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May 24, 2003
By Chris Ayres
POKER will never be the same again. The games biggest annual tournament is being stormed by a 27-year-old amateur from Nashville, who earned a seat next to the likes of Scotty The Master Nguyen and Chris Jesus Ferguson through a single $40 bet on the internet.
After play stopped at 3.30am yesterday it will resume with the final nine players this afternoon the newcomer Chris Moneymaker (his real name, according to his driving licence) was still favourite to win the $2.5 million grand prize in the World Series of Poker.
This is beyond words,Moneymaker said outside the poker hall, where a yellow cloud of Marlboro smoke hangs in the air like morning fog. But is he winning through luck or skill? Obviously theres some luck involved because Im here, he laughs, nervously. But these are some of the best players in the world.
Many of these players, who paid $10,000 each for a seat at the World Series, are feeling less than charitable towards him. Moneymaker, a stocky, amiable everyman, used his family computer to practise his techniques in anonymous virtual poker halls, running through hundreds, perhaps thousands, of hands in days. His bets, meanwhile, were relatively small, such as his $40 punt on PokerStars.com that led him to the World Series, which began at noon on Monday.
Hes an internet player, so he doesnt have a clue, spat Ken Lennaard, 32, from Sweden, after flopping out of the tournament in 34th place, winning a mere $35,000. That means he will probably win.
Lennaard, wearing silver tracksuit bottoms, white tennis shoes and a tight black top, says that he has been a professional poker player for six years. Right now, I feel disappointed, he said, staring at the overhead screens, displaying scrolling poker scores as if they were share prices. But Ive got $35,000 to wipe my tears with.
Dan Goldman, 48, vice-president of marketing for PokerStars.com, which is based in Costa Rica, is proud. His company paid $120,000 for 12 seats at the World Series and gave them away in a free online poker game. Another 25 players were given the chance to win seats online, but only if they bet between $40 and $80. Those players included one Chris Moneymaker of Nashville.
Theres obviously a part of the game that is different when youre online, concedes Goldman. You dont get to sit around and have drinks and see what the other players look like. Players can, however, use a live chat facility to talk to other players online during games. Online prizes are huge: the next PokerStars.com jackpot is expected to hit $1 million.
The Binion family still takes a close interest in the World Series. Binion Srs grandson, Benny, 27, spent the tournament pacing back and forth behind the poker tables, occasionally whispering intensely with Scotty Nguyen, 40.
His best moment came on Wednesday, when a player bet him $10,000. he immediately upped it to $100,000. Victorious, Nguyen held up his hands to the overhead cameras. This is why they call it NO LIMIT, he bellowed. I feel good, baby, good, he said before gladly posing for photographs outside in the Nevada furnace. Holding a shaking Marlboro with a bandaged finger, he said: Right now, I feel invincible.