What’s it like to grind 16 tables and dozens of tournaments a night? Paul Cheung sweats online MTT expert Chris ‘Moorman1’ Moorman, to find out how he made his millions
It’s 6.31am on a Thursday morning and I’m finding it seriously hard to stay awake. Barefooted, I run outside into a quiet street in Essex, hoping the chilly morning air will do the trick. It does, momentarily, and I hop back into the house. For the past 12 hours I’ve been sitting at the side of arguably the world’s best online tournament player, Chris ‘Moorman1’ Moorman, and the experience has forced me to rethink a few things.
First, the life of an online tournament pro is hard, verging on torturous, and distinctly unglamorous. It’s a life of takeaways, five-minute toilet breaks and frenzied mouse-clicking. Second, I’ve come to the conclusion that Moorman must be a machine. I’m talking T-800 titanium endoskeleton, covered in flesh, and powered by a supercomputer. It’s the only way to explain how someone can play 32 back-to-back tournaments, negotiate 12 tables simultaneously, and still retain the energy levels of a Duracell Bunny. Things are getting tense. There’s one table left on screen (the $33k guaranteed on Full Tilt which started at half-past midnight), and he’s fourth out of four. Whatever happens, Moorman is at least $6,000 in profit for the night, but he’ll sleep a little easier if he can pocket the $16k first prize. I may be bleary-eyed but he’s still in high spirits. ‘I’m not tired,’ he says. ‘I probably wouldn’t be able to sleep right now.’ He guzzles down the rest of his Diet Coke, pushes the can next to a long line of empties, and gets his game face on.
Yesterday, Wednesday, March 17, Moorman was telling me he was homeless. He explained how he’d moved out of his place in Brighton to go on an extended trip to New Zealand and he’s now without fixed abode. Over the last few days he’s been hopping between his mum’s house in Rayleigh and his dad’s house here in Ingrave – both just a few miles apart in Essex. Despite his current nomadic status, Moorman’s standard schedule of playing poker every day from Sunday to Wednesday, and spending the rest of the week partying, seeing friends and watching football, has barely been disrupted. ‘I’ll normally just sit on the sofa with my laptop, so I don’t find there’s that much difference.’ And now he’s happily invited me to sit with him through the night as he comes to the end of his standard working week.
When I arrive at 6.30pm, Chris has already fired up six tournaments, ranging from the $100 rebuy on PokerStars to a $20 MiniFTOPS 8-game on Full Tilt. He admits he’s particularly relaxed because of the last few days’ results. ‘On Sunday I won the Sunday Brawl ($109,620), then the next day I won the $100 rebuy on Full Tilt ($12,180) and yesterday I won an EPT Grand Final seat. So maybe we’ll win something today as well. Whatever happens, I’m not allowed to moan for the next month!’
The first thing I notice is just how casual Moorman is when he plays. He has eight tournaments up and running but could converse as easily as if he had nothing on the screen. His clicking is metronomic, his decision-making lightning-quick. ‘Normally I play 16 tables,’ he says nonchalantly and without a hint of ego. ‘At the start of the session there’s not much going on. I’m playing a few less so I can concentrate and talk to you. This one’s in a rebuy period and in this one I’ve got no chips anyway. This one’s the only one I’m trying to focus on a little bit,’ he says, pointing at the 8-game table. ‘I’m playing limit Stud Hi and I don’t have a clue what I’m doing!’
At this point Moorman’s dad, Simon, walks in and can’t resist ribbing his son about having a better live tournament record. Last year, Moorman bought his dad into the GUKPT Manchester main event and he duly went and won it. The banter flows freely between them and Simon neatly segues into a dig about Chris never withdrawing a penny from his wins. ‘He should be maximising his returns on it,’ says his dad. ‘If I was withdrawing it I wouldn’t do anything with it!’ replies Chris. Simon nods sympathetically, understanding his son’s dilemma. ‘The obvious thing to do would be to go and buy a place, but where do you buy?’ his dad says. ‘He’s got friends everywhere in the world so it’s very difficult.’
Simon is clearly one of his son’s biggest fans, but after his father leaves Moorman reveals that when he first started playing in the second year of university it was all cloak and dagger with his parents. ‘I was playing twice a week and at the end of the second year I stayed at uni with a mate after everyone went home for the summer,’ he says. ‘I told my parents I had a job in Asda but I was actually playing poker. I worked out that playing $0.25/$0.50 cash games, four games at a time, I’d make more than I would with a job and I’d get to stay at home and be lazy. That was the year England won the Ashes, so we were staying at home, playing poker. It was pretty much perfect…’
By the end of the summer Moorman had moved up to the $1/$2 tables, but the most revelationary aspect of his early career was realising that he might be an MTT specialist. ‘I think I won $5,000 in a tournament. It helped me make about $15,000 that summer, which was far above what I’d intended to make.’
His newfound talent was more than a slight hindrance to his economics degree. Instead of lectures and tutorials he was gobbling up all the information he could on poker forums and trading opinions with the online fraternity. He stumbled to a third-class degree – but if uni is about preparing you for the outside world, Moorman was graduating with first class honours. ‘I paid off my student loans and had ?30,000 in the bank, so I’d made ?50k-?60k in the third year.’
A career in poker was the obvious step – he just had to convince his dad that it was the right move. ‘I spoke to my dad, he saw how much I’d earned, and he made me pay off all my loans. Then he said, “Okay, come back to me in six months and we’ll see how much you’ve made since then.” Then, during that six months, I started to do really well.’
To list all of Moorman’s online achievements since he turned pro in 2006 would take up the rest of the magazine, but some simple statistics should give you some idea of why he’s considered the best online tournament player in the world. He has won over $2.8m, made 728 cashes and final-tabled 178 times (at time of writing). He holds the record for largest number of PocketFives.com Triple Crowns, which means that on nine occasions he has won three major online tournaments in the space of a week. It’s an astounding set of numbers, and one that completely reinforces the belief that putting in incredible amounts of volume is the key strength all the top online players possess. As Yevgeniy Timoshenko recently said, ‘Players like Moorman can play a lot of tables at a time, and play five days a week for a year and not lose their mind. That’s really tough to do.’
Moorman knows better than anyone what a grind it can be, which is why last year he was looking for other revenue streams. ‘I could have put my money in an interest account but the rates weren’t that good so I started backing a couple of people.’ One of his first ‘horses’ was Norwegian hotshot Stian Stabell aka JohnnyBelow, who he backed as a ‘favour’ but still took it upon himself to pass on some good advice. ‘I was coaching him as well because he was quite a tight player – good but tight. I’d been getting him to be a bit more aggressive, he started getting better results and it was quite a good feeling.’
Word got around quickly and naturally Moorman found himself inundated with requests for staking. ‘They were quite well-known players,’ he says, citing AJKHoosier and rivermanl as two of the most notorious. ‘I didn’t think these guys were going to lose so I took them on.’ Going into this year’s PokerStars Caribbean Adventure, he had pieces of six players, and even though he busted early he thought at least one person could go deep. Even now he can scarcely believe what actually ended up happening. ‘Basically all but one guy went out early and I thought, “Oh shit, that’s $60k down the drain.” One guy was left in but was quite short-stacked. But he made it to the money and came to me every day saying he was still in. He got down to the last 40 and I started watching. He got it all-in with pocket Queens against John Duthie’s Aces for the chip lead pot and binked a Queen. So now he’s the chip leader of the tournament with 18 left.’
The player in question was 21-year-old Tyler Reiman who managed to finish runner-up, netting Moorman half of his $1.75m prize. ‘It was ridiculous,’ laughed Chris. ‘I earned more in one day than I had in the previous three years playing poker. It just didn’t feel real, it was like a dream or something.’
Unsurprisingly, Moorman has recruited more and more players into his stable and now backs 20 in total. He estimates that this amounts to something like $250,000 a month in staking, which is partly why he’s had to shut the door on any additions for the moment. The other reason is simply a question of logistics. During the first few hours of the night’s session, Moorman probably spends more time instant messaging and transferring money than he does actually playing. ‘I got a couple of emails this morning from good players but I’m going to have to say no because it’s going to get ridiculous! It gets quite complicated when I’m playing 12 tables and trying to deal with 12 people.’
With the admin out of the way, Moorman adds another four tournaments to the screen, making it 12 in total. As he whizzes from table to table, I interject with questions about why he’s raising in a particular spot or why he’s folding in another. Knowing he has a reputation for unrelenting aggression, I’m expecting raises and reraises from every position on the table, but in fact the opposite is true. ‘Early on I’m quite tight on the whole,’ he says. ‘I still make the odd big move but not that many. Often I’ll be playing tight and suddenly I’ll make a big bluff on a guy and he’ll call without even thinking. Then I’m like, “Why did I do that?” So I play pretty standard early on. I’ve tried playing crazy but people tend to call too much.’
It’s nearly midnight and everything is looking pretty solid. He’s down to the last 32 in the PokerStars $150 tourney, the last 31 in Full Tilt’s $24k GTD, and with 35 left in the Mansion $45k GTD rebuy he’s a big chip leader. ‘When the antes come into play, there’s often less than half the field still in. Even if you’ve still got a starting stack of 3,000 when the antes kick in – usually at 100/200/25 – that’s still 15 big blinds, so you’ve got a little bit of time to shove or resteal. And if there’s, say, 200 left, you’re not that far from the money. If you can consistently make the ante stage in tournaments, you’re good when you get chips, and you can close out tournaments, then there’s just no way you can lose.’ However, he does issue a warning to me. Although going deep consistently is one of his fortes, making the final table and winning the tournament relies on coinflips going your way and big hands holding up. He predicts that he has a one-in-five chance of taking down the Mansion tourney, despite having such a huge chip lead.
‘I always have sessions when I literally win nothing,’ he says. ‘Yesterday, until I won the EPT Monte Carlo seat, I probably played $3,000 worth of tournaments and cashed for $200. I just gave up on the day and cut my losses at $2,800 to prevent me losing any more.’
By 2am he’s cruising. Down to the final six in the Mansion tournament and the last five in the PokerStars event, it looks like being his fourth winning day in a row. But within a few seconds I get a crash course in the fickleness of online tournament poker. In the Mansion event he flops a flush against JohnnyBux, gets all the chips in, only for his opponent to complete his Ace-high flush on the turn. That means he gets just $1,800 for about eight hours’ play. His PokerStars exit follows just minutes after. He shoves with A-T on the button only to run into A-K. Fourth place adds another $6.1k to his account, but considering all the buy-ins he’s spent during the evening he’s now only about break-even. All the tournaments he had running at the beginning of the night are now over, but you wouldn’t know it from his frustratingly calm demeanour.
With no fuss other than cracking open a beer and sitting up straighter in his chair, Moorman buys straight into ten more tournaments. ‘I’m not starting any more,’ he jokes. As the hours tick by and the tables begin to disappear, I find it easier to follow the action, but if I was looking for a magic formula for online tournament riches I’m looking in the wrong place. Moorman’s rules for success are as you might expect: he emphasises the importance of value betting, advises against running massive bluffs, and tells me not to worry about my stack in relation to the field, just compared to the blinds (‘If you’ve got 20BBs+ you’re fine’), but says his key advantage is just experience. ‘The same situations come up all the time,’ he says. The fact that Moorman has played over one million hands on PokerStars alone says it all. He doesn’t really have to ‘think’ about hands any more – he just acts.
The digital clock on the screen reads 6.32am, and we’ve gone from ten tables to just one, the other nine yielding zero reward. Even if Moorman busts out in fourth place now in this Full Tilt $33k GTD, he acknowledges it’s totally par for the course. ‘If you play a full day’s worth of tournaments at the highest stakes, your buy-ins would probably cost $6,000. On average you’ll probably have a few good results, a couple of final tables, come fourth and cash for $4.5k or something. You might have four days in a row where you lose $1k each day, but then win $15k on another.’
Beneath his casual exterior, it’s impossible to miss Moorman’s unwavering focus. As I’ve struggled to keep my eyelids open, his level of intensity seems to have climbed inexorably. When he was chip leader about an hour ago he was open-raising every hand – at one point I counted ten in a row. Even after losing a big chunk with A-K to 8-8, he’s relentless, coming in for a raise on most hands. Since then he’s been locked in a war of attrition. I watch in nervous silence as he four-bets, the other player tanks, the timer runs down, and he eventually folds. ‘I think I know which players are capable of three-betting light and when. You don’t even need to have a big hand – a suited connector or something will do. It takes a bit of practice to recognise those spots, but if you can pick the crucial times it’s huge, as you can almost double your stack without showdown.’
But with the blinds at 3k/6k and the other stacks having the same idea, someone has to break. Moorman does eventually, calling all-in with A-K on a Q-6-Q board but running into fives. The turn and river blank, leaving Moorman with a $6k profit for the night. Maybe it’s the combination of Lucozade, beers, Indian takeaway and Diet Coke, but Moorman is still bouncing off the walls.
Just one night of non-stop tournament watching has left me wrecked, and as I drag my heels towards the front door and the taxi, I ask him how long he thinks he can keep up this way of life. ‘I won’t be doing it forever, but backing people will hopefully provide an income even if I’m not playing. I wouldn’t play if I didn’t still enjoy playing. As a kid I always thought, imagine if you could play videogames for money – it’d be the best thing ever. It’s a bit like that.’