LAS VEGAS – It was only fitting that a man named Moneymaker would put down $40 and ultimately walk away with $2.5 million and the title of champion Saturday in the 34th annual World Series of Poker (search).
Known to his friends as "Money," Chris Moneymaker, 27, also became the first person to win the prestigious tournament by qualifying on the Internet.
"I got lucky along the way," Moneymaker said. "I bluffed a lot during this tournament, but somehow I got away with it."
Players and experts said Moneymaker's win will revolutionize poker, solidifying the merger of the Internet and big-name casinos and boosting the game's popularity.
"This is the sonic boom of poker," said Nolan Dalla, media director for the World Series of Poker. "This means anyone in their home can become a poker player."
Amid cheers of "Go Money," the Spring Hill, Tenn., resident faced off against Ihsan "Sam" Farha in a final round that began Friday afternoon and ended early Saturday, at Binion's Horseshoe Hotel & Casino.
After seven other players had been eliminated, $2.5 million in cash was placed on the green-felt table and the final hands were dealt. Moneymaker, with his metallic wraparound shades, clutched a small crystal in his hand for good luck. Farha of Houston, Texas, had an unlit cigarette in one hand and a tiger figurine by his side.
The game was No-Limit Texas Hold'em, in which the players are dealt two cards each and share up to five additional cards that lie face up on the table.
Moneymaker drew a five and a four to Farha's jack and ten.
After the dealer laid out a jack, a four and a five on the table, Moneymaker stood holding two pairs to Farha's pair of jacks.
Without knowing Moneymaker's cards, Farha wagered it all — more than $1 million in chips.
Moneymaker matched the bet and watched the dealer draw the final shared cards, an eight and a five.
The cards gave him a full house (three fives and two fours) and the victory. The accountant threw up his fist and hugged his father, Mike Moneymaker of Knoxville, Tenn.
"I saw the four-five come up and I think my heart did a double-take," said the younger Moneymaker, who said he only began playing poker three years ago.
In his first "live" poker tournament, Moneymaker beat a handful of former World Series of Poker champs, including Dan Harrington (search), who was at the final table and finished third with $650,000.
The tournament began Monday with a record-breaking 839 players. A surge in online gambling and a rise in the game's popularity drew dozens of unknowns and a 33 percent increase in attendance over 2002.
For more than five weeks, Binion's had been a hub of excitement as players who couldn't afford the $10,000 buy-in vied for spots in the final by winning side tournaments with entry fees as low as $50. Of the 839 players, only 63 paid the buy-in price.
Others, like Moneymaker, qualified on such sites as ParadisePoker.com, ultimatebet.com and PartyPoker.com.
Moneymaker, a father of a 3-month-old girl, was among 37 players sent to the tournament after paying $40 and qualifying at PokerStars.com.
Dan Goldman, vice president of marketing for PokerStars.com, credited Moneymaker's win to his natural card sense and the experience he gained while playing online.
"We've proven that people who play on the Internet are just as good as those who play in casinos," Goldman said.
The other players at the final table were: Amir Vahedi, a professional poker player from Southern California; Tomer Benvenitsi, a Las Vegas resident and expedition tour guide; David E. Singer, a professional player from Mamaroneck, N.Y.; Jason Lester, Wall Street investor from New York City; Young Pak of Bainbridge, Wash.; and professional gambler David Grey.
Moneymaker, who donated $25,000 of his winnings to cancer research, said being an unknown worked to his advantage.
"I was a little underestimated because no one knew who I was," he said. "If I can win it, anybody can."