Champion Chris Moneymaker!

So much of what we love about modern poker owes a huge debt of gratitude to one man.

It was Chris Moneymaker’s victory in the 2003 World Series of Poker Main Event that is credited with igniting the poker boom — a boom that burned and grew through the following two decades, and eventually ended up with incredible tours like the Triton Super High Roller Series.

Tonight in Montenegro, as the Triton Series begins the final stop of it third season, Moneymaker has bossed his way into the headlines again. The man who was once just a plucky amateur, a fresh-faced 27-year-old accountant from Tennessee changing the poker landscape, tonight came of age as a high roller.

Moneymaker, now 48, beat a field of 163 entries to claim the first Triton title of his career, along with $903,000. It came in the $25,000 GG Million$ tournament, which kicked off Triton’s visit to the Maestral Resort in Montenegro.

“I wasn’t going to lose today,” Moneymaker told reporters as he celebrated his victory, calling home and then hugging friends on the rail. “I could have put it in with any hand and I would have won. I ran pure.”

Moneymaker was on the brink of elimination on the bubble, when he got a tiny stack into the middle and needed to hit an ace to survive. It came on the river, steering him into the money and beginning another boom. This time it was his stack, which just kept growing through the next few hours.

Moneymaker said: “I hit a three-outer, a six outer. I thought to myself, ‘You know what, this is going to be 2003. I’m not going to lose any more hands today.'”

Chris Moneymaker begins celebrations with Brian Kim, his beaten heads-up opponent

It ended with Moneymaker downing countryman Brian Kim heads up to land another famous triumph. It was once said that if Moneymaker could win the World Series, anyone could, and that sent millions of players to their local casinos or the online tables. If anyone wants to try to emulate Moneymaker on the Triton Series, there are 15 more events here in Montenegro for them to have a go.

And the man himself would encourage it.

“I don’t really play a whole lot of high rollers, but when I do I enjoy it,” Moneymaker said. “I probably won’t play a ton more, but I’m sure I’ll be back out at a Triton stop. They do a really good job. It’s insane how well they run tournaments.”


Our first tournament of the trip meant the first bubble of the trip and it’s conceivable that we don’t see another to match the drama and duration of this one.

In early going, there was the rare sight of two WSOP Main Event champions all in and under threat on neighbouring tables, but Hossein Ensan and Chris Moneymaker both doubled up.

That came to be a lasting theme as short stacks around the room survived numerous tense moments. Moneymaker was again among them (he’d put himself back in the mire by bluffing off most of his stack to Igor Yaroshevskyy), but Moneymaker again pulled a spectacular Houdini act. Faced with two opponents, Biao Ding and Brandon Hamlet, Moneymaker got his last chips in with AdJc.

Chris Moneymaker managed a series of unlikely double ups to survive

Ding and Hamlet played through the streets until Ding folded with four community cards showing: 6c8d9h2h. That’s when Hamlet showed his pocket queens, leaving Moneymaker drawing to three outs. With cameras poised to watch his elimination, the dealer delivered the Ac on the turn to keep him alive. And Moneymaker set about making the most of this reprieve.

Malaysia’s Kiat Lee, by contrast, finally became the unfortunate man to end all the pain. He was involved in a pot against Byron Kaverman, with Kaverman having recently doubled thanks to some pocket kings. Kaverman and Lee got to a flop of TdTs8h, at which point the remainder of Lee’s chips landed over the line.

Lee had Jd8c but Kaverman had found another monster pocket pair. His pocket aces were now super strong thanks to the two tens on the flop, meaning even the Jc turn didn’t help Lee. The Qd ended it and burst the bubble. It left 27 in the money.

After a long and tortuous bubble, Kiat Lee relieved the tension

At this stage, Moneymaker was still one of the short stacks, despite the double up. But in another prolonged period of play, as the field slowly thinned to its final table of nine, Moneymaker began a steady upward rise.

Ensan was one of those going in the other direction, landing on the rail alongside players including Phil Ivey, Patrik Antonius, Nick Petrangelo and Seth Davies. The tournament got stuck for more than an hour with 10 players left, but Moneymaker knocked out Kaverman with pocket tens against AsJc, and set the final.

That final coup vaulted Moneymaker all the way to the top. The final table lined up as follows:

Chris Moneymaker – 11,300,000 (57 BBs)
Biao Ding – 6,125,000 (31 BBs)
Adrian Mateos – 5,250,000 (26 BBs)
Brian Kim – 5,000,000 (25 BBs)
Danilo Velasevic – 4,350,000 (22 BBs)
Lewis Spencer – 3,350,000 (17 BBs)
Isaac Haxton – 2,575,000 (13 BBs)
Morten Klein – 1,800,000 (9 BBs)
Igor Yaroshevskyy – 1,000,000 (5 BBs)

Triton Montenegro Event 1 final table players (clockwise from back left): Brian Kim, Ding Biao, Igor Yaroshevskyy, Lewis Spencer, Chris Moneymaker, Danilo Velasevic, Adrian Mateos, Morten Klein, Isaac Haxton.

The tournament was nothing if not shallow at this stage, with only Moneymaker able to feel even slightly comfortable. However, every payjump was worth navigating and nobody was preparing to throw caution to the wind.

Isaac Haxton became the first player eliminated from the final table, and that was only because he found a mid-sized pocket pair at the same time as Ding Biao had a bigger one. After Moneymaker opened from mid-position, Biao called on the button with pocket jacks.

Haxton had pocket nines in the small blind and sensed a good squeeze spot. The chips went in, Moneymaker folded, but Biao snapped Haxton off. The board ran dry and Haxton was bumped in ninth for €91,300.

Isaac Haxton continues the hunt for a first title

Morten Klein was still among the short stacks at this stage and the Norwegian high roller wasn’t able to get the double up he needed. Klein lost about half his stack when he got involved in a pot against Brian Kim where Kim three-bet shoved the turn on a board showing two jacks.

Klein folded to fight another day, but lasted only two hands more. Kim again was his nemesis, opening from the button, then calling Klein’s three-bet jam from the big blind. Klein’s QcJh lost to Kim’s Ac7c, leaving Klein with $110,500 for eighth. It also put Kim to the top of the chip counts, but only with 35 big blinds.

No more Morten Klein

In the GGMillion$ format, the blind increases are determined by the number of hands played rather than by the clock. But there’s still the grim inevitability of those levels going up and short stacks becoming even shorter. By the time players went on a break at the end of Level 25, the average stack sat at only 15 big blinds, with the chip leader sitting with 30.

It was inevitable that eliminations would now come in a hurry, but three players in as many hands was still a comparatively rare sight. Lewis Spencer, Adrian Mateos and Danilo Velasevic went bang, bang, bang.

Lewis Spencer’s face says it all

Spencer three-bet shoved pocket threes over Moneymaker’s button open, but Moneymaker’s pocket nines were better throughout. However, Mateos’ bust was a good deal more grim: he raise/called Kim’s big blind shove when Kim was the man now sitting with pocket threes.

Mateos had pocket jacks, but Kim spiked a three on the river to fell Mateos.

Adrian Mateos gets rivered by Brian Kim

Kim’s roll wasn’t done. On the very next hand, he had AsQc and Velasevic this time had pocket jacks. This time Kim hit his killer ace on the turn and Velasevic hit the skids.

Danilo Velasevic became the third player out in three hands

The two players at the top of the counts both won big pots, while Spencer collected $153,000 for seventh, Mateos took $209,500 for sixth and Velasevic won $272,000 for fifth. Igor Yaroshevskyy, who had found a lucky double before all this carnage (cracking kings with QsTh) looked on with glee.

Kim was in a commanding lead, but Moneymaker soon gave him a taste of his own medicine. The two chip leaders clashed with Moneymaker three-bet ripping from the big blind after Kim opened the button.

Kim wasn’t bluffing though. He had pocket queens. Moneymaker was in trouble with Kc9c, but he spiked a king on the river to not only survive, but double into the chip lead.

This was frantic now, and Ding Biao got his chips in as a three-bet shove from the button. Kim was once again the opening raiser, and once again he had a real hand. This time Kim’s AdKh beat Biao’s AsTs and they were down to three. Biao won $341,000 for fourth.

Yaroshevskyy might have been on the rail five eliminations ago, but he was now involved in the three-handed battle and guaranteed $419,000. He surely wouldn’t have complained about the end of his run at this point, losing his last four blinds with Qd3h to Moneymaker’s Ad8h.

Igor Yaroshevskyy hits unlikely double before a triple elimination

That left the two Americans heads up, with nearly $300K between first and second place. Moneymaker had the lead:

Moneymaker: 25,700,000 (51 BBs)
Kim: 15,050,000 (30 BBs)

And very soon, Moneymaker had the win.

Second place for Brian Kim, worth $609,000

The first two hands of heads up were uneventful. The third ended it all. Moneymaker opened with AcTc and Kim jammed with As8h. Moneymaker snapped him off and saw a ten on the flop to make things even better.

Two more cards couldn’t give Kim enough help. And with that, Moneymaker joins Espen Jorstad and Koray Aldemir as WSOP Main Event winners with a Triton Super High Roller title as well.

A born champion: Chris Moneymaker


Event 1 – $25,000 GG Million$ Live
Dates: May 12-13, 2024
Entries: 163 (inc. 56 re-entries)
Prize pool: $4,075,000

1 – Chris Moneymaker, USA – $903,000
2 – Brian Kim, USA – $609,000
3 – Igor Yaroshevskyy, Ukraine – $419,000
4 – Ding Biao, China – $341,000
5 – Danilo Velasevic, Serbia – $272,000
6 – Adrian Mateos, Spain – $209,500
7 – Lewis Spencer, UK – $153,000
8 – Morten Klein, Norway – $110,500
9 – Isaac Haxton, USA – $91,300

10 – Byron Kaverman, USA – $77,500
11 – Brandon Hamlet, USA – $77,500
12 – Justin Saliba, USA – $67,200
13 – Hossein Ensan, Germany – $67,200
14 – Phil Ivey, USA – $61,100
15 – Pieter Aerts, Belgium – $61,100
16 – Wai Leong Chan, Malaysia – $55,000
17 – Patrik Antonius, Finland – $55,000
18 – Ken Tong, Hong Kong – $48,900
19 – Diego Zeiter, Switzerland – $48,900
20 – Aleksandr Zubov, Russia – $48,900
21 – Nick Petrangelo, USA – $44,800
22 – Andy Ni, China – $42,900
23 – Aram Oganyan, USA – $42,900
24 – Klemens Roiter, Austria – $42,900
25 – Chris Nguyen, Germany – $42,900
26 – Seth Davies, USA – $41,000
27 – Gregoire Auzoux, France – $41,000

Photography by Joe Giron/Poker Photo Archive