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Walking into the poker room, I had assumed this would be like any other Friday night. Grab some grub, settle in for an eight-hour session of no-limit hold’em, and stack some chips. As I laid down 10 Benjamins at the cashier, a local reg named “Tommy Gun” came over and chatted with me.
“Tommy Gun” got his nickname from being a hyper aggressive player — completely fearless at the table and at times, far too reckless. On any given night, this guy was winning or losing thousands. An action player in every sense of the word. Not necessarily the best player at the table, but definitely someone who embraced the idea of the “natural swings of the game.”
“Yo, you see who’s in the game tonight?” he asked. I shook my head, so Tommy pointed to the list above me.
$2/$5 No-Limit Holdem:
1. Chris Moneymaker
That’s right, it was THE Chris Moneymaker. The average Joe who sparked off the poker boom in 2003 when he beat Sammy Farha heads-up in the WSOP Main Event to win 2.5 million dollars. Moneymaker was no poker pro, actually working as an accountant when he won his entry into the tournament via a $33 satellite. The aptly named Moneymaker is easily one of the most well-known poker professionals in the community.
“Holy shit, how big is this game playing?” I asked.
“1k min tonight. You in?”
How could I say no, right? I mean, how many times do you get a chance to play with a world champion? At the young age of 21, I was completely star-struck. The floor manager got the table ready and as I sat down, Moneymaker himself walked in. The whole room went quiet, everyone watching him walk in. As he made his way over, I could feel my heart racing.
They talk about moments in gambling. Those few moments you remember forever. Maybe it’s when you take down a huge tournament or you drag your first four-figure pot. Maybe it is your first big purchase you make with poker winnings, mine being a ridiculously unnecessary 72 inch TV. This was one of those moments for me. I knew this was one of those times that could make or break my fledgling poker career.
Moneymaker came over to the table and emptied his hoodie pocket, spilling the contents all over the forest green felt. As he picked through the massive pile, I saw a mix of Pucks (black $100 chips), Barneys (purple $500 chips named after the lovable dinosaur), and Pumpkins (orange $1,000 chips). Up until this point, I had never seen a pumpkin used in a game I was playing, but there it was, a dozen or so just lying in front of me. I shot a glance across the table to Dave, a local reg a few years older than me, who had the same blown away look on his face as I had on mine.
“Alright, shuffle up and deal, boys,” Moneymaker said with a grin.
Almost immediately, the game raised in stakes. What was usually a 2/5 game, meaning the small blind was $2 and the big blind was $5, was raised to a 2/5/10 with the $10 being a mandatory straddle. A straddle is essentially an extra blind placed in the pot by the first player to act, giving them the ability to act last pre-flop. The buy-ins on the table ranged from $1,000 minimum (me) to $5,000 (Moneymaker).
Moneymaker was sitting to my right early on when he raised to $30 pre-flop. The action folds to me and I look down to see Ace King.
“Raise,” I announce, tossing out $110 in the form of four green $25 chips and a single red $10 chip.
Action folds back around to MM, who calls.
The dealer burns a card and slowly rolls out the flop: A-4-5 monotone.
Before I can blink, MM instantly fires out $200. Immediately, he puts us to a decision. I obviously can’t fold, but I sat silent for about 30 seconds, deciding whether to raise or call. Ultimately, I decided call was correct, since if we raise his bet, he is only going to continue with hands ahead of us, namely two pair/sets/made straights. By just calling, we keep all the hands worse than ours in his range.
I call, cutting out a stack of eight green $25 chips.
The dealer burns and turns a 3, giving any player with a 2 or 6-7 the straight. The pot was now over $600.
MM checked to me. Now, I have about $650 left in my stack. I studied MM for any tells, but he was giving absolutely nothing away. He stared back at me with a gaze like a brick wall, eyes wide and intimidating.
Dealer nods, burns the final card and flips over a blank 5, making the final runout: A-5-4-3-4.
MM gazed my way quickly and forcefully splashed out $625.
My heart was fucking beating through my chest. I noticed my hands shaking like I was going full-blown schizo from the adrenaline rushing through me. Looking down at my stack, $625 would have been essentially everything I had left. If I called and I was wrong, it would just be me and the felt, losing 1k in one hand.
But if I was right…
“I call. Aces up,” I announced.
“You’re good, kid. Take it down,” MM replied as he mucked his cards, face down.
To this day, I have no idea what he had in that hand. However, what I do know is when the dealer shoved a mountain of chips my way that night, nearly a $1,700 pot, it was a rush I will never forget.
I’ve won and lost far bigger pots since then, nearing the low five figures on a few occasions, but taking that pot off a world champion was a feeling I may never rival again..
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