COVER STORY: Darvin Moon

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By Christopher Cosenza

Anyone who paid attention to the 2009 World Series of Poker Main Event learned Darvin Moon wasn’t exactly a big fan of media attention. The 46-year-old logger from Oakland, Md., would prefer to just play in a home game than with 10 cameras in his face, hordes of reporters analyzing his play and millions of viewers watching his every move.

It’s only natural to wonder: Is he actually glad he finished second and didn’t have to deal with the ultimate celebrity that goes with being the world champ?

“That’s a touchy question,” Moon said, pausing to put his thoughts together. “I’m gonna put this as nicely as I can. Anybody that plays anything competitive, if they want to come in second, they’re a moron. You play for first. I wanted to win. When I sat down at that table July 6, I wanted nothing but first place. When I sat down at the table on Nov. 9, I wanted nothing but first place. It didn’t work out but. … anybody that’s competitive and has the competitive edge only wants first. I wanted first, bad, but it didn’t work out.”

Well, it worked out a little. He won $5 million for second place, and if he hadn’t gotten that far he might never have earned one particular perk: His beloved New Orleans Saints got wind of Moon’s devotion to the team (“You won’t see many pictures without me wearing a Saints hat,” he says.) and invited him to be in the suite on their march to the Super Bowl title.  
 
“It was the happiest feeling of my life besides winning five million bucks,” he said, laughing. “It was great. Memories you’ll never forget. The Saints have been the underdog all these years and I ended up doing well wearing their hat. Then they turn around and win it. How much better feeling could it be for you than thinking maybe by me wearing the hat I put them over the edge.” 

Living in Maryland you’d think Moon would adopt one of the three pro teams in his vicinity (Washington, Baltimore or Pittsburgh), but Moon is never one to go along with the masses.
“I’ve always rooted for the underdog,” said Moon, who many considered an underdog at the final table last year despite having the chip lead. “You’ve always had Pittsburgh here as a good team … Washington, Baltimore; they’ve always had good teams and that’s all people around here talk about. … I just said I like the underdog, so who’s the underdog? It’s the Saints. So I started being a Saints fan for the last 25 years.”

Something else he’s done for the past 25 years has been the family logging business, Moon Logging. And it’s this business that almost kept him from his date with destiny. Moon frequents the Wheeling Island Casino in West Virginia, where he won his WSOP seat via satellite. With the economy nose-diving, Moon considered just collecting his $10K and putting it back into the business. But that’s when his brother, Bill, stepped in.

“He said, ‘You got there on nothing. You played a $30 tournament here in town, won $600. You went to Wheeling and invested $130 of that and won a seat. You got there on $30! … Win or lose we’ll still make it. The business will still survive,’ which it would. But I was always looking out for my business. … He said, ‘Go give it a shot; don’t take your money.’ When I walked in that poker room out there, there was no doubt in my mind I was playing. Any doubt in my mind that I’d think I’d come in where I come in? No way in hell.”

After Moon made the final table he insisted the money wouldn’t change him. And it hasn’t. He’s still the same self-deprecating gentleman he was before July 6, 2009. But his LIFE has changed, and even he can’t deny it.

“It’s a lot different than it was before this,” said Moon, who began playing poker regularly after he got “too old” for his softball leagues. “Before this it was a pretty simple day; you get up a 6 o’clock in the morning, ya eat breakfast, lace up your work boots and head to the woods for 10 hours. Now you get up at 6 in the morning, go make sure the men are working, they got everything they need and you’re on the phone doing business most of the day . … It’s changed a lot. You can say your life’s not going to change but it changes around ya. You can’t help it.

“I’m 10 times busier. You got so much stuff. I never worried about having all of the insurance coverage you’ve gotta have. Hell, it was just work one day to survive the next. Now it’s make sure you got all your ducks in a row so somebody doesn’t take everything you have the next day. Am I the same person? Yes I am. It’s just life is a lot more hectic. I guess you could say it’s a fun, hectic way of life. I’ve told my wife a hundred times that if I knew we were going to have to deal with some of the stuff we’re dealing with I’d a took my $10,000 and come home in a heartbeat. (But) the amount of money vs. the aggravation, there’s no comparison. The money wins over the aggravation. … Life’s good.”

One thing that hasn’t changed is his love for helping others. Moon will be in Daytona Beach, Fla., on May 15-16 for the second annual Venetian Deep Stack Charity Classic, which aids in the philanthropic efforts of the Congregation B’nai Torah.

“If you can help somebody that’s down, if you can make their life easier for one day, that’s what life’s about. To me it is. If I can help somebody that needs a little boost in life … we raise a lot of money doing tournaments for people around the area, like cancer patients. The closest hospital to where we live that can treat you for chemo and radiation and do major surgery is West Virginia University, and that’s 70 miles away. That’s a lot of expense just in gas. Even if your insurance is covering your medical, you gotta go there and back every day when gas is $3 a gallon. You got a lot of expense. And if you’re down in that shape you’re not working. So if I can put on a benefit poker tournament to raise enough gas so somebody can get there and back for a week, that’s what it’s all about. They have one week they don’t have to worry about how they’re going to get there. That’s what I think living’s all about, helping somebody else. That’s where I come from.

“And if I would take a sponsorship this year, wear somebody’s logo at the WSOP, which there’s a good chance I will, at least 60 percent of it will be donated to non-profit organizations. … But it would only be to wear during the Series. There’d be no other ties to me.”

That was a big storyline from last year’s WSOP: Why didn’t Moon sign with a sponsor for the free money and endorsement privileges?

“I’ve been self-employed my whole life,” said Moon, who learned to play poker from his grandfather at age 8. “I worked 18 months for another company and then I was self-employed. Once you work 20-something years for yourself you can’t work for someone else. You’ll get fired!  I just can’t see anybody telling me I gotta be somewhere at a certain time. That’s the reason I didn’t sign. I just don’t want that.

“Besides, we woulda been in court. Because as soon as they told me I had to be somewhere and I had a little local game here at home I wanted to play in, I’d be here and they’d be suing me ’cause I wasn’t there. I’m pretty much set in my ways and I’m not going to sell myself or sell out. And that’s the way I was raised, not selling yourself to something you don’t believe in.”

But viewers did see a Wheeling Island Casino logo on his shirt.

“We have a good relationship,” he said. “Do they pay me to wear their advertisement? No they don’t. If I want to go over to the island and spend a night or two nights they’ll comp me a room, they’ll comp me a meal, and that’s all I expect from them. And they don’t expect a whole lot from me. I wear their shirt, their advertisement out of respect. If they wouldn’t have given me the opportunity to play a qualifier I never woulda been where I’m at, financially. So I just have a lot of respect for them and they have a lot of respect for me and it works out good for both of us.” 

Despite his newfound riches, Moon says he only plans on playing the main event this year (“I’ll get into town on (July) 7th and I play the 8th.”), and he firmly believes he’ll make the final table again.

“I don’t think I’m as good as those guys,” he said, “but I feel pretty confident I’ll be at the final table again because I feel I have a lot of luck in cards.”

One of the downfalls in Moon’s quest for the 2009 title was his lack of experience at a final table, especially heads-up play. He admits now he probably shouldn’t have spent a month hunting “to clear his head” during the WSOP hiatus from July to November. So, one of the things he’s done this year in preparation for making the final table is play in the NBC National Heads-Up Championship at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas.

“I won my first match,” he said, “then (eventual champ) Annie Duke beat me like a dog the second match. She took me to school.”

But isn’t there a less obtrusive way to gain experience without having to deal with Las Vegas and the media?

“It wasn’t that I didn’t like Vegas, I just didn’t like all the cameras. You come from where I come from, when I was out there in July it was like the world come to an end. Every time you make a move there’s a camera, an interview. I’ve grown accustomed to a lot of that now, but I’d never been around anything like that. You get up to leave the table and you got six or eight cameras and 20 mikes in your face and people asking you questions. It’s like ‘What the hell?’ You know? … But it wasn’t that I didn’t like Vegas. It was too hot in July for me in Vegas. I’m a fat guy, ya know, and heat just don’t work when you’re fat.  … I didn’t realize poker was as big as it is. It’s a hundred times bigger than I ever dreamt it would be.”

And now poker is even bigger because of him.

Moon, Mouth, McEvoy to play in Deep Stack Classic

By Scott Long

Darvin Moon, Mike “The Mouth” Matusow and Tom McEvoy will be among the players in this year’s Venetian Deep Stack Charity Classic on May 16 at Daytona Beach Kennel Club in Florida.

Top-five win four nights in a suite at the Venetian Resort in Las Vegas, roundtrip airfare for two, limo transportation, $1,000 in food credit and a Venetian tournament entry. The winning player gets a seat in the $5,000 Venetian Deep Stack Extravaganza III Main Event, while second through fifth get $2,100 seats.

More than 100 door prizes worth a combined $5,000 will be given out randomly during the tournament, and a raffle will award an additional $7,000 in prizes, including floor seats to Orlando Magic games, designer watches and resort getaways.

Players can buy an entry voucher in advance for a $150 donation ($175 day of event) at www.deepstackcharityclassic.co m or at the Daytona Beach Kennel Club. Players can rebuy and buy an add-on once. All players get a pre-event nosh from Strathmore Bagels and dinner during the tournament. The event benefits the Congregation B’Nai Torah and its related charities.

Players start with 10,000 units and levels are 25 minutes.

The tournament was created last year by Daytona Beach businessman Scott Frank and Rabbi Steven Kane.

“Looking to initiate and create a charitable effort and foundation to support a variety of worthy causes, my congregation asked my rabbi and me to help,” Frank said. “Perhaps they simply thought that a charity auction was in the works. Or maybe a gala dinner. They had know idea what was really coming.”

New this year will be the Adventure Boat Club VIP event, which is a 50-player-max field invitation-only tournament on May 15 featuring Moon, McEvoy and Matusow. Players can earn invitations (valued at $450) at DBKC, and one Ante Up reader will earn a seat in a May 5 drawing. Register at anteupmagazine.com/contest.

“We also know that the opportunity to play with poker superstar Mike Matusow and fan favorite Darvin Moon right here in Daytona will make the tournament uniquely special,” Frank said. “We are so appreciative they will be joining us as celebrity players.”
Matusow will teach one-day DeepStacks Live poker course on May 14. Registration is available at www.deepstacks.com.

To preregister visit www.deepstackcharityclassic.co m or call (386) 871-9187.

Darvin Moon illustration by Charles Lis.