace, pick your hands that you want to play, and if you don't want to play a hand you fold easily.  In tournaments where the blinds are increasing, it forces you to gamble more or less.  So therefore the luck factor will increase.

JENNY:  How was your experience at this year's WSOP?  And do you have anything you would have changed?

MONEYMAKER:  Yeah, I would have played longer.  (Haha)  I played the 40K event and it was awesome.  I really enjoyed it for two days.  Unfortunately, I bubbled.  I wouldn't have changed the way I played.  I think I played as good as I could play.  When it came to the main event - unfortunately - I didn't play - A: very well and B:  I got just really really unfortunate cards in the wrong spots.  I think I battled and did what I could but looking back on it I wish I could have played a few hands maybe differently.  I wouldn't have played anything differently in the 40K but the main event I wish I could have slowed down on one or two hands.   

JENNY: So did you only play in those two events?

MONEYMAKER:  Yeah, I only played in two events.

JENNY:  What's your opinion on the changes that were made last year with WSOP final table?

MONEYMAKER:  At first I hated it.  I thought it was terrible.  It gives someone like Dennis Phillips who - at the time - was definitely an inexperienced player and learning the game on the fly just like I did in 2003.  It gave him time to go out and find a coach to help him improve his game over a 3-month period.  Then someone like Chino who's a professional and who's been playing for a long time - it's a disadvantage to him.  The advantage is - this serves another good example - you probably wouldn't know who Dennis Phillip was for the most part if they had played the final table the next day.  But by him getting 3 months of exposure as the chip leader - it was huge for him.  It was huge for all nine.  Kelly Kim got ninth place.  You couldn't tell me a single person who got third place in the year before that.  No one really knows.  So it gave all nine guys very good media exposure.  Therefore, I'm for it now but at the time I thought it was bad for the game.  I think it's good for the actual sport - if you will - but I think it's bad for the actual play of the game.

JENNY:  What's next for you?

MONEYMAKER:  I'm going to be home for two weeks to chill will the family.  I'm going to Tunica and play a couple of events down there.  It's 30 minutes from the house so I'll just drive down in the morning or afternoon, play and then come home and sleep in my own bed which is always nice.

JENNY:  Yes, always nice.

MONEYMAKER:  You can't beat it.  Things are a big enough with the travel.  So I said, "You know what?  I'm going to go sit and play in Tunica for a couple of weeks and be close to home so that I can come home."  Then I have the WCOOP (World Championship of Online Poker) on PokerStars, which is all of September.  It's a huge tournament online so I get to stay at home that whole month of September playing online every single day; which is great.  Then finally I have to get back on the road to London, Australia and Latin America starting in October. 

JENNY:  What show are you shooting in L.A.?

MONEYMAKER:  We shot a pilot for a show called The Turn.  It's a show that we're looking at getting on air right now and we're excited about it.  When we first started it I didn't like the idea; I didn't like the concept but after shooting the pilot - I love it.  I just saw the teaser for it and it was great.  So I'm looking for big things out of it.

JENNY:  What advice can you give someone who's just getting a start in poker?

MONEYMAKER:  Be prepared for a long haul.  (Haha)  Poker is a fun game and I would tell anybody to play poker for fun.  I would never tell anybody to play poker professionally.  People think poker is great - which it is.  It's a fantastic game.  But I have three friends - three and a half friends (haha) that got into playing poker in about 2004/2005 after I won the main event.  They decided they wanted to quit their jobs and do it full time; and they were good enough to do so.  One of them now - he's a great player but he's broke.  The other three aren't broke; they're financially okay but they absolutely hate playing poker.  It's taken all the fun out of the game.  They had to get onto PokerStars everyday and play.  The problem is is that all four of these guys can't find a job in the real world now because they have such a big gap on their resume.  They've gone three or four years now without any kind of work experience or basically they're starting at entry level positions and it's tough in this economy.  So it's either they play poker or work as a server at McDonalds or something.  I mean - they went from having nice sized figure jobs to serving food.  There's nothing wrong with serving food but you go to college to get an education and now you can't use it because you've been playing poker. 

I'm all for poker players.  I love playing poker as a profession but it's not for everybody.  You go through swings of bad runs, you question yourself and then you have great runs and you think they're the greatest ever.  It's just a very swinging game.  You have to keep a very even head about yourself and be prepared for bad times. 

JENNY:  Those players out there that have a great win and think that their good fortune will continue - do you see them playing in more cash games than they should?  And do you also see them buying extravagant items more than they should?

MONEYMAKER:  Well that's the nature of the beast.  You go and win the lottery - you spend the money.  I don't see a lot people play in the cash games.  I don't generally play in them that much.  I play pretty small stakes online.  I just keep my money and if I get bought into tournaments I go play in them; if I don't than I don't.  You hear all the stories about people winning big tournaments and going and playing in the big game.  You just have to realize - yeah you hit a nice score and an opportunity.  Those opportunities don't come along very often so you have to be smart with it.  I went back to work for nine months until I was a hundred percent sure that I could make sufficient money to support my family without a job.  A paycheck every two weeks is nice.  It doesn't matter who you are.  You could be a great poker player.  Having the comfort of knowing that you have health insurance - right now I can't get health insurance because I'm self-employed and I have sleep apnea and so they won't insure me for some of the stuff.  It's small things like that that just sort of become a pain in your side.  But you definitely see people that will win a big tournament and just think that all of sudden that they're the greatest player and a couple of years later they're asking for $500 to get into a tournament.  It's unfortunate but it happens.

JENNY:  You just have to be smart with it.

MONEYMAKER:  Well it's like anything else.  If you win the lottery - do you expect to win the lottery again?  (Haha)

JENNY:  (Haha)

MONEYMAKER:  Come on now.  Be smart.

JENNY:  Good point.  (Haha)  Thank you so much Chris for taking time out to sit down with me.

MONEYMAKER:  You're welcome.


Jenny Woo, Senior International Correspondent



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