“You’re my nemesis. I just can’t beat you.”

That’s what Chris Moneymaker said to me last night, and it was quite a compliment, coming from the man who won the 2003 World Series of Poker main event. He was in town for a personal appearance, and I had his money.

Even without him, it would have been one of the best poker games St. Louis has seen in a long time. When I heard about it late in the evening, I knew I had to be in it.

Everyone else had heard about the game, too, so I had to wait and watch for quite awhile. The action was loose and wild, as it usually is here. I finally got into the game at 1:00am, but got nothing worth playing for the first hour. Fortunately, the tide eventually turned.

Moneymaker was the stranger at the table, since most of the rest of us play together often, but we’re not usually surrounded by a crowd. Last night, we were, because of him. Several times I heard onlookers say, “I bet they all want to take him out,” but since this was a cash game, not a tournament, there wasn’t going to be any elimination, no bounty for beating him. Still, there was no doubt he had a target on his back and we all wanted our shot.

Although this was the biggest game in the room, it was well below the kind of stakes Moneymaker said he usually plays. Another railbird kept proclaiming to anyone within earshot, “That money doesn’t matter to Chris because the casino gave it to him. He’s playing with their money.” I don’t know what kind of fee Chris received for his appearance earlier that evening (if any), but I’ve never gone along with that kind of thinking. Once they hand him the money, that’s his -– just like when I get a paycheck, the money no longer belongs to my boss. It’s mine to win or lose, and it matters.

Moneymaker is a nice low-key guy who didn’t mind posing for pictures and autographing poker chips for anyone who asked, both players and dealers. He wasn’t wearing sunglasses -– none of us were -– and he wasn’t trying to be intimidating at all. When we weren’t in a hand, he readily answered questions about all sorts of things.

I asked him if he plays in casinos a lot, which he doesn’t because there isn’t one in his hometown of Nashville. Besides, he’s obliged to put in a certain number of hours for the online poker site he’s affiliated with, so he spends most of his time there. But he still likes playing in brick-and-mortar poker rooms, and since he doesn’t get to do it all that often, the game was still fun.

Someone asked him which casinos he liked playing in, which led to us agreeing on our disdain for the Aviation Club de France, a snooty place on the Champs-Elysee that’s too full of cigarette smoke and condescending European attitude — not to mention the Parisian preference for a game we both hated called Courchevel, which is like pot-limit Omaha but with five hole cards.

He said he’s cut down on his travel to tournaments at the request of his wife, but was trying to convince her to go to Vegas with him for two months this summer so he can play every event in the World Series of Poker.

Speaking of the WSOP, it’s the subject of “Deal,” a movie Moneymaker is heading to New Orleans this week to shoot with Burt Reynolds, Jennifer Tilly, Charles Durning, and other poker pros (including Antonio Esfandiari, Phil Laak, and Vince Van Patten). The Internet Movie Database gives this plot outline: “As an ex-gambler teaches a hot-shot college kid some things about playing cards, he finds himself pulled into the World Series of Poker, where his protege is his toughest competition.” I sure hope it’s better than “Tilt,” the lame poker series that ESPN aired last year.

Speaking of big tournaments, you won’t see Moneymaker playing in any WPT events anytime soon. He explained that he and some other pros (e.g. Chris “Jesus” Ferguson, Andy Bloch) are quarreling with the producers over the release form they must sign, which they say allows the WPT virtually unchecked exploitation of the players’ names and likenesses.

So, how did I get Chris Moneymaker’s money? In the course of four hours, we found ourselves in hands together only a few times. In three of them we played heads-up, and I beat him each time. My aces held up against his kings, I flopped a set of sevens to beat his pocket pair, and I bluffed him out of a pot with a 6-8 offsuit in the big blind by check-raising him on the flop with bottom pair and making him throw away his middle pair.

As Greg “Fossilman” Raymer says, beating a pro one night doesn’t mean much about your relative skills, so I’d never be stupid enough to say that I’m a better player than Moneymaker. No matter how much I won last night, he’ll always be one of those guys with a WSOP Main Event bracelet.

But it sure felt good when they pushed his chips towards me.