Remembering Darvin Moon, Logger Who Became Unlikely Poker Star

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Remembering Darvin Moon, Logger Who Became Unlikely Poker Star

The World Series of Poker crowns a new Main Event champion every year, but while many of the names and faces of those first-place finishers merge in a blur, one runner-up stands out in crystal clear recollection.

Darvin Moon — a blue-collar, bearded regular Joe in a New Orleans Saints baseball cap — is fondly remembered by poker fans for an improbable run through the 2009 Main Event field to finish second and win $5.18 million at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. Sadly, the unassuming, good-natured and steadfastly principled Moon died suddenly Sept. 19 at age 56, at home possibly from complications following surgery.

“I talked to Darvin just a few days before he died,” said Todd Anderson, one of the founders of the Heartland Poker Tour and the producer of the TV show Poker Night in America. “At that point, Darvin said he was feeling pretty good. He was at home and he wanted to go back to work.”

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For Moon, work was logging. A native of Garrett County in western Maryland near the West Virginia border, Moon was self-employed harvesting trees. He loved the outdoors and played poker mainly recreationally with friends and in firehalls and fraternal lodges.

His journey to the World Series of Poker began modestly, playing in a $130 buy-in satellite tournament at the Wheeling Island Casino in Wheeling, West Virginia. It was his third try at a satellite and the win was good for a $10,000 Main Event seat and $6,000 for travel expenses. The trip to Vegas in the summer of 2009 was Moon’s first time on a commercial flight.

“When Darvin got to Vegas, his intention was to just take the $10,000 and go home,” Anderson said. “He was living in a trailer with his wife, Wendy, and he said he was close to bankruptcy.”

Then, he watched some of the preceding tournament action in the Rio’s Amazon Room, and decided to take a chance at the WSOP.

Moon’s success in an event that drew 6,494 players was chronicled by ESPN and while his story made for great storytelling and terrific television, an obvious novice doing so well in the game’s marquee tournament wasn’t entirely appreciated by some in the poker community. They felt he was simply the beneficiary of extraordinary good luck. In fact, Moon himself would remark that he was probably the least skilled player at any given table.

Taking Down Phil Ivey

For poker purists, the most grating outcome came when Moon eliminated poker savant Phil Ivey in 7th place at that Main Event. At the final table, Ivey, with Ace-King, went all-in as a short stack and Moon, with far more chips, called with a trailing Ace-Queen. But with the crowd chanting Ivey’s name, a Queen hit on the flop and Moon took the pot.

“People say that Darvin was a luckbox in the Main Event, but that thing that happened with Ivey happens all the time. There were times when (eventual winner) Joe Cada hit two-outers,” Anderson said meaning only two cards in the deck could produce a winning hand. “Actually, Darvin was a very good player. He had almost a photographic memory and he could recall hands exactly.”

At a moment in poker when most players were perfecting their games online, Moon did not play on the Internet. In fact, he didn’t own a computer. As he advanced through the Main Event, online poker companies offered him hundreds of thousands of dollars to wear their logos for the TV cameras, Anderson said. But Moon turned down the cash, saying that he didn’t use those websites and, in good conscience, he couldn’t honestly endorse them.

“He was one of the nicest people I’ve ever known, and with the most integrity,” Anderson said.

Rooting for the Underdog

Although Moon was gracious in defeat to Cada, Anderson said that the logger really did want to win the tournament and was disappointed. But the win allowed Moon to live a far more comfortable life with his wife. He occasionally played in more poker tournaments but was never the type to put his wealth at risk.

“He bought a house. It wasn’t extravagant but he was very proud of it. I think it might have been the first house he ever owned,” Anderson said. “But once when I was visiting, I noticed all the pictures were on the floor leaning against the wall and even in the bathroom, the toilet paper holder wasn’t attached. So I asked him about it.

“Darvin said, ‘This is a brand-new house. Do you think I’m going to put holes in the wall.’”

With Moon sporting the Saints’ fleur-de-lis cap throughout the Main Event, the NFL franchise that had endured so much losing but was now on its own winning roll, invited him to the NFC championship game, where he sat in the owner’s box, and then to Super Bowl XLIV where the Saints defeated Indianapolis.

Asked about wearing that Saints cap during his Main Event march, Moon — the unlikeliest of card sharks and longest of shots — replied that it was because he liked rooting for the underdog.

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Bill Ordine

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