Chris Moorman Interview

Chris Moorman Interview

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Meet the world's most successful online tournament player.

When Chris Moorman speaks, it's gospel. The most successful online tournament player ever has cemented his place in poker history. Now he's ready to tell the world how to get better in what could be poker's latest bible. If he's preaching, we're listening.

Doyle Brunson was the undisputed poker authority in 1979 when he released Super System to universal acclaim. But that was two generations ago. In this new dawn of poker, you can watch a online training video while you eat your Corn Flakes. Not many players in today’s game could command the respect required to bring out a book. But Chris Moorman is definitely one of them.

At the age of 29, the most successful online tournament poker player in history has penned Moorman's Book Of Poker (released November 10th in the UK). It's a big deal for players of all levels, with one of the smartest brains in the game finally revealing some of the secrets behind his success. For someone with a mastery of tournament poker, it was a new challenge to take up the quill and parchment.

“I didn't understand the task of writing when I started the project,” Moorman says. “I began in January, and finished it after the World Series in the summer. In all, I wrote over 50,000 words and for a poker player, that's crazy. I'm not a natural author! Obviously, if you do well playing poker and people are nice about it, it feels good. But if you push yourself out of your comfort zone and achieve something, it’s self-rewarding.”

It sounds like the book should help plenty of readers correct the errors in their game, and progress from learning poker to becoming winning players. But enough about how we’ve just boosted our ROI. At one point, Moorman himself must have needed to plug leaks in his developing style. So what did he do?

“When I first started playing poker, I read books like Super System and Harrington on Hold'em cover to cover. In those books, they talked more about concepts. I talk more about poker as it is now, about making yourself tough to play against, exploiting people and identifying weaker players and taking advantage of them.”

Selling Secrets
The book was good enough for 'Texas Dolly' to pen the foreword. Maybe that compliment says it all about the book's potential appeal to a worldwide readership. But it’s not a book for high rollers, as we found out over lunch in London.

Moorman orders octopus and meets our eye with that steely yet amiable stare. Comfortable in company, he explains that his attention to detail, tournament focus and drive are all replicable. Moorman's Book of Poker will be a revealing insight into his online game, so is Moorman1 selling trade secrets of next level thinking when it comes to online poker, or giving bottom feeders teeth?

“The book is not really for beginners and I'm not targeting my friends who are professionals. It's for players looking to take a step up, who know what they're doing but don't necessarily know why. Poker strategies are spread far and wide now; I've tried to bring them together and give people a reason for doing what they're doing. If people can pick up a greater understanding of the game by reading the book, then it should change their game astronomically.”

Good advice is easy to seek yet hard to find when you’re starting out in poker, but Moorman found ways to kick his way up the levels. To us, it is no surprise that he learned from a variety of sources within poker.

“When I first started playing, I spoke to some Norwegian guys, some American players and of course, the English players around me. They were all doing different things, and I took what I thought were the best parts of each of their games and built them into my own game. I wasn't trying to copy anyone or be that person.”

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It's clear that Moorman is a deep thinker. While he drowns his octopus in Tabasco, he discusses how he co-wrote his Book Of Poker with Byron Jacobs, pulling apart his processes and laying down the law on the best way to play dozens of situations. From telling us about situations where checking with the best hand can prove optimal to how he induces bluff-raises, his body language changes, like anyone when they start talking about what they love. Make small talk and he's bored. Discuss situational poker and the usually languid Moorman is alive, a spark in his eyes.

On The Attack

Poker has changed, so Moorman has had to adjust too. Just a few years ago, being more aggressive in poker was the fashion, until it got to the point where it was almost impossible to do so. Games were getting tougher, and there was an aggressive player to your right as well as your left.
Adapting to the new wave is something Moorman's had to do time and time again in eight years. So is he mellowing or just getting smarter?

“I definitely think its much harder now to play like a maniac and be successful than it was three or four years ago. It’s a really tough style to pull off now. Unless you're the sickest at doing it, you'd rather be the person exploiting them than emulating them. As long as you're willing to put in the last bet against them, you're going to be winning chips. You just have to work out the stack-sizes, so that you're not risking too much for little reward.”

Many players ignore post-poker analysis. But recently we've seen lots of big name pros advocate working harder, and the lazy poker player has become a cliché. Stepping away from the monitor at the end of a long session is a big ask for some players, so how can Moorman1 help those who ignore regular post-session analysis to change their approach?

“In game, I wouldn't have enough time to process a lot, but I've gone back through hands in writing the book. I'm thinking about poker in different ways and it has changed my own opinion on some scenarios. Most poker players don't do enough work away from the tables - watching a few videos isn't enough. Everyone should put more work in. The problem is that you don't think you're making money by doing so, but you are in the long term.”

Mashing Buttons and Crashing Out

Some winning players online have struggled to translate that success into live results, and Moorman was no different. It was a steep learning curve, even with the bankroll to insulate him against going broke. Put simply, online is a very different game to live. Put dramatically, you can win chunks in one game and lose the lot in the other if you're not careful.

“If you're doing really well online, then your confidence is high as you come into live poker and you try and play exactly the same. You think 'My game is the best game'. But it doesn't work like that. I think you need to go back to basics rather than jump in at the deep end and try to outplay everyone. You need to use more information that you have available to you and keep it simple. I see young online pros joining live tournaments now and I think 'this guy isn't going to last too long'... but that's what I was like in the past!

Online poker has its benefits, of course, but there is a lot to adjust to in the live poker arena, something Moorman is only to keen to stress.

It's tough not being in the action all the time, playing more tables, more hands, but if you're in every hand live, it's different. A lot of these tournaments last four, five, six days even. If you're playing 40% of hands, you're going to blow up at some point. When you're playing live, you need to change gears more often; people aren't multi tabling so they're paying a lot more attention to your game.”

Everyone has that nightmare hand in their poker diary. For most, it was at their local when they first started playing poker. For Chris Moorman, it was in a huge tournament, with bloggers hanging on every piece of action, and a growing rail watching a monster hand develop. If restaurants came with couches, you get the impression Chris might be lying down to bare his soul.

“It was in the Aussie Millions five or six years ago. I started off winning every hand, thinking that I was going to win the tournament, even though it was still Day 1. I opened 6-4 off-suit from early position and this guy three-bet me. He seemed like the only other aggressive player at the table, so I thought 'I'm going to show him who's boss', so I four-bet him, he five-bet me, and I just really didn't believe him, so I six-bet shoved all-in. He went into the tank for ages, and I thought that he was just Hollywood-ing. Then he called.

Everyone at the table were saying things like 'Who's got kings, who's got aces?' and neither of us wanted to turn over our hands! I thought 'Well you have to have something' and asked him if he had a pair. He said 'Yeah' but didn't seem too confident about it. 'You're probably winning' I told him, and I turn over 6-4 off-suit and he turns over pocket sevens, we've got 150 big blinds each! I banned myself from playing that hand. Even when I get it in the small blind, I'm just walking the guy. 6-4 suited I'm all the way, but off-suit...never.”

Lifting The Trophy

Another lost hand, and eventually, another bust-out. Online, you can load another tournament, hell, another dozen. You can sink a cold one, punch a sofa cushion, then sink another. But in the venue, known to thousands of players as someone successful, you can only walk away. Before March, his major live victory was a missing page. A pained grimace comes our way when we ask him if that hurt.

“It did. I had a few near misses, too. I always got heads-up against really good opponents, so didn't feel like I'd thrown any opportunities away, but with live tournaments, you don't normally play that many in a year. To finally win one was a great feeling. I'd never cashed in at WPT, and the first time I cashed, I won.

Four-handed, I had half the chips in play, and I was thinking about never having won a tournament. I'm sitting there thinking 'This is it', and I'm composing my winner's speech in my head, when suddenly I make a bunch of silly mistakes. I misread a hand where I turned it over thinking I had the straight and had nothing. From leading with four left suddenly I'm short, so I talked to my girlfriend and friends in the break and they told me I had nothing to lose any more. Fortunately, I got a double-up and afterwards, I was able to block any thoughts of winning out of my head, which really helped me.”

Winning the World Poker Tour’s LA Poker Classic may have been Moorman’s watershed moment in terms of a major tournament trophy, but he’s won the British Poker Awards Best Online Tournament Player an astonishing four years in a row. This year, his WPT win means that in addition to going for five in a row for his online achievements, he could win Best Live Tournament Player or Performance Of The Year too. There’s just one reason he’s not confident.

“It's exciting to be in there nominated. After winning my first live tournament, I was thinking I'd be in a good position to win one, but Vicky Coren winning her second EPT is such a big thing, its huge!”

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Hunting the Value

Talking about a big live win takes Moorman back to his moment in the spotlight. The LAPC must have felt like a win on home soil, with Chris and his fiancée renting in Los Angeles when he took it down. Suddenly, he's clutching greenbacks and the camera flashbulbs are popping. For many players, a big win like that might precede a period of playing higher buy-ins, and smaller fields. Play the rush, right? But for Moorman, the ultimate value is in those bigger fields.

“I don't really like small fields – you're risking more to win less. I've never really played anything under fifty people, and (playing on) TV isn't really an incentive for me. I look for the value. I nearly bought a piece of a friend who was going to play Alpha 8 London. But he said that it didn't look like it was worth playing, the field was so good. No-one really wants to go and play a High Roller against seven Germans.

Most of the value if you're a tournament pro, however, is playing weaker players. If I was playing high stakes like Viktor Blom, I'd play cash or heads-up. In tournament poker, you need to have less of an ego and target weaker players.”

Fanboy Meets Fanboy

Everyone has poker heroes – players they try to emulate, if not in style, then in success. Moorman is no different, and it’s no surprise to learn that some of the biggest recent winners are names that have been on his radar for a while.

“I know Fedor (CrownUpGuy) Holz quite well. He backs one of my friends and I saw him do a training video after final tabling a tournament. I've played against him a little but hadn't seen that much of him before he won the WCOOP Main Event. My friend who plays for him says that he's one of the best, and that he's doing some really different stuff.”

If Holz is burning it up online, then there's only one name that comes up when we talk about a live pro on a heater. While the rest of the poker world is rapidly getting used to a certain high roller's purposefully blank face appearing on their newsfeed, Moorman's seen that face before.

“I watched Dan Colman heads-up against Mike Leah at Seminole Hard Rock recently, and remembered seeing him five years ago when WSOP Europe was still in London. He was eighteen or so, and I was playing the $10k heads-up against this young Dutch guy who had won the $10k WCOOP heads-up online, so it was a pretty tough game. Colman came over on the rail, really loud, much louder than he is now, and was rooting for me like a proper fanboy. This year, when we were playing a $25k satellite to the One Drop, we were on the same table and he actually apologised for talking to me so much during that match all those years ago. I told him I was a fanboy of his now.”

Moorman didn’t make the One Drop from that satellite, instead watching Colman bank $15.3 million for winning the biggest tournament at the World Series of Poker. But it wasn’t just the One Drop that had a lower quotient of British players than usual, a fact lost on Moorman, who looks rueful for a moment.

“A lot of guys didn't go, or played late. The expenses when you're there mean it's not cheap. If you bust a tournament, you end up going for nights out and spending money. Back in the day, you could go back to the hotel and win your money back online. The only way to do that now is to go and play live cash, but that doesn't appeal to a lot of people. Last year, it was a lot emptier, especially during the first few weeks.”

Back To Backing

We've all heard rumours of Moorman's eye-watering make-up that he had to write off after backing players at the highest stakes. But these are different times. Like many pros, backing the next big player is something Moorman sees in his past.

“I don't back anyone any more, I'm completely done with that. It was a nightmare at times, but there were good times too. I met a lot of people I never would have met, and railed big final tables where players cashed for over a million dollars and I was getting half, so there were some pretty big highs! When you find out someone has been stealing from you or gambling your money away, it can be tough, but the hardest thing is when you've helped someone out who you thought were your friend and they screw you over. Often in poker, money can cloud a lot of people's judgements and they can do the wrong thing if they're in a dire situation. They try to justify it to themselves by thinking 'Well, he's just won a big tournament, it's nothing to him', but obviously it’s the principal.

Those are the lows. But with every hit to the bankroll, there is a boost, the kind of moment that rewards a financially stable backer’s decision to re-invest some of those winnings in the new players, the lifeblood of the game.

“The vast majority of people I met through it are great, and I trust them 100%. I was fortunate in that I got really lucky at the start; Ty Reiman got second in the PCA for me. He's a good friend of mine now, and I never really spoke to him that much until I read about him online. Overall, though, I wasn't ruthless enough in making tough decisions. I don't have any regrets; I had a lot of fun, and it didn't turn out too badly.”

Eight years ago, his philosophy on how to play tournament poker would have been very different, and air miles, tournament selection and game theory all may have been pressures. Now, he seems a man at peace with what he has to do to put himself in the position to win big titles, whether it’s live or online. Living out of a suitcase isn’t easy, it requires an appetite for the game, a strong hunger that can’t be knocked sideways and takes sacrifice.

“I'd been on a long flight, hardly slept but jumped straight online and played for twelve hours. I was really looking forward to it. I can't play online when I'm in America, so I spend a lot of time in Canada, mostly Vancouver, or Mexico. The plan was to be over there the first half of the year then second half in Europe, with more tournaments over here. Travelling back and forth with two people can get expensive. But I'm lucky - I don't do jet-lag.”

For the best part of a decade, poker pros have come and gone. Some have won and some have lost. But Moorman remains, in many ways caught between the online wizards and well-known live pros. He exists comfortably uncategorised, a member of both tribes, like the last man standing. There are no plans to hang up his Monster Headphones just yet.

“There's not that many people still playing who were when I started, and I may not be grinding when I'm in my fifties, I might have a family. But I don't have an exit plan, not yet. The minute I don't get excited by poker, I'll do something else. But I still wake up and get a real buzz from playing. Plus, I still haven't won the Sunday Million!”

Maybe no victory is ever enough for players like Chris Moorman, and perhaps writing a book in some way pays some that success back to the game he clearly loves. Although he's completed his final chapter in one sense, Moorman's own story in poker should have a few twists yet.

Tags: Chris Moorman, Moorman's Book of Poker, interviews