The poker world lost another nice guy and one of the best stories of the 2009 WSOP and from the November Nine era. Darvin Moon came out of nowhere to become the chip leader at the 2009 World Series of Poker Main Event at the Rio Casino in Las Vegas. He advanced to the second-ever November Nine and delayed final table of the WSOP. That historic final table included Moon, along with Phil Ivey, Happy Shulman, Joe Cada, Antoine Saout, James Akenhead, Eric Buchman, Steve Begleiter, and Kevin Schaffel.
Moon emerged as one of the early chipleaders in the Main Event. But if you cover enough poker tournaments, especially multiple-day ones like the Main Event, you tend to downplay an early chip leader. It's almost the kiss of death to have a big lead early on at the WSOP Main Event because those big stacks almost rarely every make it to the final table, let alone win.
"Every day except Day 3, I had the big stack at my table," explained Moon. He got off to a hot start on Day 1 and never looked back.
The poker world quickly raced to figure out who the heck was Moon. ALl we knew at the time was that he was from Maryland and always wore a New Orleans Saints cap. We quickly discovered he was a self-employed logger, which seems both strangely odd and very typical for a Las Vegas tournament, where poker enthusiasts from all over the world converged upon Sin City every summer to determine the world's top tournament player.
Moon, like many of us, always enjoyed the game of poker but caught the pug during the apex of the online poker boom. Without someone like Chris Moneymaker making a run at the 2003 WSOP, players like Darvin Moon might not have taken their shot at the big time.
Moon won a WSOP satellite for $130 at a casino in West Virginia. He parlayed that initial investment into a $10K seat in the 2009 Main Event. He outlasted a field of 7,319 runners to advance to the final table. First place in the second-ever November Nine would pay out nearly $9 million.
When the suits running the WSOP created the delayed final table and the November Nine, they hoped they'd get some star power along with a great story about an amateur who went all the way to Vegas and slugged it out with the sharks. It's a David vs Goliath tale as old as the Bible. It's also reminiscent of Chris Moneymaker vs Sammy Farha at Bennys' Bullpen at the Horseshoe in downtown Las Vegas in 2003.
Moon found himself at a final table with the greatest poker player of all time, Phil Ivey. The folks at ESPN, 441 Productions, and the WSOP would've loved a Moon vs Ivey heads up finale. If an amateur won the big prize, it would create a second Moneymaker Effect, or a Moon Effect.
Alas, it didn't quite shake out the way it could have. Instead, Ivey bounced in seventh place. Happy Shulman, scion of the Card Player empire, sported a Phish t-shirt at the final table, but he exited in fifth place. Eric Buchman busted in fourth place, followed by French pro Antoine Saout in third place.
That set up the heads-up finale between Darvin Moon and Joe Cada. Moon was nearly twice as old as Cada, who barely looked like he was a teenager. The kid, staked by Johnny Bax -- whom everyone mistakenly though was his father based on the raucous cheering and hugs -- defeated Moon heads up to become the youngest Main Event winner in history.
Moon earned almost $5.2 million for his run, which is a sick ROI for a $130 buy-in. But as fast as he crashed the biggest party in poker, Moon quickly vanished. The Luddite Logger returned to his hometown in Maryland and went back to his old logging job.
"I've always been poor," said Moon. "I can be poor after this."
Unlike a lot of amateurs that made a big score in a big event, Moon did not let his finish or his new-found windfall go to his head. He did not quit his job and move to Las Vegas full time to take a crack at the "Big Game" in Bobby's Room at the Bellagio. Moon did not jet set around the world and play in every $10K major event on the circuit. He did not try to parlay his 15 minutes of fame into anything at all. He kept it real and retained his old job. He knew that he stumbled upon life-altering money for someone of his social strata. Instead of donking that $5 million back into the poker world, he put the money to good use within his own family circle. His sole big expenditure was buying the farm he had grown up on. Aside from gifting kin new pick up trucks, he remained the same old Darvin Moon... the quiet logger in the Saints cap.
Heartland Poker Tour's co-founder Todd Anderson informed the poker community of Moon's passing.
"The best person I ever met through poker is Darvin Moon," Anderson posted. "A man of integrity and honor. And quite possibly the most interesting person I've ever known."
"Very sad to hear about Darvin's passing," tweeted fellow November Niner Steve Begleiter. "We shared the final table in 2009 and through that experiences and other conversations over the years got to see the incredibly decent and high character individual he was. He'll be missed. Condolences to Wendy and his family."
It's rare to find a genuine nice guy in poker, it's even rarer to come across someone who didn't get sucked into the dark side of the game and the industry.
RIP Darvin Moon.