November 25th, 2009 1 Comments
Not enough people know that the game of poker came to America through New Orleans. Two hundred years after it was introduced here, the game exploded again in this decade, mainly due to table cameras (that enable tv audiences to see player’s hole cards) as well as the emergence of “everyman” amateurs winning the World Series of Poker Main Event in Las Vegas. Oddly, during the current 2000’s boom, New Orleans hasn’t fully capitalized on its poker history and taken its fair share of the glory. For example, today in downtown New Orleans one can see a billboard advertising the Southern Poker Championship, which is part of the prestigious World Poker Tour circuit. This large poker event will be held in Biloxi, MS. Four years ago, at the apex of the current poker boom, I argued for New Orleans to strike while the poker iron was hot. Unfortunately, we had too many other issues at the time.
A few years ago a self-employed logger in Western Maryland named Darvin Moon gained some weight, and was unable to play softball with the regularity he enjoyed. Moon, a humble family man and self-described “hillbilly”, took a break from softball and joined the 60 million Americans who play poker on a regular basis. Moon lives in a trailer at the base of Backbone Mountain, and doesn’t use the internets, email, or even cell phone voicemail. Until recently, he’d never even flown in a jet airplane. But this year Moon entered a modest $130 satellite poker tournament in West Virginia, and won the darn thing. First prize was either $10,000 cash or a trip to Las Vegas and a seat at the World Series of Poker Main Event (worth $10k). At the WSOP Main Event, Moon could compete against 6,500 other players (including most of the top professionals) and take a (long) shot at winning millions of dollars. Moon was leaning towards taking the sure $10k in cash and investing it in his logging business, which had fallen on hard times. But at the last moment he decided to play in the tourney, and his supportive wife approved.
Before we get to the rest of the story, there’s one other thing about Darvin Moon that you need to know: he’s a big Saints fan. Even though he lives in Steelers and Redskins country, he likes the Saints because he pulls for the underdog. Throughout the World Series of Poker Main Event, Moon wore his lucky Saints cap.
Darvin Moon’s story wasn’t a big deal, so to speak, until he started doing very well at the WSOP championship. This self-taught amateur poker player beat nearly everyone he faced, and collected their poker chips into a huge stack. Shockingly— with the aid of skill, bold play and a timely helping of sheer luck— Darvin Moon made the final table of the Main Event. Accomplishing this amazing feat guaranteed him at least a million dollar payday when the event resumed in November.
But that’s when the story gets even better. During the months-long hiatus* between the Main Event and the Final Table championship, all the online poker sites courted Moon. They wanted him to wear their clothes and become a human billboard touting their particular poker sites. If you’re familiar with televised poker tournaments you’ve seen the garish poker costumes that top players get paid to wear, with advertising logos from head to toe. In some cases poker players are so covered in sponsorship outerwear that it makes the advertising in stock car racing look positively subtle by comparison. Poker players agree to do it because they get handsomely compensated— especially those who are guaranteed heavy tv exposure at the Final Table of the Main Event. We’re talking five and six figure contracts, with bonuses of over a million dollars if the sponsored player wins the championship.
However, Darvin Moon was unimpressed by the overtures from the online poker sites. He’s not the sort of person who takes leave of his senses when big money is waved in his face. And Moon is certainly not the type of guy who wants to be beholden to the promotional duties that go along with the online poker sponsorship agreements. So Moon rejected all the offers, no matter how lucrative and decided to go unsponsored. He continued to wear his comfortable Saints cap throughout the tournament. Moon explained:
“[The online poker companies] want to sign me for a year and say: ‘You’ve gotta do this, you’ve gotta do that.’ You become their [bitch]”…
“I’ve been self-employed my whole life. I’ve never had a boss, I never want to have a boss. I do what I want to do every day. I’m turning down a lot of money, but I don’t really care about it. I told them: ‘You don’t have enough money to sign me and tell me what I have to do.’”
Moon’s stance has made him both a curiosity and a hero in the poker world, as he’s been told repeatedly here how great it is that he’s so principled and isn’t selling himself out.
At one point in the tournament, Moon had so many chips at the final table that he was favored to win it all. Although he wasn’t able to do so, he did place second in the Main Event and won over $5 million. Not bad. But because of his integrity and demeanor, Moon became an instant fan favorite. At no time did he seem uncomfortable or overwhelmed by the experience. He had fun, and didn’t let the money spoil it, if that makes any sense. Naturally, the media eventually dug deeper into the fantastic story of the Maryland lumberjack Saints fan who parlayed 130 bucks into $5 million. They found out that Moon doesn’t have a pristine past (he passed some bad checks), but neither does he hide from it:
“He’s the accidental folk hero baffled by his own celebrity,” [a poker blogger wrote], quoting Moon as saying, “The last time I signed an autograph, I was getting out of jail.”
Despite all the hoopla and involved in his Main Event performance, Moon continues with his logging business. He didn’t have big plans for his money other than a new modular home that will be built next to his trailer. Maybe he’ll buy a Cadillac for his father and a Corvette for himself, and donate some funds to build a better set of softball fields in his small town.
However, Moon will make a rare out-of-town trip on a jet plane during the Thanksgiving weekend. What’s the big occasion? Well, Moon will be visiting New Orleans this weekend to see his beloved Saints in person. In fact, he will be part of the coin flip ceremonies for the Saints’ Monday Night Football game against the Patriots— the biggest regular season game in Saints history (at least since the ’06 MNF game against Atlanta). The day before, a little poker bird told me that Moon will make a visit to a small private invitational poker tournament. I’ll let you know how he plays.
* So ESPN can build up the drama and national interest with televised poker highlight shows
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