Book Review: The Moneymaker Effect (Author — Eric Raskin)
Chris Moneymaker holds no particular fascination for me and I have no interest in writing about him or that period again. He’s a backstabber. But his impact on poker was incalculable. Congratulations to Eric Raskin on writing the definitive story of his victory.
About a year ago, when I first heard that a new book was in the works on Chris Moneymaker’s seismic victory at the 2003 World Series of Poker, admittedly my eyes rolled in a cynical direction.
Even with the talented veteran freelance writer Eric Raskin doing all the research and organizing the narrative, I skeptically wondered what new territory could possibly be uncovered on an all-too-familiar subject known to just about anyone who’s played a hand of poker within the past decade. Virtually every poker narrative and film documentary created since then has already covered and rehashed the remarkable tale of the (then) 27-year-old accountant from Tennessee whose unlikely triumph somehow managed to ignite what became known as the “poker boom,” thereby transforming the allegorical everyman into the most accidental of cultural icons.
Indeed, we’ve already been down this road many times, and once Moneymaker released his own autobiography (Moneymaker, published in 2006), that seemed to fill the final void of any curiosity remaining among peers and public which by that time had moved on and become interested in fresher stars living out new chapters.
Raskin knew all this, upfront. He began his project with a strike against it in the literary correlative of what equals trying to get a hit. His subject matter went beyond being what some might pessimistically label as stale. Worse, any narrative he constructed would instinctively be burdened by a lack of suspense. Where’s the drama? What could possibly make this latest version of the story into a page-turner? Why buy such a book?
As we have discovered from the abundance of published historical non-fiction, what makes a great book isn’t necessarily mystery, nor a witty conclusion. The reason why there are factories of books written year after year after on people from Jesus to Nixon is that each new text sheds a different angle of light on the important historical figure and time period. Perhaps we thought we knew all there was to know. Well, many times we’re proven wrong.
Such is the case with Raskin’s highly-detailed account of the 2003 WSOP and all the remarkable things that happened before, during, and after those memorable three weeks. Released just prior to the start of this year’s WSOP, the ten-year anniversary provided an appropriate detour for reflection and reminiscence.
I opened an early galley copy sent to me by Raskin and mauled through the narrative in about three hours.
Much of the story was known to me, and then some. After all, I was one of a few dozen sources quoted by Raskin verbatim throughout. What surprised me was learning many things I didn’t know, which turned out to be quite a lot. Moreover, my perspectives on some facets of working that special year’s series — previously thought to be unshakable — were reinforced and sometimes changed.
Raskin’s genius comes in the clever layout of the subject matter and easy-to-digest presentation of material which is far more comprehensive than anything previously released. The same story gets retold again, of course, but from angles that are at times strikingly different.
Here’s just one example. No surprise that Chris Moneymaker’s version of what’s sometimes called “the bluff of the century” is markedly different from Sammy Farha’s perspective. For the first time, we also read the behind-the-scenes story about the secret deal between Moneymaker and Farha that didn’t happen. Poker history may not have changed as much on the felt of the championship final table as a dingy men’s bathroom just steps away from where contemptuous negotiations broke down and perhaps even motivated the seemingly outclassed amateur to play way over his head.
A common insider perspective of the game’s unique subculture is that the real nuggets quite often aren’t poker-centric at all. They have nothing to do with cards and chips. The real games for really big stakes take place in dimly lit hallways and on midnight telephone calls. The backstory of the crumbling Horseshoe, all the quirky characters, the greenhorn ESPN television crew which had never covered poker before, and the collective naivete among us all given that we had absolutely no clue this would turn out to be a lightning-in-a-bottle life-changing experience makes for a compelling and fun read, whether you were around back then, or not.
In the right hands, old vines can produce wonderful new vintages. This is the case with Eric Raskin’s highly-recommended “The Moneymaker Effect.”