Road to the WSOP by Joe Awada | The World Series of Poker came to a conclusion on Monday, with the final table of nine players determined on Monday night (after we went to press).
Unfortunately for me, I only made it through the first round, but had a chance to play with Chris Moneymaker, who progressed a bit further than I did.
Between rounds, I joined Chris and his dad for lunch, where we had a nice chat about poker, the tournament and his personal success since winning the WSOP Main Event in 2003.
As most poker fans know, Chris helped fuel the current poker craze with his big victory in the championship event. As an amateur who won his entry into the tournament through an online satellite, Chris was an inspiration to millions of people that an "ordinary" man can win pokers biggest event.
But Chris is more than a top pro, hes one of the games really good guys, a devoted family man who has managed to keep his values in perspective.
Those values are underscored in how he dealt with a fan, who approached him at a tournament last year.
"This fellow approached me and asked for an autographed picture for his son," Chris recalled. "It turned out the young man was a hemophiliac who was in a terrible car accident, which left him in a coma and not expected to live."
Chris didnt think a signed photo was enough, so he visited the young man in his hotel room.
"I spent about two hours with Donald, playing poker and just chatting," Chris said. "Even though he wasnt expected to be able to get out of bed, I told him that when he got better, Id fly him out to Las Vegas where he could watch me play poker."
Donalds rehabilitation took several months, but in February he was up and walking and, true to his word, Chris brought him out to Las Vegas.
"I picked him up at the airport and, even though you could see he was in constant pain, he always had a smile on his face," Chris said.
Donald got more than he bargained for as Chris arranged for him to play in the poker tournament.
"He started at a table with Doyle Brunson, and actually took a nice pot from him," Chris said. "He was then moved to a table where Phil Hellmuth was playing that left me wondering, which was worse, his car crash or sitting with Phil Hellmuth at his left!
"Donald played through several levels, but finally busted out right at the end of the day," Chris continued. "He eventually went out, but he had a blast."
In a sense, Chris also continues to have a "blast" playing poker, even though its been four years since he turned professional.
"I still enjoy the game and, in a sense, its still a hobby for me," he said.
Chris added that hes established some solid friendships along the way with players such as Greg Raymer and Joe Hachem who, incidentally, followed in his footsteps as WSOP champion.
"Those are two really great guys and we frequently hang out together," he said. "In fact, we traveled to Europe together for a poker tournament there."
Traveling has become a huge part of being a poker pro and spokesperson for his sponsor, PokerStars.
"Theres still a lot of growth and enthusiasm for poker, especially in other countries," Chris said. "In places like South Africa, Australia and China, theres a new generation getting into poker now. Its a great game, people love playing it and theyre getting better."
Closer to home, Chris said this years World Series has been the best in recent years. "Everything is running smoother than in the past with shorter lines and fewer delays," he said. "Im not crazy about the final table being delayed, but the lead-up could actually be worth an extra $3 to $5 million to the finalists in promotions and endorsements."
Even though hes a consummate player, Chris said he is always learning and trying to improve his game.
"Every time I think I have the game figured out, I discover theres more I need to learn," he said. "So you tinker with your game and try to incorporate something new. Its really a complex game there are probably a thousand different ways to play a hand."
For newcomers, Chris said understanding the basics is essential knowing the math of pricing out a hand and calculating pot odds. But you also need great instincts.