Gilbert ‘YourPokerPastor’ Thurston Finds Sheer Joy In PokerStars PA

Gilbert 'YourPokerPastor' Thurston is reveling in the return of online poker to Pennsylvania. (photo: Twitter)

On Monday, PokerStars PA started the first of two days worth of testing before they officially go live in Pennsylvania. It has been over two years since online poker was officially legalized and poker players in the Keystone State were eager for their online grind to return. This time in a legalized, regulated market.

One of those players ready for poker to return was 13-year Pennsylvania resident Gilbert ‘pgt4jc’ Thurston. After the long wait, Thurston was one of the very first players to download and log on to PokerStars PA.

“I travel a lot to serve in third world countries so in the grand scheme of things these delays were nothing,” Thurston said, “In poker terms though…it was agony.”

Online, Thurston goes by his ‘YourPokerPastor’ screen name, and for him, it isn’t just a moniker. The 46-year old semi-pro grinder is, in fact, a pastor and this January he will be celebrating 20 years in the role.

“I began playing as a kid but then stopped for a brief time after I first became Christian in my early 20s. I wasn’t sure if [playing poker] was something I should be doing. Later though after some research, I began playing again.”

He started on the social sites, then graduated to PokerStars after learning about the site from someone at the church where he was a pastor at the time. Eventually, he made an account and PokerStars put $2 in his account for free. He never really looked back.

“My entire poker career has stemmed from the $2 PokerStars originally freerolled me with,” he said. “I was extremely lucky because I just played recreationally making a few thousand in side money.”

In 2013, he took the next step. He received coaching from current Thirst Lounge member John ‘BetOnDrew’ Gonzales, Alex ‘TheAssassinato’ Fitzgerald and top-ranked U.S. online grinder Michael ‘Gags30’ Gagliano. He continued to play online when he could, where he could. Now, he’s ready to enjoy a steady dose of online poker whenever he wants from the comfort of his home.

“I have been able to play PokerStars while in AC and Vegas but the sheer joy of playing in my own home is just unreal. After Black Friday I never thought we’d see this day come but here we are and it’s fantastic.”

That’s right, online poker is back and Pennsylvania and everything that comes along with it.

“Although I busted the first tournament pocket kings vs. ace-jack. So we’ll see how many bad beats it takes before I’m singing a different tune,” he laughed.

The first day of the return of online poker was a success as far as Thurston is concerned.

“Sign-up was super easy once I was able to find the correct link,” he said. “Deposit was easy too, although I was not allowed to use my Visa even though that was an option. The other two options were a bank account and PayPal, the latter of which I chose.”

“Another awesome thing is the shorter late-reg times. On most of the unregulated U.S. facing sites we were looking at three, sometimes four, hours of late reg for every tournament. That is not rec friendly at all and quite frankly made the grind an actual grind for many of us. I’m sure as PokerStars offers non-turbo games or higher guaranteed tournaments there may be some with longer late registration but at least initially the 40 minutes late regs have been quite refreshing.”

With PokerStars PA just being the beginning for online poker in the state, there’s plenty to look forward to.

“This is going to sound dumb, but having my scores tracked again is what I’m looking forward to,” he said, noting that many offshore sites do not have tournament scores tracked. “I used that as motivation to get to #1 in PA for, I believe, it was 17 consecutive months. I was as high as #11 in the USA and got to #971 in the world.”

Being tracked on PocketFives helped Thurston start his PocketFives blog, tally his scores and climb the ranks. However, as serious as the pastor takes the game, he still answers to a higher calling.

“Today poker is still just a side hustle, albeit a daily profitable one that takes some financial pressure off my wife and me as we continue to pastor at the church. Currently, I have a lot going on ministry-wise so my poker volume has been reduced quite a bit over the last 12-18 months but I still enjoy learning and growing and using it to keep my competitive juices flowing.”