LAS VEGAS -- With a name like Moneymaker, it seemed almost a given that he would turn $40 into $2.5 million and win the 34th annual World Series of Poker.
Known to his friends as "Money," Chris Moneymaker, 27, on Saturday became the first person to win the prestigious tournament by qualifying on the Internet.
"I got lucky along the way," Moneymaker said. "I bluffed a lot during this tournament, but somehow I got away with it."
Players and experts said Moneymaker's win will revolutionize poker, solidifying the merger of the Internet and big-name casinos and boosting the game's popularity.
"This is the sonic boom of poker," said Nolan Dalla, media director for the World Series of Poker. "This means anyone in their home can become a poker player. Anyone can be a champion."
Amid cheers of "Go Money," the Spring Hill, Tenn., resident faced off against Ihsan "Sam" Farha in a final round that began Friday afternoon and ended early Saturday, at Binion's Horseshoe Hotel & Casino.
After seven other players had been eliminated, $2.5 million in cash was placed on the green-felt table and the final hands were dealt under the watchful eyes of security guards toting rifles. Moneymaker, with his metallic wraparound shades, clutched a small crystal in his hand for good luck. Farha of Houston, Texas, had an unlit cigarette in one hand and a tiger figurine by his side.
The game was No-Limit Texas Hold'em, in which the players are dealt two cards each and share up to five additional cards that lie face up on the table.
Moneymaker drew a five and a four to Farha's jack and ten.
After the dealer laid out a jack, a four and a five on the table, Moneymaker stood holding two pairs to Farha's pair of jacks.
Without knowing Moneymaker's cards, Farha wagered it all -- more than $1 million in chips.
Matching the bet, Moneymaker nervously watched the dealer draw the final shared cards, an eight and a five.
Winning the tournament with a full house (three fives and two fours), the accountant threw up his fist and hugged his 55-year-old father, Mike Moneymaker of Knoxville, Tenn.
"I saw the four-five come up and I think my heart did a double-take," said the younger Moneymaker, who only began playing poker three years ago.
In his first "live" poker tournament, Moneymaker beat a handful of former World Series of Poker champs, including Dan Harrington, who was at the final table and finished third with $650,000.
The five-day tournament began Monday with a record-breaking 839 players. A surge in online gambling and a rise in the game's popularity drew dozens of unknowns seeking to battle against top players, resulting in a 33 percent increase in attendance over last year.
For more than five weeks, Binion's had been a hub of excitement as players who couldn't afford the $10,000 buy-in vied for spots in the final by winning side tournaments with entry fees as low as $50. Of the 839 players, only 63 paid the buy-in price.
Others like Moneymaker qualified on such sites as ParadisePoker.com, ultimatebet.com and PartyPoker.com.
Moneymaker, a father of a 3-month-old girl, was among 37 players who was sent to the tournament after paying $40 and qualifying at PokerStars.com.
Dan Goldman, vice president of marketing for PokerStars.com, credited Moneymaker's win to his natural card sense and the experience he gained while playing online.
"We've proven that people who play on the Internet are just as good as those who play in casinos," Goldman said.
The other players at the final table were: Amir Vahedi, a professional poker player from Southern California; Las Vegas resident and expedition tour guide Tomer Benvenitsi; David E. Singer, a professional player from Mamaroneck, N.Y.; Wall Street investor Jason Lester of New York City; Young Pak of Bainbridge, Wash.; and professional gambler David Grey.
Moneymaker, who donated $25,000 of his winnings to cancer research, said being an unknown worked to his advantage.
"I was a little underestimated because no one knew who I was," he said. "If I can win it, anybody can."
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