SPRINGFIELD, NJ - Paul Marzarella thought it was just going to be a check off of his bucket list. But as he found out, his trip to the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas would turn out to be a whole lot more exciting.
Marzarella, a Union resident and Springfield business owner said that he has been playing competitive poker for almost a decade.
"I got into poker competitively in 2010 and 2011," Marzarella said, as explained that he started after being laid off from his previous job in accounting, a skill set that helped him with numbers.
While he built up his new business, a frozen yogurt shop on Route 22 in Springfield called Yo Addiction, Marzarella explained that he would go to the Sands Casino in Bethlehem, PA roughly five days a week for a year to build up his skills in poker.
"Then I got into mortgages," he added. "I started doing mortgages a few years ago and I stopped playing totally [in 2013]. I didn't have time."
Despite not having the time to play as often as he liked, Marzarella still had the itch for poker and would watch on TV.
"Every year since 2003, when it [was shown] on ESPN, I've been watching the World Series of Poker," Marzarella said. "I'm addicted to it. And I always said I was going to do it one year."
He continued, saying "move forward to the middle of June this year, not even thinking about poker. haven't played it in a year. Played one hundred dollar tournament...My cousin says he's going out there for two months. He does it professionally."
After hearing about his cousin's plan to play in the main tournament, Marzarella felt like this was something he wanted to do as well. So he got coverage for the yogurt shop, decided he would work on his mortgages remotely, and packed up for Vegas.
"The time frame of my life just fit," he said, "Where I could sneak away for 10 to 12 days, work remotely from a computer and my world wouldn't blow up. And so I did it."
Marzarellla booked the trip in the middle of June and headed out. "You see the big World Series of Poker sign and boom, it hits you right there like wow, you're really here," he said.
He paid the $10,000 entry fee in partnership with two other people, and then Marzarella entered the tournament.
At first, he planned to keep his participation in the tournament under wraps, with nobody in the loop. But after checking in on Facebook in Las Vegas and mentioning he was playing, Marzarella got major feedback. That was when he decided to bring everyone on Facebook into the loop and let them follow along.
Even though he was a bit out of sync from not playing professionally in a while, Marzarella bagged chips on day one, got through day two and got to the money rounds on day three. And as he continued to advance, he found himself being rooted on by a crowd on Facebook following along with his every move.
Along with his fun, Marzarella had to also balance his business life as well. He would get up at 6:00 a.m. Vegas time each morning, work until around 11:00 a.m. on mortgages with realtors back east, and would head to the tournament around noon each day. On top of that, he was also hit with an illness, playing through the flu from day two onwards.
But still, he persisted through it all and played on.
On day four, with two hands to go, Marzarella explained that he had a hand with two kings, but was bested at the table by a player with a pair of aces in his hand. After that, he kept betting, but could not regain the chips he had before being beaten.
For Marzarella, one of the most exciting things about the tournament was being able to share it with his friends on Facebook and elsewhere back in this area.
"Looking forward to reading the comments at the table and giving the update with the next post," Marzarella said. "Knowing that it felt like I was a football team playing in a home stadium. I could feel the people in their comments and their likes and their private messages and their texts."
He said that the attention on Facebook from his friends back home helped him to focus and avoid playing recklessly. And now, with more experience under his belt, Marzarella said a return trip was most likely happening again next year too.
"I'm going to do it again," he said. "And I can't wait. It's going to be a lot of fun. I can't say I'm going to do it every year, again, I have to see what my next year looks like, but I can't see me possibly not going back next year."
Marzarela added, "I feel like if I played that tournament right now, my momentum would just pick up where it was, and I could win that tournament right now."
Marzarella finished the 2019 World Series of Poker in 324th place, good for a spot in the top four percent of players at this year's championship.