September 11, 2019
The most successful online tournament player in poker history, Chris Moorman has seen his name become synonymous with success in poker. The Los Angeles-based Brit wasn’t always as obsessed with poker as he would become, however. In fact, he went the first two decades of his life without ever playing the game, finally catching the poker bug in his first year at university.
Learn more about Moorman’s path to poker and his secret pursuit of the game in this edition of Before the Game.
Becoming a Gambler
“I was in the pool team and we went to the National Pool Championships,” says Moorman looking back on his formative years. “There was this student newspaper advertising for a tournament online for university students. It was free and you could win money. It sounded pretty good as a broke student.”
Moorman was a pool player before he found poker.
Moorman and all his friends decided to start playing it in the hope of winning some free money. They printed the rules out from the internet and played home games for pennies in the meantime.
“We were obviously terrible. Playing the online tournament every week for the first seven or eight weeks, none of us had final tabled it. Then one week, I came second. I ran really hot and got really good cards, but at the time, I thought I played well.”
I had the dilemma of whether to take my money and cash it out or become a gambler and play. I ended up choosing the latter.”
On the one hand, Moorman was pleased to have been so close to winning, and he had $250 in his account. But on the other hand, he missed out on the top prize, a seat in the live tournament in London.”
“We thought it would be the coolest thing to play face-to-face rather than on the internet. I had the dilemma of whether to take my money and cash it out or become a gambler and play. I ended up choosing the latter.”
Primed for Poker
If it was a risk, it was a calculated one, because Moorman had some method in what many would have seen as madness. The economics and business studies student had always excelled at math, and when math had turned to algebra at school, he’d switched to economics, something he could see a tangible value for in the real world of business.
“I could use real concepts and was interested in working in London where what I was doing would make a difference and wasn’t the same grind every day. I wanted something exciting that was an emotional rollercoaster. It turned out poker worked with that.”
As his business studies took more of a backseat to his growing fascination with online poker, he saw his game like a businessman might view his company, and he was enjoying the financial freedom it was affording.
“I wanted something exciting that was an emotional rollercoaster. It turned out poker worked with that.”
“When I first started playing, I was playing mainly cash games. If I had a good session, I thought ‘Now I can buy a PS4 or flat-screen TV!.’ I went from being a student with loans and a set budget to suddenly having an extra income. To make that extra income and have fun at the same time was the dream job for me.”
Moorman had some preparation for poker in his upbringing, learning Bridge from his parents while also excelling at video games. Based on his personality, a career in poker may not have been for Moorman were it not for his early success in the freeroll he went so deep in early on.
“Anything I was good at, I wanted to put more time into to get better. Anything I wasn’t good at, I would immediately give up and admit defeat,” says Moorman. “That I started off with a positive result [in poker] made me put the time in, research, read books, go on forums and play a lot and become obsessed with getting better. In an alternate universe where my friends were doing better and I wasn’t doing well, I might have given up. To find a card game I was good at and that I could make money at was the perfect storm.”
Secret Poker Pursuit
As Moorman grew in the game, his studies paid the price. Being the eldest son who had been proudly packed off to university in pursuit of a business and economics degree, Moorman didn’t want to let his parents down. But he also didn’t want to give up on a potentially burgeoning poker career. The solution? He didn’t tell them.
Chris Moorman stayed home to grind while his friends were going out.
“They didn’t know I played for the best part of two years. The first year I’d been home and got a shitty factory job paying £5 an hour for the summer. I’d worked out that by the second year, I could definitely make at least that amount and maybe a bit more if I was playing all summer.”
Moorman stayed in Essex and told his parents that he was working at a local supermarket. Instead, he was playing online poker every day.
“I played all summer and improved, doing better than I thought I was going to. That was when I thought ‘Maybe I should make this work as a career.’”
Moorman would have to drop out in his third year having got himself so far behind, skipping lectures regularly. He knew how proud his parents were, as well as being aware of the pressure on him to lead the way for his younger sister.
“In an alternate universe where my friends were doing better and I wasn’t doing well, I might have given up.”
“I didn’t want to break it to them that I’d messed it up and I didn’t want to go back and start again, which they might have made me do. I didn’t tell them that I’d dropped out. I’d told them that I’d been doing well at poker. I showed them that I’d paid off all my student loans.”
Moorman’s father told his son that he had six months to play poker as a job. Knowing that he had no degree to fall back on, and desperate to prove his decision correct, Moorman threw himself fully into the world of online poker.
“I put 110% in. I was 21. All my friends were going out on Friday and Saturday nights. I stayed in, playing drunk people online in cash games trying to build my bankroll.”
Persuading the Parents
Moorman played almost every day for those six months, doing even better than he’d hoped. He tried to avoid tilt as much as possible and grinded it out in cash games. One of his major goals early on was to get his parents on board.
“When I showed my dad what I’d made in six months, he was impressed and even wanted to learn the game himself. He thought it was cool that I was making money playing a game and was maybe a bit envious. I think we’re quite similar in that way. But my mum was a bit more concerned.”
“I was trying to show her whenever I did well and never told her about the times I lost.”
Mrs. Moorman was afraid that her son would be chased for the money he’d won and it took her a little longer to come around to her son pursuing a career in cards. She was still sending the world’s number one online player cut-outs of job advertisements from the local paper thinking that it was just a phase he was going through. Moorman did his best to convince her he was the real deal.
“Whenever I did an interview or was on a magazine cover, I sent it home to her. I was trying to show her whenever I did well and never told her about the times I lost. I didn’t want to share the swings, but it was a white lie, I was trying to protect them.”
Moorman feared that his folks might shut down his ambitions before they had a chance to flourish. Little did he know, he was about to discover a game-changer where he would find his place in the sun: online tournaments.
Read all about how Chris Moorman ditched cash games and became the world’s most successful online tournament player in history in Part Two of Before the Game: Chris Moorman.
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