When a game turned into a University student's obsession, he turned his passion into a job, and that work into a record-setting career. Ten years on, that career is now a life, and at 31-years-old, 888poker Ambassador Chris Moorman is already a legend, adding to it with every step forward in a game he still loves.
"I still have that passion for the for the game, and as long as I still have that, I'll still be here," Moorman told PokerNews from his mother's home in Brighton, UK, where he's back playing online poker and enjoying a little downtime, just a day removed from another successful run at the Barcelona, Spain stop on the European Poker Tour.
"I still get that great buzz from the game. It's obviously a different kind of buzz than it was the first time I won a tournament, but in a lot of ways I've learned to appreciate it more. I definitely appreciate that poker allows you to do things on your own time, and on your own schedule. As players, we get to travel to all these amazing places, seeing all these friends all over the world, and I really like that aspect of it. In my life, I have some friends that will stay friends no matter what changes. How close you are at the time is related only to how recently you may have seen each other, and a few months may have passed, but it's easy to renew those friendships again. You're quickly the same friends you once were, just in a different place, seeing and experiencing new things together. All this and we get to play a game for a living with the potential of enjoying a bit of luck.
"There are definitely a lot of pluses to poker. Sure, it's not as easy at it once was, but you can still make a good living, and certainly an enjoyable one. So for now, I'm still stuck on poker."
Moorman's track record speaks for itself. He is simply the biggest winner in the history of online poker tournaments, with more than $13.4 million in online cashes and counting. He's been ranked Worldwide #1 on the PocketFives Online Poker Forums and Rankings an amazing 13 times, and won a record 25 of the sites elusive Triple Crowns. It took him a while to get there, but he's also had some great success live, earning more than $4.4 million in live tournaments to date, with a win in the 2014 World Poker Tour LA Poker Classic Main Event for $1,015,460 marking the career breakthrough win he'd struggled for years to find.
It may seem hard to fathom, but it all started with an online freeroll.
Moorman played competitive Bridge as a teenager and took Billiards rather seriously while an economics student at the University of Essex. In 2005, returning from a University championship pool tournament, he and his flatmates stumbled upon an ad in a student newspaper for an online freeroll on what was then Victor Chandler Poker.
The lads made a pact: They would learn the game from the ground up together, play the freeroll on Monday nights, and no matter what happened, never make a deposit and get sucked into the world of online gambling.
"We didn't even know what poker was," Moorman said. "There wasn't really much going on Monday nights anyway, so all five of us decided to stay in and play every week. We looked up the rules online, but we were really just clicking buttons. We made a pact not to make a deposit because we really didn't want to be seen as gamblers. It's funny now, but at the time we thought we were all looking out for each other."
The first few weeks, the boys busted from the freeroll with little fanfare. Things changed dramatically for Moorman when he was home for a holiday and logged on to play alone.
"I must have had the most amazing run of cards ever because I still had no idea what I was doing, but I came second for a few hundred dollars," he said.
Moorman tried to spin it up playing low stakes sit-n-go's with mostly break even results before he discovered the $.05/$.10 cash games on the site. The misguided strategy of pushing all in every hand worked, until it didn't, with Moorman picking up $.15 in blinds time after time until someone picked up queens or better and called to bust him.
"I just thought it was rigged," Moorman said. "The truth is, I just wasn't very good."
"I must have had the most amazing run of cards ever because I still had no idea what I was doing."
Down to his last $25, Moorman let it ride in a single Sit and Go. Online poker's biggest winner was a simple turn of the cards from never having been, but fate had different plans. Moorman won, and was back to the few hundred he'd started with. He took a week's break from the game and returned with a new plan.
"I regrouped, came back and realized what I was doing wrong," he said. Moorman focused on cash games, developing a relatively tight and effective strategy for a time in the history of online poker when he admits it may have been harder to lose than win. He'd hunt bonuses on different online sites, but for the most part, the cash games on Victor Chandler Poker were his bread and butter, and soon they would consume him.
"At first, I just thought it was really fun, and the fact you could make some money playing a card game was one of the coolest things ever," Moorman said. "My dream job had always been a video game tester, writing for magazine or something like that. I was always really into games. The idea that you could play a card game where you could make money, play a few hours and you'd walk out with a few hundred dollars, it was groundbreaking for me. I wouldn't say it was an addiction because it eventually became a job for me, but it was definitely an obsession. I was hooked straight away."
It got to the point where Moorman figured he could make as much, or more, playing poker than at the summer laminating job he'd held in between his first two years at school. In between his second and final year, he weaved a tangled web of lies to his family, convincing them he was staying back at school to take a summer job at a local shop, only to be playing poker all day and watching the Ashes cricket matches with friends at night.
He did better than expected over the next few months, moving up in stakes to the $1/$2 cash games, and after meeting poker mentors David Gent and Paul Foltyn, he opened up his game and developed a more aggressive style with a bigger win rate.
"Back then the games were just so soft, it was easy," Moorman explained. "Running bad meant booking a small loss or only breaking even. It's not like today where a bad session means actually losing money, you don't win every time you play and it's really hard to win if you're not playing your A-game."
In between hands, Moorman still found a way to graduate from the University of Essex with an economics degree, but knowing his immediate future lay in playing cards, he had to come clean to his parents about what he'd been up to.
"At first, when I told my mom, she still didn't get it," Moorman said. "She thought people were chasing me down dark alleyways with guns. My dad understood better. He had played cards and knew it was possible to have an edge. He knew it was a skill game."
After Moorman showed his father the state of his finances, the fact he'd already paid off his student loans and had built some savings in the bank, they struck a deal. Moorman would have six months to prove he could make a sustainable living playing poker.
"I had to make it work in six months," he explained. "I had this taste of what life could be like and it felt so close, so I put everything I had into those six months. I had friends who wanted to go out on a Friday night, but not me, I was staying home and playing, waiting for all the drunks to come home and spew off their money. In the end, I did much better than I thought I would."
After the six months were done, Moorman pushed his bankroll up close to six figures, and instead of forcing him to go out and get another job, Moorman's father wanted his son to teach him how he did it.
Moorman's burgeoning career as a poker pro had taken off, and it wasn't long before changes at Victor Chandler forced his migration over to bigger sites like Full Tilt and PokerStars. Forced to wait for a friend's help in setting up PokerTracker software, and faced with the reality the games were tougher on these newer and more popular sites, Moorman decided to play a few Sunday tournaments, and the rest, as they say, is history.
"I made fifth in a Sunday tournament on Full Tilt for $13,000 and I realized that everyone playing in these tournaments was even worse than in the cash games," he said. "When I first started winning playing cash, I would have a good session, make $1,000, and buy a new TV or something. It was exciting, but after a while, I had bought everything I was going to buy, and the excitement wore off. It was just money going into the bank. Tournaments brought a new adrenaline rush, and then I discovered Pocket Fives and became obsessed with moving up the rankings."
For Moorman, it wasn't about the money, the titles or the accolades. It was about the connections. The further he moved up the rankings, the closer he came to some of the names he'd seen as consistent winners online. Once he crept up close behind them, it seemed less daunting to contact that player to talk about poker, see how they felt about the game, and maybe gleam something from them.
"Back then everyone was trying new stuff," he said. "The game hadn't been solved or anything like that. It was really new to everyone and most people were willing to talk and try to learn from other people who may have a different take on the game."
As his network grew, so did Moorman's game, moving from a more tight-aggressive style with a few moves, to a looser and more profitable one for the time. He quickly rose up the rankings, right up to the top, and was always hungry for more.
"The top ten rankings would come out on Wednesday and every week I would be so excited to see where I was," he said. "It really took over my life. Everything else came second to poker. If it wasn't my job, I would have probably been considered dangerously obsessed. Looking back, it was a little extreme."
The wins just kept on coming, and Moorman enjoyed every minute of it.
"I loved that winning feeling," he explained. "I would always rather win a small tournament than come third or fourth in a big tournament for more money. That's why I played seven days a week. The games were just so easy at that time, it was hard not to play. Every session I'd make a few final tables and some money. It took over my life. I really was obsessed."
Traveling the live circuit was never his first priority, but Moorman would occasionally satellite in online and travel to different tournament destinations around the globe. Having already accomplished almost everything he could online, his focus soon shifted.
Moorman had tremendous success backing players in live and online events, right out of the gate, booking a seven-figure score when one of his horses finished second in the Main Event at the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure. It wasn't long before he was backing a stable of as many as 30 players, and his own action in tournaments seemed to take a back seat to the amount he was gambling on the play of others. Moorman admits things got a little out of control.
In the PokerStars World Championship of Online Poker prior to Black Friday, he was putting so many players in the Main Event, he ran over and above the $1 million transfer limit on PokerStars, and had to borrow money elsewhere just to cover buy-ins for his players.
"When I saw I could make a million dollars in a day getting drunk on the rail while somebody else was playing, I really thought this was where it was at," Moorman admitted. "I was making a $100,000 every time someone busted. It was amazing, and I think I closed my eyes a little bit. I just thought everyone could win, or at least I could teach them how to. Honestly, I had made a lot of money that I really didn't know what to do with. I didn't drive, so I wasn't going to buy a car. I didn't know where I wanted to live, so I wasn't buying a house or anything. I didn't want to play the stock market, because I wasn't willing to put in the time to do the research. I just figured I knew poker, I knew who played good or bad, and I could back the one's I thought were good. It looked like easy money and the sky was the limit, especially having that big success early on. Before long, I had players in hundreds of thousands in makeup and I wasn't very good at cutting them off."
The backing losses mounted, and so did the pressure to win a live tournament. For all the success he'd had online, Moorman just couldn't find a way to make it work live. It seemed like he was snake bitten, continually finding himself on the losing end of key pots at crucial moments, running bad, and even running late, famously showing up three hours after the restart of a World Series of Poker Europe event in London where he'd once held the chip lead, blinding off to a spot back in the pack and never finding a way to recover.
As the number of live buy-ins continued to rise, so did questions about whether or not his online skills would ever translate to the live felt, and if he would ever find a way to break through.
Black Friday hit and Moorman finally got out of a backing cycle that seemed destined to ruin him. Suddenly, the focus was back on him, and the live results began to show it.
"In 2011 I made the final table of the Aussie Millions and that year at the WSOP it seemed like I was deep in everything," he said. "I almost won Player of the Year and I don't even play mixed games. It was crazy.
"That year after Black Friday was a big breakthrough for me live. Before that, I was backing 30 guys and focusing on my poker seemed pointless, with all that weighing over my head. I had pretty much reached all my goals online, having reached number one on Pocket Fives. I didn't really know what was next for me. After Black Friday, I was able to just focus on myself again. I had a big year when it was just me. I didn't even change that much. Sure, I made some slight adjustments in my game, but I was really still doing similar stuff. The difference was now I was winning all ins at the crucial times instead of losing. That year gave me a lot of confidence."
Things also changed personally for Moorman at that time. He had continued to profitably stake Jason Koon, and when Koon got heads up for a bracelet at the WSOP, Moorman turned up on the rail, meeting longtime poker agent and mutual friend Katie Lindsay for the first time. Moorman didn't get a new agent out of the meeting, but he and Lindsay did start dating.
By the time the 2014 WPT LA Poker Classic Main Event rolled around, Moorman was splitting time between Canada and Mexico to play online poker, and Los Angeles, where his relationship with Lindsay had grown to be quite serious.
"The backing thing was really a huge hit to my bankroll," Moorman explained. "I knew I wanted to ask her to marry me, but I wanted to be a bit more financially secure before I did it, so I was kind of waiting to book a big score before I popped the question. I had been waiting for a few months actually because I asked her dad for permission back in November and the LA Poker Classic was already in February. Her mom had kind of spilled the beans a bit when we got in a bit of a fight in December and she mentioned she might not want to leave me just yet since I'd already asked for her father's permission to marry her.
"She must have thought I'd gotten cold feet because we'd been traveling to all these exotic locations around the world that would have been the perfect places to ask, but I was really waiting until I was a little more financially secure. Then the big win in LA came, and it was perfect."
There weeks later, he planned a surprise engagement party and finally asked. Lindsay said yes, and within months, the poker power couple made it official.
Having Lindsay in his life has forced Moorman to strike a balance between the personal and the professional. He still plays online poker, inking a deal with 888poker this summer to represent the site as an ambassador, but it is no longer the obsession it once was. He plays when he's on the road in countries where it's legal. When he's back in LA, he and Lindsay spend their time doing what you would expect a young couple to do, and that rarely includes poker.
It's an older and more mature Moorman that turns up periodically on the live tournament circuit now, or online, playing when he really feels like he wants to, and not because he has to.
"When I sat down in the High Roller in Barcelona a few days ago I was sure I was the oldest person at the table," he said. "Now I'm back in England playing online and with WCOOP coming up, I started to wonder how I did it before, day after day, waking up at 4 p.m. and playing until you can go to sleep at 8 a.m. The time schedule over here is brutal. So I do feel a bit older in that respect.
"I also feel a bit wiser, having been through a lot of ups and downs in poker. Now I have a lot friends who are a bit younger and it feels nice to be able to help them go through some difficult times. Now I'm the one who is older and wiser and they ask me for advice. Even so, all that experience really doesn't matter when you're on a long downswing. It still gets to you, it doesn't matter how much success you've had in past. In poker, it's all week to week. One week you can feel amazing, the next you're useless, and that never seems to go away. You just learn to tone it down a little.
"The game has changed so much over the years, and these days, I'm not always making poker my number one priority. I'm older, and I have other things going on in my life, so I can't put as much time towards the game as is ideally best. I have to use the time I can spend on the game wisely, not waste it, and understand that it's hard to go through a stretch where you're not not winning and you start thinking maybe it's time to do something else. Then you win and you suddenly think you're invincible again. None of it's real, but it's easy to buy in to, especially as you get older. There are many sports where it's easy to see your time is done, when you physically can't do the same things you once did after you hit a certain age. That's not really the case in poker. You can be successful when you're much older, even when it's hard to find as much time to play. You can still have the the edge you gain from all that experience, the trick is to use that as an advantage."
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