Smaller fields in the Garden State
It’s 10 p.m., and 28-year-old Michael St. John is staring at his computer screen. His eyes are following the action, and his hand is a whirlwind of clicking as he navigates 16 online poker tables.
“Any more than that and I tend to sit out of my games,” he said. “Because I’m a professional at wasting my time banks.”
This is the nightly routine for St. John, who plays a few sites at once with hopes for a nice tournament cash. When he busts out of one tournament, he searches for another, all the while keeping his eyes peeled on the other active tables.
This may seem like a scene from the heady online poker days in the mid-2000s. But in fact it’s 2019, and St. John is among the small group of poker players who are making a living in one of three legalized online poker jurisdictions in the US.
It’s not nearly as easy today as in those days of massive online player pools and plenty of poker marketing and promotions; although, St. John makes it work.
“I think some positives of playing in New Jersey is that the fields are smaller, which lowers the variance,” he said. “It can be frustrating at times though because some games are filled with 80 percent regulars, making the games more difficult.
“But I’m always up for the challenge. I like to think I hold my ground pretty well.”
He’s doing more than holding his ground
February turned out to be a huge one for St. John. As a result, he won the battle for the PokerStars’ New Jersey Player of the Month for February 2019.
His big month included several deep final table runs in the site’s Winter Series. The top 60 of PokerStars’ monthly leaderboard share $7,500 in prizes, which can be redeemed for tournament entries. St. John took home the top prize of $1,500 to continue his tournament grinding.
As a poker player for seven years, St. John learned the game from a friend and instantly fell in love with the strategy and action.
Studying is a big part of his poker routine. He says he works on his game eight to 10 hours a week, going over particular hands and seeking to plug leaks in order to strengthen his game.
However, St. John stresses the importance of getting away from the game at times. St. John enjoys traveling, playing basketball, cheering on the Philadelphia 76ers, and spending time with his girlfriend.
“Poker can be a monster at times and it’s easy to get wrapped up in it,” he said. “It’s important to have a positive type of balance in your life.”
For Katie Stone, grinding is a family affair
Like St. John, BorgataPoker.com-sponsored pro Katie Stone knows the struggles to make a living playing poker online in the Garden State. She and husband, Joe Cappuccio, are both full-time players.
They grind out their living either online or in live-action at Borgata. Since they have a young son, making ends meet at the tables presents multiple challenges.
“We are very happy doing what we do. It’s definitely not for everyone. At times we feel like professional jugglers, but are passionate about what we do and wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s never a dull day.”
Stone says that making a living playing poker will always be challenging. Players who are never content with their abilities will find a way to excel, even in jurisdictions with limited player pools.
Flexibility is the key to success
However, Stone said that one trait is a must for those who want to win consistently in New Jersey: versatility.
“Learning multiple games, playing cash and tournaments live and online is important for a poker player’s bottom line and overall improvement,” she said. “The days of sticking to one game for the midstakes grinder are gone.”
Nevertheless, there are some positives for a small player pool. Stone believes that includes sites reacting to player requests and a cordial group of players with plenty of regulars.
“We have a great group of regular poker players here in New Jersey and we are really lucky for that,” she said. “At Borgata, we’re able to communicate directly with the higher-ups about what players like and don’t like in live and online poker. This makes the overall player experience much better.”