Poker is a selfish and lonely pursuit, and played in Las Vegas, a city swamped in moral decay, there's the potential for disaster in the quest for wealth and indulgent pleasures. Sin City corrupts people and leads them down a path of self-destruction. The end result? Their intoxicating hopes and unattainable dreams are annihilated and burned to a crisp in a valley of ashes.
It's absurd to pony up $40,000 to compete against the elite no-limit tournament players in the world, and then 36 hours later end up with absolutely nothing. Yet that's what happened to quite of few players who played in the 2009 World Series of Poker's $40,000 no-limit event. The special buy-in reflected the 40th anniversary of the WSOP. Only 27 of the original 201 runners were fortunate enough to cash out. One of them was Chris Moneymaker.
Chris Moneymaker represented a modern day Jay Gatsby. Much like the main character from F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel The Great Gatsby, Moneymaker and Gatsby were both self-made millionaires. They earned their money in unconventional ways-Moneymaker through poker and Gatsby by bootlegging in the 1920s. They achieved the fame and fortune that epitomized the fulfillment of the American Dream and became the center of the party.
However, Jay Gatsby's fate included a tragic ending when he was unable to come to grips with his past. While Moneymaker's future slowly unraveled before us, the $40,000 no-limit event gave him a chance at redemption. He wanted to prove that he wasn't like the "monkey on the grinder," paraded all over the world by PokerStars like some sort of carnival attraction.
Chris Moneymaker has been chasing his own shadow since 2003. Every person in poker today has been affected by his monumental victory inside Benny's Bullpen when he beat the slick and ever cool Sammy Farha to win the main event.
As poker continues to grow overseas, more and more pressure gets thrust upon Moneymaker's shoulders. Folks like me and other results-oriented and obsessive media types constantly wrote about what he hasn't done in the last few years, instead of bestowing accolades on him for achievements off the felt, such as inspiring thousands-and perhaps millions-of people to play poker and actually believe that they too have a chance of taking down the best pros in the game.
I've seen him carry the burden as far away as Monte Carlo and Argentina. He's walked in jam-packed poker rooms all over the world and chuckled as he said, "I kinda started all this." Yet he also knew that he had a target on his back no matter where he went.
At the start of Day 2 of the $40,000 event, Moneymaker was second in chips with 89 players remaining. He snagged the lead and consistently sat atop the leader board for most of the afternoon. Moneymaker had been plugging leaks in his game, especially blowing huge chip leads and playing smarter in the early stages of tournaments. It seemed as though his tweaked game plan was working, until his run abruptly ended. Moneymaker went from the penthouse to the outhouse, as he crashed and burned way before the money bubble broke.
A dejected Moneymaker wandered by the press box as he left the Amazon Ballroom. He, more than anyone in this world, knew how vital it was to get a shot at a second bracelet. He was well within reach of making poker history but the poker gods had other things in mind.
For a seventh summer in a row, Moneymaker went home empty-handed and unable to add another bracelet to his collection. His quest to prove that his 2003 victory was not a fluke went unfulfilled.
Paul 'Dr. Pauly' McGuire is the author of the upcoming book 'Lost Vegas'. You can read his poker blog, Tao of Poker, over at www.taopoker.com