As regular readers know, I’ve recently joined Bruce Briggs as the co-host of the Top Pair Home Game Poker Podcast. Once in a while, on the show, we interview some of poker’s most interesting players and personalities. The first interview I joined Bruce for was with Eric Raskin, Editor of All In Magazine and author of The Moneymaker Effect. Have a listen to the interview (you can also read the transcript below), which was featured on episode 215 of the podcast.
You can also check out my review of Eric Raskin’s book, The Moneymaker Effect.
So we have got the very special guest with us first time since I joined the Top Pair podcast that we’ve done an interview
We’ve got Eric Raskin. He is the Editor-in-Chief of “All In” magazine and he’s also the author of a brand-new book that’s just debuted called “The Moneymaker Effect”, and we’re very happy to have him on the line with us and have on the show, Welcome Eric!
Thanks very much Robbie and Bruce! Great to be here.
So this book has been debuting and people are starting to talk about it.
So let me ask you what made you decide to write up this oral history of the Chris Moneymaker story, in The Moneymaker Effect?”
It was a bit of a circuitous route to get to the point where I turned it into a book. Ase some people may remember on the 10th anniversary of Moneymaker’s win – this would’ve been in May 2013 Grantland.com, the Bill Simmons website that’s owned by ESPN, ran my longform article-length version of the 2003 World Series oral history.
That had begun as a pitch I’d made to them probably 8 or 9 months prior, having this idea that it would make for an entertaining oral history. They are big on doing a big oral history article on some sports or pop-culture event every few months on the site, so it began as that. Me, pitching it to them writing this article with a target of about 15,000 words or so.
As I was working on it, doing all my interviews, interviewing 30+ people who were there, or involved in poker at the time – one of those interviews was with Phil Hellmuth. Phil said to me “This shouldn’t just be an article, this should really be a book” and I said this is a character trait that Phil Hellmuth has always had this ability to sort of see the big picture and think big and be a bit of the visionary and prior to that moment hadn’t occurred to me but he was right. So when all was said and done I had close to 100,000 words worth of raw quotes, so it seemed a shame to me only get 15,000 or so of them out there so I was sort of working on two things at once. Finishing the article to get that out there as promised for Grantland, but also keeping in the back of my mind, how I’m going to expand this into a book where you get all the side stories and it’s not just the narrow focus of Moneymaker and the boom, but it goes more in-depth on that and gets all sort of the side stories going on at the ‘03 World Series.
So yeah, from there, it got bogged down in a bit of legal tug-of-war in getting the rights to my material and all that, and I won’t bore your listeners with all the details – but ultimately, Huntington Press jumped on board and wanted to publish the book, as we got the rights and it just came out recently and, you know, we’re thrilled with the response so far.
I just finished reading the book. I’m a Kindle fan so I downloaded it and read it on my Kindle. I was amazed how many people you have in there and who you got cooperation from. To me, it seemed like a Herculean task to get some really top name, you know, A-list people in the poker industry to give you the time and sit down and give you the audience and participate in that. Was it like cattle herding cats to get all those people? Were really pretty cooperative?
Pretty much all of them that I got were cooperative. I guess the lone exception would be the ever elusive Phil Ivey. There was a funny comment was as I was doing some of my other interviews and when I would interview someone who I knew was friendly with Ivey I would ask them if they could possibly help put me in touch with them. I asked Barry Greenstein and he basically was just like “no, I don’t think I could help you there” – I asked Daniel Negreanu and he had a great line and said “I think you’re drawn pretty dead on that one buddy.” So I did not get Phil Ivey for the original Grantland article. He’s someone that through the All In connections I managed to finally get him briefly in between the article and and the book, so he was a tough one to track down. Most of the others were very cooperative and possibly the most interesting story among all the people that I interviewed it in terms of his availability was Howard Lederer, who of course is not the most popular man in poker these days. When I was doing the very initial round of interviews – this was in August 2012 – Howard has not spoken to the media at all. I guess it had been 16 months or so since Black Friday I had his email address I sent him an email and I said this is what I’m working on the oral history of the 2003 World Series of Poker.
I will not ask you questions about anything else there will be no questions about Full Tilt. It’s strictly your memories and stories from the 03 World Series and he emailed me right back and said sure happy to do it call me at this time at this number. So that was the first interview that Howard Lederer did post-Black Friday.
Yea, when I read the book I remember seeing Howard’s name in bold and I was like “whoa, that’s pretty cool – how did he end up in there?”. Yeah, it was like what rock did you have to turn over to find him? It’s unfortunate because he certainly has an epic legend in the poker community and he certainly suffered a whole lot there with all the Full Tilt stuff.
So yeah you know much as many people do hate him and have every reason to hate him he’s still a brilliant fascinating character and I think that really came through with his quotes. I shudder to think the hole that would’ve been left in this story if I hadn’t been able interview Howard, so I’m really happy I was able to get him,
You said you started doing this in 2012; you were doing the preparation for the Grantland article and it took a year till that came out – then basically almost another entire year until the book came out just recently. So what was it like for you to be spending so much time with three dozen people basically – what’s that like? I’m sure you’re not just involved, you’re also a fan just like we are of all these guys with big names… How did it feel to spend so much time talking to them and them working on the on the material on personal level?
As you know Robbie to the other sport – call poker a sport that’s another debate for another time – the other sport that I cover is boxing so they are the two passions and the two things that I cover, poker and boxing. I have to say as far as interviewing the participants in these different sports, poker goes far and above boxing in terms of the sort of interesting things that you’ll get out of an interview from the actual participants. That’s not a knock on boxers, some of whom are very interesting, but they’re just not gonna force you to think in the way that poker players will.
I love interviewing poker players especially the ones from that sort of older guard from the pre-boom. There are certainly plenty of twenty-something hoodie-wearing sunglasses-wearing guy with their big headphones on refused to get up before four in the afternoon kind of guys who maybe are not so fun to interview but almost all the people that I interviewed for this book are just really fascinating characters and interviewing them for the most part was a blast. I mean if you know if you guys have ever spoken to Daniel Negreanu you know that his the personality you see on TV comes across in every interview that does he just has that that charisma that it comes across instantly.
Phil Hellmuth is just such a bizarre character and just out there on his own little planet but he loves talking to the media you he loves promoting himself and getting himself out there; the name dropping; lots of self congratulation going on all but that’s great for the book when you have your subjects going off on a side rant about some and that Sammy Farha played horribly and got lucky and you know that’s the sort of thing that was never going to make the Grantland version but it’s great to be able to tuck it into the book.
You know our emphasis here on Top Pair is the Home Game audience that we try to cater to slab a lot of things to them and the reading your book it just crystallized for me what a benchmark that WSOP in 2003 was for poker in general and home game poker. We use the platform here in Salt Lake to schedule our games of the meetup platform and when people log on and want to join and become part of the community and getting into games and things we always have a little survey. Among the questions is “how did you get involved with poker and start playing poker?” I bet you it’s 85% – they’ll say in school we used to play a little draw poker and I never really found a passion for it until the Moneymaker thing. That Moneymaker Effect for home game poker I think had a huge effect and is just amazing that that term has become almost the a legendary term. People go around and say let’s start playing this, sharpen our skills and I’ll be the next guy to win $3 million.
I hope it’s not trademarked – if so probably about to get hit with a big suit. But you know as you’re reading the book Chris Moneymaker himself was a home game player but you know before he even heard of Texas hold ’em he talks about how he and his buddies would get together and play Chase the Queen and then deal random games like that that are not necessarily casino games. Then, when they saw Rounders that was really kind of the first time that they became aware of no limit hold ‘em and they started working that into the game a little bit. Long before he even thought about playing at the World Series of Poker he was a casual home game guy going to local casinos a bit, then he started playing online a bit. So I think the Moneymaker Effect has led people into poker through all different routes there are some people who jumped right online and started playing that way either some people who headed out to their local casino and I think probably the largest number of people in terms of the first dipping of a toe in the in the poker water would be that somebody decided to put together $10 buy-in freezeout home game or something like that and they give it a shot and found that they were having fun or were good at it or whatever and expanded from there. So yeah I think that the home game culture is a big part of what spun out of the Moneymaker Effect.
Are you among them? When you saw it on ESPN is that how you got started and then you wanted to get into the business and from there become the editor of All In magazine – is that how happened?
No, actually it kind of came about in a strange way I mean I distinctly remember when the 03 World Series was airing I was not into poker at the time and I definitely took notice of the fact that everyone seemed to be wrapped up in these ESPN broadcasts and then that they were starting a lot of my friends were starting their various home games very soon after that so I was very aware of what was going on but I didn’t really get into poker until All In launched in the summer of 04 and in very early 2005 they were looking for an editor that basically the two guys who started magazine had been doing the editing themselves or were using some sort of consultants to get the editing done for the first few issues and were ready to hire a full-time editor. I was at the time and editor for the boxing magazine The Ring looking for a new job and just down the online interview got the job and really so my passion for poker developed on the job essentially. I was not I did not have expertise in poker when I took the job that went the other way around that I had the expertise in writing and editing in and the poker learning curve had to follow.
So do you have your home game now and you’re sort of the star of the show when you when you guys all get together?
I’ve played but have never been in like a regular scheduled weekly or anything like that kind of home game in part because – you know very well how it is Robbie – with little kids it can be hard to really schedule anything up to regular basis so I’ve had a few different home games that I pop in and out of when there’s an opportunity I would not really say I get treated like a celebrity at those games by any means. If anything I try to downplay it; I think I’m a pretty good poker player a winning poker player overall especially online I cashed out a lot more than I put in and so forth but I don’t want to build up some expectation that I’m somehow anything resembling a pro and then you know these guys see that I’m not necessarily anything special as a player and you know that I’ve been built up it into something that I’m not. So you know whenever I’m at a game and meeting someone new and someone says you know Eric is the editor of All In magazine I tend to just play as best I can so you know I mean I love playing home games when I can it’s just very sporadic sort of thing.
You touched a little bit the earlier about the kind of the difference now as opposed to back then with the twenty-somethings in their hoodies and their iPhones in their sunglasses and am in overall business with a ghost table you know. They don’t really have the big flamboyant colorful personalities and in fact reading and reading your book made me kind of long for those days I used to enjoy watching notables early on TV shows when you when you got the Freddie Deeb, Eli Elezra, Sammy Farha and they were characters they were just entertaining to watch it and I know we’ve built we’ve done some airtime on that on Poker Night in America where they’re trying to get back a little bit of that but did you do you come to find out that that there’s even I think a couple folks of come out and said the poker world needs to be turned around it needs to come back to be more personalities were losing were losing people the TV shows these days are just not that entertaining a much or really really into poker. So I think this book may be part of what people will bit more towards getting a little more personality of a little more interested in an flavor and color spice to the poker world rather than these plain-vanilla automatons.
This is certainly been a hot topic in the poker world for years but especially it seems since Joe Hachem did that interview less than a year ago I think it was where he was calling out in yes was that’s right that’s where was at the Aussie Millions he was calling out some of the younger generation for not being good ambassadors for the game and I think that took this discussion up up to another level as everybody weighed in pro or con on what Joe said it certainly in an issue bit part of why poker succeeded on TV in 2003–5 the others early days of the boom was seeing Phil Hellmuth blowup even if you found it tasteless when he would berate somebody that was TV that that you couldn’t look away from Mike the Mouth about us out trash talking Greg Raymer at the 04 World Series these are the things that you will remember you know a not to single anybody out that this just one reference one man coming to mind like a Pius Heinz in 2011 sitting there in his study not really saying much you know due to I have no memories from his World Series championship run that really cut it comes come flowing back. You may remember his fans chanting his name you don’t remember anything he did though necessarily and that’s unfortunate and I think that is something poker definitely needs. Brian Koppelman though the co-writer of Rounders who wrote the foreword for my book this is a big thing for him he kind of touched on it in the foreword to out 2003 was sort of a tipping point and where poker sort of started to lose some of its charm and innocence and he actually had written an article for Grantland shortly after Black Friday where he was not celebrating Black Friday but basically saying you want to look from one positive to come out of this it it’s that poker was a lot more fun and charming in certain ways before the online generation got involved in the personalities were so big and great and it’s kind in your shutting down online poker the US for all the negatives associated with that one positive might be that it’s sort of forces poker to rebuild its character base and so I’m curious to see if that happens over the next couple years. It does seem that there are not quite as many that of the young guys at the table more of them seem to be engaging with their table makes these days than was the case 2–3 years ago.
Having read the book and the mother given a review on my cardplayer lifestyle poker blogs well and I love the and it does definitely seemed that we try to reach the largest possible audience you are not just for hard-core fans were calculating the VPIP in all that other sort of stuff though you know as the editor of All In magazine would you say that that’s similar to the audience you’re trying to reach in the magazine as well or is that more for the hard-core player?
That’s an interesting question I would say the magazine reads little more toward the hard core player although we still try to keep it open to entry for the more casual player but with the book there was a very conscious deliberate effort made to make it appeal to someone who has followed poker closely since 03 or even since long before 03 but also make it accessible to someone who really doesn’t know much about poker. We stuck to a glossary in the rules of poker just like when poker for started airing in 2003 2004 you may recall every poker show started with explanation of the rules of no limit hold them to be prepared to write exactly the hand rankings in the flop that there in the river all that. I did a bit of that in the book just so that someone coming to the book cold without any poker knowledge would be able to understand what they’re reading. We obviously don’t have to go that far with All In there’s an assumed base level of knowledge about poker for anyone who’s gonna pick up the magazine but we still try not to veer too heavily into the window 2+2 forum style you know extreme math breakdowns and things like that we read the more accessible we can make it with articles that will appeal to everyone from you know from a from a pro to a newbie in the end all points in between we do sort of try to cover that spectrum as best we can.
It’s been around since 2004?
Corrected they launched it the first issue actually had Chris Moneymaker on the cover came out at the 2004 World Series was when the magazine began.
I don’t spend 40 hours a week perusing poker but I looked through a lot of stuff and I was even familiar with the before you know getting you on board with Robbie and in the reading you know some things that he did so that’s that’s where you have you been able to bring much you know in the 10-year tenure history carve out a pretty good niche show me nobody hears cardplayer cardplayer cardplayer’s it’s kind of the 600 pound gorilla and you hear about Ante Up magazine they got a great podcast to put of you – but you’ve been pretty successful in carving out your niche and keeping a strong readership will this is sort of a new is a renewed relaunched version?
All that’s going on right now along with a lot of the industry … we faded out with around one Black Friday hit so so All In was actually out of business for a while and I was doing other things and then it relaunched last year under under new management and the guys running the company now Baxter Baldwin Pete Finley are our president and our CEO really have a great vision for making it so much more than just the magazine in fact the magazine is not any means the focal point; the website and the videos that we’re doing you know we did a video with Dan Bilzerian and it’s got over 1.5 million YouTube hits also we’ve got all these other oars in the water so to speak other go beyond just the print magazine and so it’s really exciting time to be involved with All In again but yea, to answer your question it hasn’t been a smooth smooth tenure ride there was a dip their where you have the as everybody knows the advertising money in the industry just the bottom really sellout one Black Friday at some handfuls publication survived it most didn’t but all in that I was fortunate enough that the company was able to relaunched under new leadership and about the future certainly looks great right now.
One little disclaimer to our listeners that I have written role in magazine before couple months ago and I do hope to contribute again just know to be straightforward about the disclaimer…
I’ll tell you that Robbie’s article was a very fun and very entertaining about the various poker pros follow on twitter you people can can find it on our website: allinmag.com I was it was one of the more fun articles I’ve edited so I thank you for the contribution we mentioned.
We will put some links to that too on our own actual notes every time we post a new episode on our email@example.com we put links to things we talked about in that episode so we’ll will link to the magazine as well as to the article by Robbie and of course link into your book.
I know that recently you went to the World Series to know to Las Vegas and met with Chris Moneymaker and did a big book signing I imagine that was the probably pretty cool your details little bit about what that experience will liken there being given with almost thousands of people in the know. What other sorts of promotions might you have done for the book… of course it’s your first book.
So the thing that the fact that may surprise a lot of people is that that was actually my first time meeting Chris in person even though you’re feeling what now all almost all of the interviews I did for the book were done over the phone and there are a couple of exceptions Matt Savage and Mike Sexton I caught when the WPT came through Philadelphia which is where I live I when they pass through there I caught up with them interview those guys in person everything else is pretty much was done over the phone so I’ve spent in on about over the years four or five hours on the phone with Chris Moneymaker interviewing him but had never actually met him in person so that was that was really cool actually to he agreed to help out with a book signing and I’m humble enough to realize that my name on the marquee is not going to attract a crowd Chris Moneymaker’s name is, so that was great and the people came up and bought books Chris and I signed the books if they wanted me to put up what I had I didn’t insist upon it. Chris is really a great guy really has it embraced that the concept of ambassadorship in and understands how to make a living in poker without it all coming from your wins and losses at the table is just no excuse come along way you member what it was like for him the first year or two with the struggles of dealing with the media responsibilities of being champion and all the various rumors of him blowing money on this or that are being a losing player and then so forth and he really got better at the self marketing and branding and promoting end of things and has always from day one been great with fans.
Someone who when I interviewed his dad for the book this one thing that didn’t get in there but that there was not too long after it aired on ESPN Chris was trying to make his way across the casino floor and it took him like an hour to get from one end of the casino floor to the other because everyone was just forming a crowd asking for autographs and besides basically every single one is that that’s just the kind of guy that he is the is happy to interact with fans that I was just great to have him helping out by the and lending his star power.
As far as other promotions that’s the big one so far and so now it’s just my publishers really tight awaited for the World Series to wrap up before sending the book to a lot of the mainstream publications to get it reviewed him doing up a very local signing event actually the Saturday that my wife organized just wanted to have sort of a book party for me at our local bookshop so that’s a little more small-scale than doing a signing with Chris Moneymaker at the Rio during the World Series but I was so yeah that that’s pretty much the extent of it at this point will see if there are some bigger things to come down the road for right now it’s just going on shows like this one talking about the book in the process and in continuing to get the word out there.
You know it’s amazing to me I just can’t wrap my mind around what would be like to have your last name of basically turn into a generic meaning like Kleenex or Jell-O were something you know I mean is it it’s a generic term you were the one of the areas the book I found really entertaining was when you talk about how we go through the casino dream that the 2003 contest and people would say what’s your last name and he try to explain that is my real last name is of them to something and he said I just thought it was interesting that rather than go into a long explanation he just reached into his pocket bring out his ID and say you know this is really me. I wondered at that time – man it would be really cool if you put something in there about how you’d gone on to ancestry.com and you’ve done a search for the surname Moneymaker and seen how many how many people there are with that last name out there?
I know I’m not sure I think it will one sentiment that now I can’t remember exactly who was set in the book maybe even a couple different people and set it but this prior to Chris winning the World Series a lot of people direct reaction was |had you ever even heard that name before?” I’ve never heard of a a person named Moneymaker prior to that I think that was, records would certainly not you know it’s not Smith or Jones this is a pretty a relatively uncommon rare name and I mean you just it’s one of those stories that just seems unbelievable it or somebody made a movie a fictional movie that followed the same path you would there would be certain points out it’s too unrealistic that could never happen it’s absurd but this is all actually what happened that’s amazing.
I think you’re right the probably a producer of you know of a movie if you put that script in front of him he’d say ya that’s fascinating but you’ve gotta change that name it’s about as corny as you can get.
Final question sort of would be of this is your first book of the data be like a Raymer Effect or another book that you have in the works?
I don’t have a follow-up book in the works and I haven’t put heavy thought into it it’s more the occasional light thought at some point during the interview process somebody said the 2004 main event was a great story to you should do that one next this was when it was just expected to be in an oral history article for Grantland and I kind of dismissed it I don’t think there’s another poker tormented necessarily deserves this warrants this treatment that the story has anywhere near this kind of impact.
Certainly Jamie Gold is the one that I keep coming back to as probably the next most interesting one to me because it’s still the largest field ever and because whether you loved or hated Jamie Gold he was a of sort of a captivating presence and there were a lot of plot lines that developed is that went along but it’s still I just don’t know whether the story resonates in the same way I will say that being out there in Vegas this year and it was on Day 1C that we did our book signing the Chris was getting ready to play day to the next day and had a phenomenal day to and was among the chip leaders are coming out of Day 2 I did start getting visions in my head of place you could get if he can go to the final table somehow again bears my sequels but unfortunately he flamed out very toward the end of Day 3 and fell just short of the money so that that will not be the sequel is that 2014 Main event run but am I kind of got my eyes and ears open but at this point note no plans for follow-up book.
We surely appreciate your time and know you’re busy and you got to a lot of irons in the fire and taking some time to visit with us and talk about your the book and the magazine and your impressions and it I again from some of the true of the book are just finished recently if you’re at all in the poker I think you’d find it a very entertaining read it’s a very fast read and there’s additional whole lotta people names you recognize and get the nostalgic for the remarried it says I’d highly recommend it like a say on what’s available on Kindle and Amazon will put a couple links out there are so is everything else you like to tell our listeners?
Thanks to you guys for having me on and thank you for both for your kind words about the book and just the together be there I would love it if people act check out the book and of course there the magazine’s website is allinmag.com so please check that out as well hopefully we’ll see Robbie’s second byline on there for too long but again is what thank you guys is a pleasure talking poker with you.