This is part of a series of content to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Chris Moneymaker’s historic Main Event win – look out for regular columns from Chris and special features all the way through to the 54th Main Event, which is shaping up to be the biggest of all time.
Poker’s been good to me.
Twenty years ago, I won the World Series of Poker Main Event via an $86 satellite. You probably know that story. Two decades later, some things have changed a lot–but some things never change.
I’ve played the WSOP Main Event every year since I won it way back then. I’ve seen trends come and go, the player pool change drastically, and three different WSOP venues across the years. As we all prepare for another Vegas summer schedule, I thought I’d share some thoughts about poker’s biggest stage throughout since 2003.
Many more games, and much better players
Obviously, 20 years ago, we were playing on Fremont Street. The Main Event was around eight hundred people and it was a fairly small circle back then. Everybody kind of knew everybody, so there were few outsiders or unknowns.
If you wore an online patch at that time, you were basically considered a second-class citizen. Everybody thought online players were terrible.
The average age was somewhere around 55. They all looked like me, I guess; overweight and middle-aged. Today, they’re all doing cleanses and juicing, going to the gym every day. It looks like a high school prom without any girls. The dynamic of the players has changed drastically.
Back then, when you got three-bet, they always had it. Always. Now, three-bets happen every other hand.
Obviously, everyone would love to go back to those times and play. I’m confident I could train someone in a few hours and send them to a $1/$2 game and they would make money. Players were that bad. Now, it’s hard. There are a lot of training sites, and a lot more people know how to play.
In 2003, I was playing in Tunica. There was no such thing as No-Limit Hold ‘Em. If you walked over to the wall and read the rules of the room, it said, ‘Checking and raising is not allowed.’ You couldn’t find poker games everywhere like you can now. There were games in Vegas, games in Tunica, and games in Atlantic City. There weren’t games across the country or daily poker tournaments everywhere like we have today.
Poker has come a long way, and people today are lucky in their own way. Sure, the games are tougher, but access to live poker games has never been higher.
My Main Event plan then vs. now
Honestly, the plan is pretty similar. In 2003, it was just to make it through the day. Survive the day, one level at a time. Survive.
I didn’t cash for the next 16 years in the Main Event because I had a different plan, which was to try to accumulate chips and build a big stack.
But, I’ve cashed the last four out of five by reverting back to the original strategy: try to survive and pick spots. There are so many opportunities to pick up chips; people make so many mistakes that you don’t have to push your edges and do stupid stuff until after you get into the money. I basically wait for players to make those mistakes.
As good as players are now compared to then, most of them still make a lot of mistakes. It’s the easiest $10k event in the world, and it’s not even close. It’s a bucket list item, and a lot of people come out to take their shots.
Hey, you’re always going to have a lucky fish. Just look at me. You had me, Darvin Moon, and Jamie Gold; there are plenty of examples. Still, the best players love this tournament.
How people play against me since my win
After the 2003 title, if I go to a poker room, I get recognized. It kind of comes with winning that event. Honestly, that’s part of the reason I didn’t cash for 15 years. I had a target on my back.
In cash games, it’s great when people make plays at you and do stupid stuff. In tournaments, it’s not so great. You want to win more uncontested pots; you don’t want to have to show down your hand all the time. With a target on yourself as I had, you can’t bluff as much, you can’t make moves, and you have to make more hands. That happened for a while, but it’s died down quite a bit.
Now, there are so many pros and big names in today’s game. You have all the vloggers, tons of poker content, and famous people that play high-stakes poker. I think people are a little more used to playing alongside some of the top players.
There are a lot of 24-year-olds who were four when I won the Main Event and have no idea who I am. But, they’ve heard the stories and see how old I am and how fat I am and think I can’t play anymore, so they try to run a bluff they wouldn’t otherwise run. Doyle Brunson made a living off of stuff like that. Again, that’s good in cash games, but in tournaments, it can suck.
See you all in Vegas
I’ll be down in Vegas again, the 20th year and third WSOP venue that I’ve seen. I’m heading back home for a bit first after the inaugural Moneymaker Tour event at the Palm Beach Kennel Club. We crowned a Main Event champion who got in via a satellite just like I did back then. We’re also putting him into the WSOP Main Event in Vegas to keep the magic story going.
I’ve got a list of things I need to do at the house and for the wife, so that’s my next stop. Once I get that taken care of, though, I’ll be back where I’ve been every summer. Whether you’re old or new, entering via a satellite or direct buy-in, whether you’re crossing off a bucket-list item or you’re a perennial, seasoned pro; there’s nothing quite like the World Series of Poker Main Event.
I’ll see you in the desert. And maybe, think twice before making a play on this online-patch-wearing, Diet Coke-drinking, old man.