2005-11-14

Moneymaker: Be Careful What you Wish For


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Chris MoneymakerGreg RaymerIt took a while but after getting side-tracked I finally finished Chris Moneymaker's book. In a post shortly after starting the book, I noted my discomfort with Moneymaker's obvious problem gambling. For those who don't know, Chris Moneymaker is the Tennessee accountant who came from nowhere, won a seat in the 2003 World Series of Poker through an online tournament and then won the WSOP, ushering in the Poker craze. My wish at the time was that the book would not wind up being an endorsement of recklessness.

Well, it wasn't that. To his credit, Moneymaker was very honest about himself from start to finish - not so honest that he's getting help, but he lays himself bare.

The problem is that while the destructive behavior is there, it isn't identified for what it is. The book is a very dry, neutral narrative of Moneymaker's history and then the run through the WSOP. IMHO it was poorly written - thankfully it's an interesting story.

Here's the thing. In the Poker world, and that's the book's audience, this story is being peddled as a fairy tale. Lost is the tremendous opportunity to see the destructive potential of gambling addiction.

Moneymaker talks about being deep in debt, having suffered a number of severe gambling-inflicted blows already, as he is playing the satellite tourney that would vault him into the WSOP. His initial goal was not the seat in Vegas. He started out shooting for the $8K fourth place prize. When he started doing well his buddy agreed to give him half of the $10K value of the WSOP seat in cash for a share of whatever he won.

He had a chance to have his cake and eat it too - some cash with which to pay bills and ease family stress, and he gets to take a free crack at the WSOP. Instead, he took the cash with him as he flew to Vegas early to get used to the live game, and blew a chunk of it betting on a baseball game before he'd even sat down at his first Poker table. By the time the WSOP started, the cash was gone.

And what resulted from his 7-figure payday? Problems solved, right? No. Moneymaker is going through a divorce, and living an unreal life of Poker and wealth. The demons are still there, but his cash keeps them at bay. Money doesn't change things, it magnifies them.

During the 2004 WSOP, Moneymaker showed up day one hung over and having gotten no sleep. Wiped out at the start of what should have been a 12+ hour poker marathon, Moneymaker didn't last to the first break.

During this year's event, one of the announcers pointed out that Moneymaker has been restless and unsettled ever since his big win, while last year's champ Greg Raymer has seemed at ease and been very successful. It couldn't be more obvious. Raymer is one of those likeable guys who had solid roots coming into his big run-in with success, and didn't loose those roots in the aftermath. This year Moneymaker crapped out on day 2, while Raymer finished way up in the money, placing #25 out of 3-4,000 players.

Moneymaker is the Poker equivalent of the lottery winner who ends up broke within three years. He is very honest at the tail end of the book when he points out that the Poker player's lifestyle is not a great model for others. Unfortunately, what can't be controlled is that while it may not be a great one, it is none-the-less a model for a legion of young players, some who are grounded, some who aren't, that dream of being the next Moneymaker.

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