PokerNews first covered Zach "HustlerGrune" Gruneberg at the 2009 Aussie Millions. Event #4 was a $1,100 Limit Hold'em tournament and it had quite the final table, including online poker phenom James "Andy McLEOD" Obst and WSOP bracelet winner David Bach. After 16 hours, the two remaining men were 19-year-olds Gruneberg and Craig "HU4ROLLZ" Bergeron. Watching them duke it out, I knew I was watching two immensely talented poker players. Gruneberg emerged victorious, and a week later he final tabled the Aussie Millions Main Event, finishing in sixth place for $149,177.
Even being in Australia at the time was a long shot for Gruneberg. Just after he turned 18 in 2008, he was playing in a freeroll tournament on Sportsbook.com where the winner received a package to the Aussie Millions. He made the final table but was last in chips. He battled back, however, and won the package. At first, he opted to take the $16,000 that the package was worth instead of taking the trip.
After grinding up his bankroll in limit cash games, though, he decided to take the trip to Australia. It was there where his poker career took off. After the Aussie Millions, Gruneberg became a fixture in the online tournament scene. In May 2009, he won the PokerStars Sunday Warm-Up for $118,692. All told, he has more than $2,000,000 in online tournament winnings and has the live poker success that is crucial to rookies in their first World Series of Poker appearance.
From Boalsburg, Pennsylvania, Gruneberg's competitive career began as a gamer before he got into poker. In 2007 he attended the World Series of Video Games where he was considered to be one of the best, if not the best, in Call of Duty 1 and Call of Duty 2 on PC. With the money he won from pro gaming, Gruneberg began his poker career.
Although Gruneberg loved to be at his computer multi-tabling the virtual felt, he's taken an optimistic approach about how the Black Friday fallout can be a good thing for his game. He told us, "Ever since Black Friday, I've just had infinite free time. I picked up a new life hobby in golf, which has been keeping me busy, but I am not so good at it yet. Obviously not having online poker in my life depresses me, but maybe it's a blessing in disguise, so by the time I get to the WSOP I am well rested and ready." If anything, the lack of recent playing is making Gruneberg more eager to get back in the swing of it. "I plan on playing a pretty full schedule of events down at the Series. I will be hitting it hard with 20 events that I feel I have the best value in and hopefully will be winning a couple of bracelets." With past online and live success in both limit and no-limit hold'em, Gruneberg plans on sticking to a hold'em-only diet at the WSOP.
Good friends with 2010 WSOP rookies Carter Phillips and the aforementioned Craig Bergeron, Gruneberg hopes to match their rookie success. Last year, his buddies each racked up a final table appearance and six-figure score. In Phillips' case, it was a bracelet as he topped a field of 1,663 in the $1,500 No-Limit Hold'em 6-max tournament for $482,774. Phillips had to get through Bergeron to win, though, as Bergerson took third place in the same event for $189,661. With a similar style and desire to succeed, we expect Gruneberg to make his mark at the WSOP his rookie campaignm as well.