Poker is one of the few sports in which a mere dabbler can beat a world champion. You just need to get dealt good cards and — as philosopher Kenny Rogers is fond of pointing out — know when to hold ’em and know when to fold ’em. Every amateur player dreams of sitting down at the table with someone like Chris Moneymaker, the 2003 World Series of Poker champ and one of the subjects of the new documentary All In—The Poker Movie. So when I was invited to play a game with Moneymaker (yes, that’s his real name) and All In director Douglas Tirola before a screening at a New York hotel, I started drooling like a beagle that’s just been dealt ”bullets” (a.k.a. two aces) in one of those dogs-playing-poker paintings. How could I pass up the rare opportunity to take down one of the game’s most famous practitioners — and then mention it at every subsequent poker gathering until the cards are finally removed from my cold, dead hands?
Alas, after the game got under way, the only thing being taken down was my supply of chips. Moneymaker’s good cards and aggressive all-ins paid off, and I failed to recognize that when Tirola bet while sighing ”All right, what the hell!” he wasn’t revealing a penchant for mind games. He just had a terrible hand.
We bet only 20 bucks each, but I could feel the priceless bragging rights slipping through my fingers. Meanwhile, the amiable but acid-tongued Moneymaker kept verbally twisting the knife, criticizing my lame betting.
The next day, when I interviewed him properly, the pro had even harsher words for me when I revealed the tactics I employ at my twice-a-month poker nights. He was particularly dismissive of my signature move, ”the Ninja,” which involves betting all my chips whenever I get poker’s worst hand — a seven and two — and driving my fellow players insane with rage on the occasions when I win. ”Can you write down your number?” Moneymaker asked. Why? ”I want to follow you wherever you play, because [after a few rounds] I could retire! That is the worst strategy I’ve ever heard!”
Back at the table on game night, I was nearly all out of chips. But then: a miracle! With around 50 folks waiting to watch the documentary in the hotel’s nearby screening room, Moneymaker decided that whoever got the best cards in the next hand would win. The champ dealt me a five-seven — which is almost as wretched as a seven-two — that miraculously won when another seven appeared on the ”flop” (i.e., the first three communal cards), and my pair held up against everybody else’s dreck. That’s when I jumped up and started unsportingly screaming, ”I won! I won!”
But…I can’t really claim to have beaten a world champ, given the random nature of that final hand, can I? According to Moneymaker, I absolutely can. ”You took the money home?” he said to me. ”You won!” I won’t argue with that.