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New Jersey online poker was barely two weeks old when its first highly improbable storyline emerged.
On December 1st, 2013, the inaugural edition of NJ’s largest Sunday tournament – the Party Poker NJ $50k Guaranteed – was won by Mike “MikeyCasino” Azzaro.
And then the very next Sunday, he did it again.
I talked with Azzaro, a full-time poker pro from Yonkers, NY, about his experience with New Jersey’s fledgling online poker market, what he sees for the future of online poker in NJ and what it was like to secure a permanent part in the story of PartyPoker’s return to the United States.
Follow Mike on Twitter: @Michael_Azzaro.
Chris Grove: How long have you been a full-time poker player?
Mike Azzaro: 4 years. I’ve been on the live tournament scene full-time for a little over a year now, though.
Grove: Are you mainly an MTT player? Why? What else do you dabble in?
Azzaro: I started in poker playing cash games. 2 years ago I transitioned into a MTT player. I still love the freedom and fun of cash games but I primarily play tournaments these days.
I think its important for all full-time tournament players to play cash games to keep their bankroll healthy because tournaments are so high variance.
Grove: Why “MikeyCasino?”
Azzaro: When I met my road roommate Asher Conniff he saved me in his phone as Mikey Casino.
Over time that morphed into a nickname/inside joke of ours. When I made my online name it just seemed to fit. The rest,as they say, is history.
Grove: Can you describe the level of competition in the Party tournaments relative to what you’ve experienced in the past — online and live?
Azzaro: I definitely noticed a few tough players on Party Poker these past two weeks. I definitely think there’s going to be a learning curve, with so many New Jersey residents playing online for possibly the first time.
I frequently know alot of players I play with in live tournaments, so the anonymity of online poker in Jersey at this time is, or at least was, pretty nice.
Grove: Are you only playing on Party in NJ or are you spreading your play around? Why?
Azzaro: I put in a session on WSOP.COM last weekend and enjoyed the software alot.
From what I hear, the other sites just don’t have the traffic to make it worth playing. Obviously it’s going to take some time for the player pools to grow and the guarantees to grow, but I’m really impressed with the sites so far.
Grove: Tell us what was going through your head when you made that second final table.
Azzaro: It was honestly pretty surreal. Me and my friends were mostly just laughing at how absurd it was. I was also pretty focused and aware of how awesome it would be to go back to back.
It didn’t hurt that I was second in chips most of the time; that definitely made things more relaxed.
Grove: You’re from outside of NJ – how tough was it to get on to NJ sites as an out-of-state player?
Azzaro: It was super easy. Once they located me as being in New Jersey, which was the hard part, it took 2 minutes to create an account and deposit.
Grove: The first time you won the Sunday 50k there was an $18k overlay. The second time, there was effectively no overlay with 265 players. How many people do you see playing the Sunday $50k tournament in 2 months? A year?
Azzaro: I definitely see online poker growing a lot in New Jersey in the future. I’m optimistic that within a year or two New Jersey players will be allowed to play with players from other states with legalized online poker, which would be a huge advancement of the online game.
Regardless, I think that this Party Poker 50k wont stay a 50k for long. That guarantee will hopefully rise.
Grove: What are the two things NJ poker sites can do to attract more players like you?
Azzaro: They need more tournaments with guarantees on a daily basis as well as specifically on Sundays. In the short term the sites would lose a few bucks, but it would attract new players.
I just think more deposit bonuses, guarantees and other promotions can only help the sites grow. People like free stuff!
Azzaro’s first win:
… and the second: