Legal online poker has only been available in New Jersey for three weeks. But Mike Azzaro is already taking the Garden State by storm.
Playing under the moniker "MikeyCasino," Azzaro won the first two Sunday Majors ever held at NJ.partypoker.com. The $200 buy-in, $50,000 guaranteed weekly tournament drew 173 players in its first week, and the number of entrants increased by 50% to 265 last Sunday. Amazingly, Azzaro was the last man standing in both.
Some have jokingly called the tournament rigged, but one thing is certain: Azzaro is no slouch on the felt. The poker pro from Yonkers, N.Y. has been grinding the live circuit all over the Northeast for the past year, spending most of his time in Atlantic City and Pennsylvania. After legal online poker launched in New Jersey last month, he made the short trip to Atlantic City to play in the $50,000 guaranteed event on Dec. 1. Nine hours later, he walked away with the top prize of $8,050 after a deal at the final table.
On Dec. 8 he accomplished the feat again, securing back-to-back titles and another $7,091.
"The first one was a real grind to the money," Azzaro explained to PokerNews about his first victory. "I made a tough call on the bubble to double up, and was able to chip up on the bubble pretty nicely after that. I rode an above average stack to the final table, then ran pretty well in some big spots."
"The second $50K went surprisingly smoothly," he continued. "I had a 100-plus big blind stack pretty much the whole tournament. In the money with less than 40 people left I won aces over kings over queens, which was both really fortunate and also gave me the chip lead. The tournament has an amazing structure that I think I took advantage of really well."
Azzaro is currently playing a tournament at the Foxwoods Resort Casino in Connecticut, but he told PokerNews that he fully intends to be in New Jersey this Sunday to try for the "hat trick."
"Simply put, if I miss this Sunday's $50k on partypoker, it's because I'm very deep in the Foxwoods main event," Azzaro said.
It’s a safe guess that online grinders in New Jersey are hoping he runs well in Connecticut.
Even if he's unable to win a third straight title, Azzaro's early success on partypoker might result in a major life decision. He has given serious thought to getting a place in New Jersey in order to play online full time.
"I'm really excited for online poker in New Jersey, and I'd much prefer living in New Jersey instead of having to travel there constantly. I'm looking at some places near Atlantic City right now, but nothing is set in stone."
"It's awesome to have access to safe, legalized online poker," he added. "It's gonna be so awesome when, eventually, New Jersey online poker is integrated with other states in America. That's when online poker will see real growth."
Whether or not he makes the move, online poker players in the Garden State can expect to see plenty of "MikeyCasino" at the tables. And partypoker will understandably serve as his virtual stomping ground.
"The new partypoker software is really impressive considering how new everything is, and I'm sure it will only get better with time," he said. "And obviously my tournament experience has been pretty great so far!"
The partypoker $50,000 guaranteed tournament begins every Sunday at 7:30 p.m. ET. Among the players participating in the new flagship tournament include Team partypoker's Jamie Kerstetter, Bobby Oboodi, and Scott Baumstein.
Partypoker, teamed up with the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, is the early leader out the gates in New Jersey. According to traffic reports by PokerScout.com, partypoker currently boasts around half of the market share in the Garden State, averaging about 220 real-money cash game players over the past week. The company's top competitor, WSOP.com, has seen an average of 140 players during that same time span.