You know Sammmy Farha. You've seen him on TV. You've probably seen him in Vegas. Hell, I'd say there's more than a couple of you who have played against him. He's poker's version of famous. So are Dan Harrington, Jason Lester, Amir Vahedi, David Grey, and David Singer.
Each one of them will celebrate an anniversary next week. It's one we should all celebrate, in fact.
Five years ago next week, Chris Moneymaker won the 2003 World Series of Poker.
A couple of days ago, my wife and I put our kid to bed. Any parent knows what it feels like to exhale after another long day. I collapsed in my chair and looked at the woman who had once been my drinking buddy and is now the much-too-fit mother of my only child.
"I don't remember what it felt like," I said. "What was our life like before we had a kid?"
"We were never here," she smirked. And she was right. Five years ago, if we weren't working, we were out at a show, a bar, or a camp site. Still, it was nearly impossible to remember what life was like before the kid revolution on Mt. Otis.
Even if you lived the poker life before the poker revolution, I bet it's very hard to remember what it was like in the days before the 2003 World Series of Poker. Nine men sat at that final table. Many of them became famous. One of them helped revolutionize poker.
Now, five years later, it's interesting to look back and see what happened to them.
David Singer--9th place--Once a seven-card stud grinder, Singer's ninth place finish and $120,000 payday at the 2003 WSOP was, at the time, his biggest cash ever. Since then, however, Singer has become a well-respected tournament pro and has amassed more than $3.5 million in winnings. He's a red pro at Full Tilt Poker. In 2007, he final tabled the WSOP $50,000 HORSE event and won the first ever Caesars Palace Classic for $1 million.
David Grey--8th place--Unlike most people at the final table, Grey actually made more money in a previous event than he did at the 2003 WSOP final table. He won nearly $200,000 in 1999 for a victory in a seven card stud event. In 2003, he earned $160,000. Since 2003, Grey has had just one other six figure cash. In 2005, he won a little more than $365,000 for his bracelet win in the No Limit Deuce to Seven Lowball event at the WSOP. He's still a regular on the poker circuit and made it to the final three tables of the WPT Championship last month.
Young Pak--7th place--You remember him? Because I certainly don't. Regardless, he was there at the same final table with the rest of these guys. He placed seventh and won $200,000. There has been no reason for you to hear from him since. He cashed in a few more events in the following years. However, 2006 was the last time he cashed in a major poker tournament.
Amir Vahedi--6th place--Vahedi is one of those people who was around long before 2003 and will be around until someone poisons his cigar. Few people know that his final table finish was not his biggest win at the 2003 WSOP. Just a couple of weeks before the 2003 main event, Vahedi won a bracelet in another event for $270,000. His sixth place finish in the main event earned him $250,000. Today, he has more than $3 million in career tournament winnings. Just last month, he was bubbled the WPT TV table in his seveth place finish at the WPT Championship. In 2007, he cashed in 14 tournaments.
Tomer Benvenisti--5th place--I can still hear Lon McEachern saying Benvenisiti's name. Problem is, I haven't heard him say it since the 2003 broadcast. While Benvenisiti stood a great chance at becoming as big of a star as the rest of the people at the table, he simply didn't. He's still playing, though. Just last month, Benvenisti cashed in a prelim tournament at the Caesars WSOP Circuit event. He won $1,379.
Jason Lester--4th place--Before the 2003 World Series, Lester had never won more than $29,000 in a poker tournament. His fourth place finish in 2003 earned him $440,000. While his name is not held in the same reverence as many of the other people at this final table, he has managed to win more than $1.6 million in tournament poker and a WSOP bracelet in Pot-Limit hold'em. His last cash was at last year's WSOP.
Dan Harrington--3rd place--Harrington is one of a few people from the 2003 final table that needs no introduction. His books and record have come to speak for themselves. With $6 million in career tourney earnings, Action Dan has won more tournament money than any other single player at the 2003 final table. In August 2007, Harrington won more than $1.5 million in the WPT Legends of Poker event. It was his first first place finish since the year 2000.
Sammy Farha--2nd place--Farha's heads-up match with Chris Moneymaker is now the stuff of legend. It's usually forgotten that Farha won $1.3 million at that final table. Thanks in part to GSN's High Stakes Poker, Farha has become as well known for his high stakes cash play as he was for his runner-up finish in 2003. Regardless, he's still active on the tournament circuit. He won $398,560 and a WSOP bracelet in 2006 for a first place finish in the Omaha Hi-Lo event. Still, he hasn't made a major tournament cash since April 2007.
Chris Moneymaker--2003 World Series Champion-By the end of 2003, nearly everyone knew that Moneymaker had no poker past. His $2.5 million win gauranteed him a poker future. Shortly after his revolutionary win, Moneymaker earned another $200,000 in the WPT Shooting Star event. Although he has cashed a few more times since then (he has ten total cashes for around $2.8 million in live tournament winnings), he has not come close to hise 2003 success. Still, he is one of PokerStars' top pros and continues to play around the world.
Outside of the birth of the WSOP and the birth of the main event satellites, there haven't been many more important times for poker than 2003. Televised poker boomed, online poker boomed, the WSOP boomed. Everyone can say what they will about Moneymaker's talent or how the "poker boom would've happened anyway." I, for one, choose to give credit where credit is due.
It's now been five years since that May night when Moneymaker helped open the tent to everybody. Seven out of the nine people at the final table are what could still be described as "name pros." Poker, despite all the setbacks caused by the UIGEA, continues to thrive.
Next week, we can celebrate the anniversary of the day that made everything from blogger tournaments to bloggers playing in the WSOP as possible as it is today. What happened five years ago is the reason many of us can do what we do today. Whether it's making a living from poker play, poker writing, and poker affiliate deals or simply enjoying playing poker online and watching poker on TV, the 2003 WSOP played a big role in making it all happen.
That is a long way of saying, if not for the WSOP final table in 2003, we all could be trying to get on Dancing with the Stars instead of chasing gutterballs and writing about bad beats.
I think you know which one I prefer.