PokerStars History

2003: The Moneymaker Effect

Chris Moneymaker wins the WSOP

Certainly the most momentous event of 2003 for PokerStars, and for the poker industry at large, was Chris Moneymaker1, an accountant from Tennessee, winning the 2003 World Series of Poker* Main Event.

Chris had originally won an $86 satellite,2 which won him a seat into a $650 satellite. That $650 satellite awarded one WSOP seat for each 18 entrants; with 67 players registered, there were three seats available, with $8,205 cash left over for the fourth place finisher. Chris was one of the three people to survive all the way and got his $10,000 seat.

Moneymaker was one of 839 people to enter the event and, at the time, he was given no chance to win by the professional players or industry observers. At that time, online poker was an almost unknown business and online players were treated with disdain, at best.

However, as the field thinned and Chris was still in, players, observers, and the media began to pay close attention to his progress. Moneymaker was involved in a number of hands that would make or break his tournament success and obviously he had to survive all of them, or the course of poker history might have shifted significantly. Here are a few that are worth noting:3

  • Holding pocket eights on a flop of K-9-2, Moneymaker got all but a handful of his chips into a pot against Humberto Brenes, who was all-in with aces. But then an eight came on the turn, giving Chris a set, busting a fearsome pro, and making Moneymaker a serious threat in the tournament.
  • Chris made a call with pocket threes on a board of 9-5-2 against pro Russ Boyd, who had put Chris all-in when he (Boyd) was holding K-Q. The threes stood up; Chris doubled up and crippled a dangerous opponent.
  • With ten players left, holding AQ, Moneymaker got a flop of Q-Q-6 in a pot against up-and-coming pro Phil Ivey, who had 99. He made a small bet which Ivey called. A nine came on the turn, catapulting Ivey into the lead with nines full of queens, and leaving Chris only seven outs. At this point, the two players got all their chips in the middle, but an ace on the river gave Chris a larger full house, busted Ivey, and set the 2003 World Series of Poker final table.

Increase in Player Traffic

Moneymaker’s story hit international headlines and sparked a rush of new sign-ups to PokerStars, all keen to see if they could also turn a few bucks into millions of dollars. The number of players registered at the site doubled from 50,000 to 100,000 between March and August, but that post-win bump was just an early ripple of ‘The Moneymaker Effect’.

US sports broadcaster ESPN started airing the WSOP Main Event in August and that introduced even more people to the incredible Moneymaker story. Come November, PokerStars had clocked up close to 250,000 registered players and notched up 10,000 concurrent online players for the first time.

WCOOP Returns

The 2003 World Championship of Online Poker (WCOOP) had 11 events with a total prize pool of over $2.7 million. The Main Event (a $1,000+$50 buy-in No Limit Hold’em tournament) was won by ‘DeOhGee’ from the United States; first prize was $222,750.

1 “Moneymaker” is, indeed, his real name.
2 This number ($86) is correct and has been checked against PokerStars’ official tournament records. Earlier reports that it was a $39 satellite were mistaken.
3 There are excellent descriptions of these hands and others on a blog written by former PokerStars head of marketing, Dan Goldman. Dan was with Chris throughout the last few days of the 2003 WSOP and was table-side for much of the action. You can read those posts here and here.
4 This description is verbatim from Dan Goldman’s table-side account. Dan also reported that while Farha was considering making the call, the prior year’s champion, Chris Ferguson, leaned over to Dan and said, “When you see the TV broadcast, you're going to see the best bluff in the history of World Series final tables.”

*World Series of Poker and WSOP are trademarks of Caesars License Company, LLC ("Caesars"). Caesars does not sponsor or endorse, and is not associated or affiliated with PokerStars or its products, services, promotions or tournaments.