15 years since the Moneymaker effect, poker’s journey from art to science is at a crossroads

In the Bahamas, Lawrence Ostlere talks to the big-money poker winners including the legendary Daniel Negreanu and British pro Liv Boeree, who are constantly evolving their game as the competition gets smarter

Ramon Colillas banked $5.1m for his win at the PokerStars Players Championship
Ramon Colillas banked $5.1m for his win at the PokerStars Players Championship

It is 1.30am in a packed Binion’s Horseshoe casino in Las Vegas, and the 2003 poker world championship has boiled down from 389 players to two: Sammy Farha, a seasoned pro wearing a sharp suit and gaping shirt to reveal a chain necklace and chest hair; and the aptly named Chris Moneymaker, a plump accountant from Georgia who qualified online for $86.

Piled high between them is the first-place prize of $2.34m.

“Don’t do it,” jokes Farha as Moneymaker reaches to make a raise at the start of the next hand. It continues innocuously enough until the turn card falls and Moneymaker makes a bold re-raise. Farha calls and suddenly the pot has swollen. The last card lands and Moneymaker misses completely. With the best hand, Farha checks. “I’m all in,” announces Moneymaker, and a noise ripples around the room. Farha thinks it might be a bluff, and says so, but he can’t bring himself to make the monumental call and folds, handing the rookie a huge chip lead.

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