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Chris Moorman: 2011’s Best All Around Player

by Julio Rodriguez |  Published: Feb 22, 2012


Ben Lamb won the 2011 Card Player Player of the Year award. Chris Moorman, as he has been known to do, finished second. But one could argue that it was Moorman who had the better year overall.

The 26-year-old crushed the live tournament scene, racking up nearly $2.3 million in earnings, but that figure makes up only a fraction of his 2011 income. Moorman also picked up over $1 million at the online tables, becoming the first player to ever finish in the top ten for both the Card Player Player of the Year and Online Player of the Year race.

In total, the Southend, United Kingdom native has banked over $5.3 million in his short stint as a pro and that doesn’t even include the other revenue he has generated thanks to very lucrative staking arrangements with some of the game’s best up-and-coming players.

His 2011 campaign, however, was by far his best, with four marquee final table appearances, including a runner-up finish at the World Series of Poker Europe main event that paid out the first seven-figure score of his career.

A Freeroll Score Jumpstarts A Career

Moorman and his younger sister grew up in constant competition, but it was Chris who obsessed over the games long after the cards had been put away. It was his father who urged him on, making it as difficult as possible to win.

“Growing up, I’d spend my time trying to beat him in anything, whether it was snooker or table tennis,” Moorman remembered. “He taught me everything he could, but as soon as I got to the level where I could beat him, he’d stop playing and move on to the next game. I remember as a 12-year-old being the youngest guy at the bridge table by about 40 years, but it wasn’t until University that I learned how to play poker and more specifically, Texas hold’em.”

Moorman found poker during his second year at the University of Essex. After signing up for an online account on a small poker site, Moorman managed to finish second in a freeroll for £120, which gave him the start of his bankroll.

“I managed to grind that money up to £500 by playing nothing but sit-n-gos,” he said. “Since I felt unstoppable, I jumped into cash games and immediately got crushed down to my last £20. I figured I was done with poker and that it was fun while it lasted, but I managed to win one last big sit-n-go to keep some money in my account. You’d think I’d stick to sit-n-gos, but I was determined to win in the cash games. After about a year, I was playing £5-£10 no-limit hold’em.”

After the online site he was playing on closed, Moorman was forced to move his money over to PokerStars and Full Tilt, where the competition was far tougher.

“I couldn’t get my poker tracking software to work right away, so I decided to mess around in some tournaments, which was probably for the best since the cash games were definitely much harder on those two sites than what I was used to,” Moorman said. “I wound up making a big Sunday final table right off the bat, so I decided to keep playing. At the time, I had a bad habit of playing non-stop until I turned a losing session into a profitable one. I remember being up playing for two days at a time on several occasions. Tournaments kind of kept me under control, since there wasn’t much I could do other than play them during the peak times. With cash games, there was always the risk of getting out of line and losing my entire bankroll, but since I was playing the biggest tournaments on the site, there was really no way I could go broke without experiencing a prolonged downswing.”

Moorman was doing okay at University. He had decent grades, but poker was his true passion. “I was making the minimum effort,” he admitted. “I did finish school with a degree in economics, but I didn’t have the best marks. In England, your grades influence the strength of your degree. Had I pursued a career in economics, I would’ve been forced to start from the bottom. Because of that, it wasn’t too difficult of a decision to give poker a shot. I told my parents that I had saved up some money, about £25,000 or so and would spend six months seeing if I could do it.”

Though he still hasn’t used his degree in a professional sense, his education has helped him avoid some of the pitfalls that plague other young poker pros who all of a sudden find themselves afflicted with “too much money syndrome.”

“I don’t like gambling,” Moorman said. “But I do like edges. Anything I do with my money has to have a positive expectation. Poker, in many ways, is just investing. Those who do their homework and know their stuff are likely to get a nice return on their investment, and those who don’t are likely to lose it all. You see all of these high-roller events going on and they don’t usually interest me. I’d much rather play an event with a big field of amateurs than compete against a small field of the best players in the world. That may seem pretty obvious to some people, but there are a lot of egos in the poker community and many players feel the need to prove something.”

A House Divided With Their Support

Moorman had no problem convincing his father that he could make a career out of poker, but his mother was a tough sell.

“My dad has always been a big supporter of my choice to become a professional poker player and I think that’s because he already loved games when I started playing it. My mother, on the other hand, is only recently starting to come around to the idea of me playing poker for a living. For the first year, she would send me notices for job openings through the mail, wondering when I was going to grow out of this phase I was going through. I understand that she’s only concerned for my well being, but it was definitely difficult at first to explain that not only was poker a legitimate profession, but that I could excel at it.”

Moorman went further, describing an amusing conversation he had with his mother after a rough start with live tournaments. “My mother happened to catch some poker on television and called me up to ask why the other players were wearing sunglasses at the table. I explained to her that it was allowed and that it sometimes helped to make it harder for others to read the player. She then asked me why I didn’t wear sunglasses and I said that I would feel silly wearing sunglasses inside. She then said that I might as well try it, since I couldn’t possibly do any worse than I was already doing. That’s my mom,” he said with a laugh.

While his mother still needed convincing outside of his newfound income, his father just needed to look at his bank statements. “My dad took it upon himself during that time to kind of police my career. I was really careful with my bankroll and made sure to keep accurate records. I can’t remember the exact amount of money I had earned after that first six months were finished, but at that point, my dad was very impressed and even asked me to teach him how to play the game.”

Climbing The Rankings

Moorman began his ascent up the online poker rankings and quickly found himself among the best players in the world, as tracked by Online Player of the Year. In 2008, he finished the year ranked 19th. In 2009, he improved to fourth place. In 2010, he finished in second place to Steve “gboro780” Gross, a player he calls the best in the world. This year, despite a heavy emphasis on live poker, he still managed to nab a top-ten spot.

Though his numbers have always been impressive, Moorman insists that while the rankings were important to him, it wasn’t about ego. “Back then, I really wanted the recognition,” he explained. “Not because I wanted to be known as the best. I just wanted to have better access to the other great players from around the world. Really, the rankings were just a great way to network with other top pros.”

Ironically, it was those pros that helped him improve on his live game, which was showcased during his breakout 2011 campaign. Moorman started off the year by final tabling the Aussie Millions main event. He then cashed five times at the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas, scoring a third- and second-place finish. A few months later, he finished second once again, this time in the WSOP Europe main event to Elio Fox. Though he failed to book a win, his performances were enough to award him a runner-up finish in the 2011 Card Player Player of the Year race.

Moorman has come a long way since his first live event in 2006, which saw him crumble under the pressure that many online pros face during their initial experience on the felt. “I had won a seat into the WSOP main event online, but my first real live event was a $1,500 side event that took place about a week prior. When I sat down, only half of the seats were filled, which I thought was a bit odd. After a few orbits, David Williams, Kathy Liebert and Antonio Esfandiari all sat down to fill out the table. I was so awestruck, that I really had no chance in the tournament. I busted pretty early, but I told myself that the next time I played in an event like that, I would be ready. At the end of the day, we’re all playing the same game. After that, I wasn’t scared of anybody.”

Still, Moorman didn’t find overnight success just because he was no longer nervous. While online poker continued to be kind to him, live poker spent a couple of years kicking him in the face.

“Before 2011, I had a lot of close calls. I’d build up big stacks in events and lose it all on a coin flip or bad beat. This year, the variance finally started to go my way. Instead of busting on the final table bubble, I was now going into final tables with the chip lead. I also kept telling myself that I didn’t need to win every pot. I’ve definitely become more patient.”

Moorman also attributed his success to the time he put in online, which allowed him to stay informed on the latest trade secrets. “I didn’t want to be one of those guys who got some live success and saw his online game deteriorate,” he said. “It’s really important, not only for your bankroll, but also your development as a player, to keep yourself up to date with the latest trends and tricks in both areas of the game. The fact is that live poker can be pretty swingy, but there are enough tournaments online every week to balance out that variance.”

Moorman led the U.K. invasion in 2011, which saw a number of young, successful British pros take down big events all over the world. It’s that built-in support system that made every tournament series feel more like a party than a job.

“All of the Brits tend to stick together and I think last year was kind of our coming out party,” Moorman said. “If you look at 2011 as a whole, you’d be impressed with the performances of not only myself, but guys like Jake Cody, James Dempsey, Sam Trickett, Toby Lewis and many others. There’s an incredible amount of support within that crew. If one of us busts from a tournament, then they’re right there on the rail cheering the others on to victory. In many ways, it’s kind of like England against the world.”

Always The Bridesmaid, Not Yet The Bride…

You may have noticed a running theme in this story. Chris Moorman finishes second, a lot. Though he’s eager to point it out as a running joke, Moorman did admit that it’s tough not to look back at certain decisions with some regret, but he’s not going to let it overshadow his accomplishments.

“I’m getting used to finishing second,” he said, half jokingly. “Not only did I finish second in the WSOP Player of the Year race to Ben Lamb, but now I’ve finished second to him in the Card Player race as well. To make matters worse, I somehow also managed to finish second in two bracelet events in 2011. That’s been extremely frustrating for me, but at the same time, I try to keep things in perspective. Poker isn’t like tennis, in that you have a limited shelf life. It’s not like I’ve lost in the finals at Wimbledon, because I plan to keep playing for the next five decades or so, which will give me many more opportunities. It’s just a matter of time, really.”

That being said, Moorman was quick to point that it’s not like he’s never won a live tournament before.

“Believe it or not, I do know what it feels like to close out a win. Last summer, before the WSOP, a couple of my pals and I went and played in a £50 tournament at a nearby bar. A friend of mine always says that success breeds success, so I figured what better way to kick start my own success than by taking down that small event. I won about £1,000, and I was probably taking it way too seriously, but it really did help with my confidence the rest of the year. Now I just have to do it again in a real tournament. Perhaps it will happen in 2012.” ♠