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Kevin Smith

Sign of the Times?

28 May 2003

As the 2003 World Series of Poker drew to a close early Saturday morning the question wasn't "Could Hollywood have written a better script?" It was, "Would Hollywood even try to write such a script?"

At center stage was a 27 year-old accountant from Tennessee playing in not only his first WSOP, but his first ever live poker tournament, and his last name just happened to be "Moneymaker."

"The land-based world was very antagonistic to online poker in the past, but now they are recognizing that online poker is the breeding ground of land-based poker."
- Rich Korbin

What's more, he earned his spot in the tournament by qualifying through an online poker room.

After spending $40 to enter a qualifying tournament on, Chris Moneymaker played his way in, along with nearly 900 other players in the prestigious World Series of Poker. By winning the play-in tournament on, he was able to forgo the $10,000 entry fee that other players had to put up.

On Saturday that initial $40 turned into $2.5 million as Moneymaker became the most unlikely winner of the tournament's marquee event, No Limit Texas Hold'em. The win capped off a watershed week for and the world of Internet poker.

A record 839 players registered for No Limit Texas Hold'em. Also breaking records were the total purse of $7.8 million and the $2.5 million grand prize.

A big reason for the big numbers was the number of players entering the tournament by winning qualifying tournaments, or Satellite events, through online casinos. Moneymaker was one of 37 players who won their way in by winning tournaments at In fact, provided more players to the WSOP pool than any other card room or casino with the exception of Binion's Horseshoe Casino and Hotel, the host of the tournament.

"No one came close to second either," PokerStars Marketing Director Rich Korbin said. "It was an awesome week for us. We got the optimum result and it far exceeded our expectations."

Korbin said the site was growing steadily before the WSOP, but the media coverage resulting from Moneymakers' winning performance brought a huge spike in traffic to the site.

He suspects the fruits of Moneymakers' labor will be felt well beyond PokerStars.

"This will benefit Internet poker as a whole," he said.

Lenny Barshack is no stranger to both the WSOP and Internet poker. In 1998 he placed fifth in the WSOP Pot Limit Hold'em and for the last couple of years has been an influential part of the development of Tribeca Tables, an Internet poker suite that enables operators to offer poker, using their brands, through their sites.

Tribeca has signed the likes of Victor Chandler and Free Serve UK, and Barshack said it is a delight as a poker player to see the game go through an upsurge over the last couple of years.

He pointed out that the WSOP is probably the only sporting event in the world that has nearly an $8 million purse and isn't subsidized.

"That prize money doesn't come from TV or sponsors, it comes from the entrance fee of the players," he said.

Barshack acknowledged that the rise in popularity of Internet poker has helped tournament poker grow, but pointed out that it isn't the sole reason.

"The Internet is one piece of the puzzle," Barshack said. "I think it is great that an Internet player won. We had a guy in it too... He was ousted on the first day, but he still had the time of his life in Las Vegas and he got to play in the World Series of Poker."

Barshack also cited recent media coverage about the WSOP along with Hollywood's continued love affair with gambling and poker in both movies and television. The World Poker Tour began a weekly telecast of its events on the Travel Channel in the U.S which has drawn good ratings and shows in Europe like Late Night Poker and Poker Million continue to be huge draws on TV in the United Kingdom.

"Poker is just exploding," said Korbin. "Part of it is the World Poker Tour and part of it is the Internet."

Korbin also said Moneymakers' success could shorten the gap between online and offline gaming operators.

"I think this is really going to forge some relationships with online operators and bricks-and-mortar casinos," he said. "The land-based world was very antagonistic to online poker in the past, but now they are recognizing that online poker is the breeding ground of land-based poker. It cultivates new players and is the perfect place to teach the game to new players and let them get practice and learn how to play."

In addition to the $2.5 million in winnings, Moneymaker received a $10,000 diamond-studded bracelet given to the winner of the tournament.

Sign of the Times? is republished from
Kevin Smith
Kevin Smith