Updated November 11, 2021 - 8:08 pm
Eighteen years after igniting the poker boom, Chris Moneymaker was back in a familiar place Thursday at the Rio.
The 2003 Main Event champion was near the chip lead in this year’s Main Event after crossing the 1 million mark early on Day 3.
“It’s surreal, kind of reliving 2003 a little bit,” Moneymaker told PokerGO before playing on the livestreamed featured table.
Moneymaker’s run to the 2003 Main Event title fueled an explosion in poker’s popularity, as viewers watched the amateur player — an accountant from Tennessee who earned his $10,000 seat in a $39 satellite — eliminate Johnny Chan, Phil Ivey and other top pros on the way to the victory and $2.5 million.
The episodes ran over and over on ESPN in the months after his victory, and Main Event fields ballooned in the next few years. Moneymaker defeated a field of 839 entrants. The field more than tripled to 2,576 in 2004, then more than doubled to 5,619 in 2005.
The next year, Jamie Gold won what is still the largest Main Event in history, beating a field of 8,773 for $12 million.
Moneymaker has remained a part of the poker scene since his victory, playing tournaments as an ambassador for the online poker site PokerStars and now Americas Cardroom.
He has nearly $4 million in career tournament earnings, according to the Hendon Mob Poker Database.
On Thursday, Moneymaker built his stack by winning a huge hand with pocket aces. He raised, Robert Kuhn reraised, Moneymaker reraised, and Kuhn called.
Moneymaker bet on a flop of ten-deuce-deuce, and Kuhn called. Moneymaker bet again after a three on the turn, and Kuhn called. After a queen on the river, Moneymaker went all-in, and Kuhn called with jack-ten, losing with tens to Moneymaker’s aces.
Moneymaker had about 1.1 million in chips at the dinner break Thursday evening. The field had been whittled to 1,368 players, with 1,000 to reach the money and receive at least $15,000.
Moneymaker said having a big stack is a powerful weapon on the money bubble, but especially in a tournament such as the Main Event with so many amateur players entering through cheap satellites.
“$15,000 is a lot of money to cash for, so people will be playing sub-optimally trying to get into the money even more so than you would see in a normal tournament,” Moneymaker said.
“You can definitely take advantage of them,” he added. “That’s what the name of the game is, is taking advantage of situations.”
A repeat title was too far away to even contemplate on Day 3 of a scheduled nine.
“Pretty magical run over the last two days,” Moneymaker said. “Unfortunately, we have like eight more days to go.”
Ehsan Amiri, Dragana Lim, Jessica Cai and Keyu Qu also had more than 1 million at the dinner break, according to chip counts on WSOP.com.
Phil Hellmuth, the all-time leader with 16 WSOP tournament victories, was eliminated early in the day after coming in with a short stack of 25,400.
WSOP Main Event
What: World Series of Poker’s $10,000 buy-in No-limit Hold’em World Championship
When: Play continues daily through Wednesday
Where: Rio Convention Center
Watch: Streaming daily on PokerGO (subscription required); edited episodes appearing later on CBS Sports Network