Gonzalo Garcia Pelayo

Madrid-born Gonzalo Garcia Pelayo was a director, producer and writer before undertaking a study of bias in roulette wheels in his home town. Aided and abetted by his son Ivan and his daughter Vanessa, Pelayo started playing roulette for money in 1991 and, within a year, had won $700,000. By using a simple computer model, Pelayo claimed not only to have negated the house edge – typically 2.7%, or 5.3%, depending on the version of roulette – but actually given himself a 15% edge.

Outlawed by Spanish casinos, the Pelayo Family tried its luck in Las Vegas – via European destinations, including Amsterdam and Vienna – posing as tourists and changing their accents to avoid suspicion. Their success continued until, fresh from winning $500,000 in the summer of 1994, Pelayo collapsed from exhaustion.

All told, Pelayo won in excess of $1.5 million, after expenses, and would later detail his exploits in the book, ‘La Fabulosa Historia de los Pelayo’, which translates in English as ‘The Fabulous History of the Pelayos’. An inveterate gambler, Pelayo subsequently set up an illegal poker establishment and became heavily involved in sports betting, including football, horse racing and tennis, as part of what he called a ‘private investment fund’.

Chris Moneymaker

Prior to winning the World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Event in 2003, Christopher Bryan Moneymaker was an unknown, 27-year-old accountant from Nashville, Tennessee; so unknown, in fact, that WSOP Media Director Nolan Dalla had to verify that the ‘Moneymaker’ written on his reporting slip was not a hoax. Originally from Atlanta, Georgia, Moneymaker graduated from the University of Tennessee but, having embarked upon a career in accountancy, played online poker as little more than a hobby.

However, in 2003, ‘Money800’, as Moneymaker was known online, won a single-table $86 buy-in Internet ‘satellite’ tournament on PokerStars. In so doing, he won a seat into a $650 buy-in WSOP ‘mega satellite’ tournament, in which the first three finishers were awarded a seat at the WSOP Main Event at Binion’s Horseshoe – now Binion’s Gambling Hall & Hotel – in Downtown Las Vegas, Nevada. Moneymaker won that contest too, and duly embarked on a trip to Las Vegas for his first ever live poker tournament. Remarkably, Moneymaker made it to the final table, beating seasoned professional Ihsan ‘Sammy’ Farha in a heads-up hand dubbed ‘the bluff of the century’ by commentator Norman Chad en route, and eventually carried off the $2,500,000 first prize money.

Victory for a hitherto unknown amateur in the WSOP Main Event, who thereby gained the unoffical title of ‘World Champion’, at the first time of asking sparked a boom in the popularity of poker, specifically Texas Hold’em, which became known as the ‘Moneymaker Effect’. The number of entrants to the WSOP Main Event increased three-fold, from 839 in 2003 to 2,576 in 2004 and the winning prize money doubled, from $2,500,000 to $5,000,000.