The World Champs

Three World Champions give their take on the WSOP, exclusively to InsideEdge

I don’t think any of us believes we’re the best poker player in the world. We know we’re well above average, but we don’t assume we’re the best

What a difference a day makes in tournament poker,’ commentator Mike Sexton once mused. And in the case of the following three poker players, never a truer word was spoken. Come the end of 2003, accountant Chris Moneymaker was just about coming to terms with turning a $39 online satellite into $2.5 million hard cash. A year on and Greg Raymer’s normal suburban existence – family, home in the woods and a job as a patent lawyer – was transformed in the space of a few days in Vegas. Last year, Aussie chiropractor turned pro, Joe Hachem, beat a 5,618 field to $7.5 million, becoming a worldwide celebrity overnight.

Three men, three different backstories, but with one thing in common – their lives were changed forever by the final turn of cards at the final table of the biggest poker game in the world.We caught up with the trio during the London leg of their whistlestop ‘Three Champs’ world tour to find out what it means to be a World Champion.

What are the perks of being WSOP Champions?

Joe Hachem Last night at the Gutshot club we played a little fun tournament with some of the grassroots poker players. Seeing the enjoyment on their faces of having us there – that sums it all up.
Greg Raymer What we’re doing right now doesn’t feel like work.
Chris Moneymaker The money gives you the freedom to do what you love. I wake up with a smile on my face each morning because I get to play poker and get paid for it.

You must have a lot less time to play than you would like.

JH You got that right – the last big event I played was the EPT final inMonte Carlo in early March. That was, what, two months ago? But I’m not going to be this busy all the time. It’s part of my responsibility to make myself available for the poker community.
GR I play many fewer hours now than before I won – though it was a second job for me then.
CM Before I won the World Series I probably averaged 40 hours a week online. I’m four hours from the nearest bricks ’n’ mortar casino so that was never really a viable option.Now I’m lucky if I can find ten hours.When I’m at home me and my wife have a policy that I don’t generally play poker, we don’t watch it or talk about it. I’ll go a for half a year without playing a major tournament and it’s been that way for three years now. I look forward to the day when I get to sit down and play 12 tournaments a year.

This year’s WSOP winner is expected to pocket close to $10 million. Should the World Series just keep getting bigger?

JH There are pros and cons.One side will say, ‘The World Series main event is something for the public and we shouldn’t change it.’ The other side will say, ‘The more people that we got, the more of a crapshoot it becomes.’My feeling is, let’s keep the World Series as the World Series and then maybe have some sort of ranking outside of that where the top performing players get to play off. This [could be] for the inner sanctum of the poker world, not for the general public.
GR So what if there’s 50,000 people competing? Yeah, that means the chances of any poker player – no matter how great he or she is – winning are vanishingly small, but that’s not that big a deal. Back when it was 200 players the best player in the field probably wasn’t going to win that year either.
CM The more the merrier. We have 8,000-10,000 people this year – that’s phenomenal. You’re not going to win as often, but the prize money when you make it deep is going to be much more significant. And you actually have a better chance of making it deep because that extra 3,000 people probably aren’t as experienced and aren’t as good poker players. The more ‘dead money’ you add to the tournament, the greater your expected value. So I’d love to see it continue to grow. I like what they’re doing this year and reintroducing the HORSE event. That one will separate the men from the boys.

Has your level of poker slipped since you won your respective championships?

JH I get to practise online. I’ll try out different moves and see how well they run. We may not be playing as much as the other guys, but you’re constantly thinking about your game and evolving your play.
GR I’m better at the big buy-in tournaments. I play online several times a week. I go through my email but instead of doing it in 20 minutes, I’ll do it over an hour and play at the same time.
CM Most of the other people I play with have ten-plus years of experience on me. So my game’s improved dramatically just by being able to hang out with guys like Greg and Joe and pick their brains.
GRHe doesn’t know we’re feeding him false information!

Can whoever wins the HORSE justifiably claim to be the best player in the world?

JH No. It’s not that easy. They may have just played better on that particular day. It’s like saying I won the World Championship last year and that makes me the best player in the world. You can’t judge it on the strength of one tournament. If they were to run that event every month for the next year and they looked at the player who achieved the best results, that would be a more accurate picture.
GR I agree. We all get to say we’re World Champions in our respective years, but I don’t think any of us believes he’s the best poker player in the world, either when he won or since. We know we’re well above average, but we don’t assume we’re the best.
CM The HORSE event winner will be a good player, but anyone who enters that tournament is going to have a reasonable shot at winning it. You can sit down with a player and teach them how to play the games to a reasonable level and if they get lucky, they can win it.

Is it important for at least one big name tomake the final table?

JH It’s healthy for the game but I don’t think it’s necessary.
GR It goes to reinforce the fact that it’s a game of skill and you need skill to go a long way in a tournament.
CM If you have nine underdogs at the table, there’s no-one really to root for. Unless you have a pro or two at the table, it would sort of be a boring final table.
GR So what you’re saying is, we either need an established pro or a real asshole.

Who deserves to have won who hasn’t won yet?

JH TJ Cloutier’s definitely a guy who’s well and truly good enough and he’s won umpteen other tournaments.
CM I would say TJ as well.
GR The other guy who comes to my mind is Chip Reese.He’s been considered as the best poker player in the world, but he doesn’t really come through in tournaments. It’s not because he’s doing something wrong – I’ve played with him, I like the way he plays – he just hasn’t had enough good luck in the ones he’s entered.

Who’s the best World Champion?

CM You’d better say Chris Moneymaker!
JH Doyle Brunson is so far ahead of the rest of us in so many ways.He’s in his 70s and won the WSOP twice and plays the game at the highest level.He’s a perfect gentleman at the table – there’s never been any scandal around him.
GR Doyle is the obvious pick. If I’m not going to pick him, then I might pick Chris Ferguson because he has won so many bracelets. And his bracelets are all recent, when the fields have been bigger.

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