Chris Moneymaker didn’t become of the best ambassadors in poker by being a high-stakes crusher or a Hollywood celebrity. It was practically divine intervention that married the Moneymaker name with his down-to-earth personality and stuck him in front of the ESPN cameras holding up bricks of cash as the winner of the 2003 World Series of Poker Main Event.
It turns out, he was perfectly suited for the role of a poker ambassador. But on the final day of 2020, Moneymaker took to Twitter to announce that, effective immediately, he and PokerStars were mutually parting ways bringing to an end his 17-year run with the world’s largest online poker site. Not a bad run for a job that was thrust upon him.
Moneymaker’s tenure at PokerStars makes him if not the – one of the – longest-running ambassadors in poker history. But over his time at PokerStars, the job description of poker ambassador changed quite a bit. Here at the end of an era, Moneymaker took some time to reflect on what it means to be an ambassador, how it’s evolved, and what it takes to succeed in the role today.
“When I signed, there was no such thing as an ambassador. Tom McEvoy was the only one who had a deal, and I don’t really know what his role was,” said Moneymaker. “My first year with PokerStars, I really didn’t do anything. There was nothing going on. Tournaments were probably three or four a year, there wasn’t a whole lot televised. So basically they were giving me money for nothing, just to wear a patch. But I never got to wear a patch because it was never on TV. That was the first year.
“As the years progressed, tons of TV shows, tons of tournaments, tons of everything started coming out. To be an ambassador back then was, essentially just wear the patch and represent the site and do interviews and play on the site. Nothing that I normally wouldn’t do anyways. So it wasn’t really work to me. I just got to be myself and it, again, made it really easy.”
But that was then. It was an era where poker participation was skyrocketing and companies like PokerStars, Full Tilt, and Ultimate Bet, among others, looked to lock up top talent in hopes that slapping a patch on a player at a televised final table would entice the next wave of depositors.
“It went from three of us, there was me, Joe [Hachem] and Greg [Raymer] to, freaking, I think we got to 100 almost. It was a revolving door of people coming in and going out. I never even met some of them,” he said.
According to Moneymaker, PokerStars’ aggressive ambassador stance was in part due to PokerStars founder Isai Scheinberg’s belief in the ambassador role as a means to grow the industry. They snapped up players in any country where poker could explode.
“It was a while there where every day I’d wake up and there would be a new pro.”
Over a decade later, and after the fallout from Black Friday, the abundance of televised cash games and made-for-broadcast tournaments like the NBC Heads-Up Poker Championship is all but gone. For online operators, the landscape of how new customers are obtained continues to be a challenge and the role of an engaged ambassador requires much more than simply playing on a site with a custom avatar.
“The role of the ambassador changed quite a bit. I might be a little bit of a unicorn in the fact that I don’t stream a whole lot, but to be an ambassador in today’s game, you almost have to be a streamer or do things of that nature, because there’s not enough opportunity to be on TV,” Moneymaker said. “Once Black Friday happened, they took away patches on TV, so there’s just not as many opportunities for someone to get patched up to be on TV. Really the way to get into an ambassadorship role in today’s game is to be as a streamer of some kind, or be a personality that would attract outside of poker.”
That is part of what makes Moneymaker the “unicorn” he is. He’s not a 40-hour per week online poker streamer showcasing a platform. And while his social media following is impressive, he doesn’t have the millions of followers that names like Neymar, Rafael Nadal or Usain Bolt have (all of whom have passed through the turnstile of poker ambassadorship.) Yet, even though multiple ownership changes at PokerStars, his ambassador deal was “rubber-stamped” time and time again.
Moneymaker is one of the rare poker personas who transcended company marketing. People feel connected to Moneymaker by having watched him live out the same poker dream that they have themselves. He’s an ambassador for poker as a whole and it’s that connection that Moneymaker feels is his real value as an ambassador is. It’s a connection he doesn’t take for granted.
“For me, personally, [the job] was going out and actually meeting people and meeting the guys that want to win a big tournament, or change their life, or want to take the game a little more seriously.” Moneymaker said. “They get the experience of playing with me and meeting me, and [being an ambassador] was more about the person-to-person experience for me.”
“The one thing that’s made me last 17 years, I believe, is whenever they ask me to do something I’ve always just said ‘yes’. I’ve never told them no to anything. But I always felt like they really didn’t ask me to do a whole lot.”
That’s not to say that the ambassador’s life is always easy. Time away from family can be taxing. Trips to Europe, Australia, and China may be exciting but the travel can be grueling. Adding the travel to the event and half-a-month is spent on the road and according to Moneymaker, “eventually it gets old after 17 years.”
On December 31, Moneymaker cited the desire to spend more time with his family as a reason for his mutual parting of ways with PokerStars. The news was a surprise for many fans and members of the poker industry alike as the association between the WSOP champ and the site he won his $10K seat on felt like the strongest in poker. Moneymaker’s decision was also a bit of a surprise to Moneymaker himself who, at one time, imagined a future that extended well past 17 years.
“It’s a good company. I was really happy with them,” he said. “I’m still really happy with them, I have no problem. It was a mutual thing and they really didn’t ask me to do a whole lot and they paid me pretty good. So, from my side, I was really happy and I felt like they got a lot of value out of me. In any good business deal, you’re going to have both sides coming out good, and I think that’s the case we had. I know the relationship would have continued…I actually expected it to go on another decade, but then the coronavirus happened and everything changed from my standpoint.”
When asked to reflect on the peak of being an ambassador for PokerStars, Moneymaker paused, as if there’s were too many to count or perhaps the seventeen years is all a blur. He talked about his connection with Donald Hobbs back in 2008 and his successful Moneymaker Tour where he handed out a series of $25K Platinum Passes to players who could never afford to play in the high-roller event.
“Those types of things are what really stick out to me, changing people’s lives and giving people experiences. Honestly, some of the best times I had was when I’d take someone’s bankroll at the table but then they’d get up and shake my hand and say ‘That was awesome’. Basically, I know I’ve done my job.”
The Moneymaker ambassador era at PokerStars may be over, but Moneymaker’s not headed off into the sunset yet. Just 45 years old, in his farewell video he hints at future endeavors, and as one of poker’s ultimate ambassadors, one would think that it’s just a matter of time before he’s called on again.
“I’ve already had phone calls and I’ve already answered a few of them, so yeah, you’ll be seeing some things from me in the near future.”