AC Calling: PA Online Poker Pro Zach Gruneberg Overcomes Drug Addiction, Eyes Return to Borgata

November 28, 2022
AC Calling: PA Online Poker Pro Zach Gruneberg Overcomes Drug Addiction, Eyes Return to Borgata

January marks three years since the Borgata hosted a major tournament series. Pennsylvania online poker pro Zach Gruneberg is one of those ready to make his return to the live felt on the Jersey Shore.

BetMGM and Borgata recently announced that the property would host a live series known as “The Return: A Borgata Championship Event” from Jan. 4-8. The series features online qualifying and Gruneberg is happy to see high stakes series return to Atlantic City.

“I’ve been waiting for Borgata to come back since COVID,” he says. “I’ve always considered it my home casino even though I’m a little over four hours away. I’ve been very lucky historically at Borgata and I’m excited to be back playing with home field advantage.”

Life as a full-time poker pro

Gruneberg lives in Boalsburg, Pennsylvania, and has more than $2 million in live tournament winnings. In the online game, the 33-year-old grinder also has some impressive wins.

That includes recently racking up three Online Circuit Series rings in a two month span. Those wins include: 

  • $320 No Limit Hold’em PKO (Oct. 27) – first for $9,853
  • $215 NLHE PKO  (Oct. 21)  – first for $6,501
  • $500 NLHE BIG 500  (9/20/22) – first for $14,253

Even though he’s crushed the online scene lately, Gruneberg is still looking to get back into the live realm at Borgata.

He notes: “Right now I play mainly online but if you asked me a few years back – all live.”

Zach Grunberg battling at the WPT tables. (photo courtesy WPY)

Drug addiction to poker domination

Gruneberg first began playing live events about a decade ago. But it wasn’t necessarily an easy road to poker success. He struggled with drug abuse for a long time.

In 2014, some changes made a big difference and helped create a new path in his life. 

“The biggest challenge I overcame in my life was being heavily addicted to opiates,” he says. “It took me a lot of pain and horrible experiences before I finally was able to break through and stay sober. I went to two rehabs and got a lot of support from a lot of great friends and family or else it wouldn’t have been possible.”

The new outlook on life seemed to come with some nice dividends at the poker table as well.

“Poker didn’t directly correlate to my sobriety, but when I did get sober I went to the WSOP that same summer and final-tabled three of the big-field No Limit Hold’em fields,” he says. “It was a very surreal experience that I feel very lucky to have had such an epic turnaround right away.”

With a clean and sober mind, Gruneberg made a massive run in the 2014 WSOP. In about 30 days, he won $546,846 and his record included

  • $1,000 Event 21 NLH  (6/8/14) – fourth for $104,594
  • $1,500 Event 51 NLH Monster Stack  (6/26/14)  – eighth for $164,238
  • $1,500 Event 60 NLH  (7/1/14) – third  for $270,299

Back to Borgata

Many players are excited to see high-stakes tournaments return to the Borgata. Gruneberg has had some major success at the casino and looks forward to getting back. 

“The biggest win I ever had was chopping the WPT Borgata Poker Open with Jesse Sylvia and subsequently finishing runner-up to his lucky ass,” he says.

“It was a really special experience because my family got to come down. It was a televised event so the stage was all set up and really it happened at the only place my family would’ve been able to make it in time to watch, so I felt very blessed.”

That second-place finish in 2016 brought Gruneberg a score of $490,617. Three years later in the same event, he finished in third for $321,533. In total, he has lifetime cashes at the Borgata of almost $1 million.

Even though the January series won’t be partnered with the WPT, players are expecting huge fields including for the $3 million championship.

To prepare, Gruneberg will continue to play online three-plus days a week. He also works with other players to run back hands and discuss different scenarios.  Gruneberg hopes for more deep runs at his home casino.

“The room is already booked for the entire stay,” he says, “and I couldn’t be more excited to be back.”

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