The Borgata Winter Poker Open starts this week in Atlantic City. The $2 million guaranteed opening serves as an opportunity for many players to earn a breakthrough score with a deep run. John ‘jalesi’ Alesi found his own breakout in April when he chopped the same event on the Spring Poker Open schedule and won over $81,000 in the process.
The cash validated Alesi’s non-linear path to a poker career that he built after graduating from Rutgers University in 2016. Alesi built a modest bankroll during his time in school and made the decision to immediately forego pursuing a career modeled on his English degree to instead write his own narrative.
Alesi makes most of his living playing online poker in New Jersey coupled with major tournament series on the East Coast. The cash game mindset built within Alesi took time to transition when he first started to play more tournaments. At this time last year, Alesi was in the latter stages of pivoting his poker life toward MTTs.
“The adjustment from live cash to live MTTs is an interesting one,” Alesi said. “When I initially started playing poker, tournaments didn’t have much appeal to me. I wasn’t into the concept of playing for an entire day or more and not making any money. I think something that took some getting used to is handling the bad beats and sudden exits well. You just have to have the mentality of ‘On to the next one,’ and that takes experience to fully develop.”
An example of Alesi’s perseverance paying off took place at the start of this month. In the January 7 Sunday Special on PokerStarsNJ, Alesi overcame a field of 268 to win the vaunted event for the first time. The gold medal boosted Alesi’s bankroll by $10,194 and put some wind at his back coming into the Winter Poker Open.
If he can make a few deep runs to start the year, Alesi would like to play more larger buy-in events than what he is accustomed to.
“My goal is really to just put the time in on and off the table. I plan to play a lot and travel to some events that I haven’t been before. A big result in the WPO would allow me to play a bigger WSOP schedule and take some shots.”
Alesi took the first of these “shots” in October when he played the $3,500 World Poker Tour event at Maryland! Live. That shot came close to resulting in a cash for Alesi but an unlucky break near the bubble cost him and he finished outside the money.
Always level-headed, Alesi took the hit in stride and used the lessons learned by playing with some of the best in the world and used it to make back-to-back Day 3 appearances in the Parx Big Stax series later that month. Alesi finished fifth in the Big Stax 500 and collected $23,888.
“I think just the experience of playing in larger buy-ins that many people never get a chance to play was rewarding in itself. They were good opportunities to get comfortable playing higher stakes and learn to treat them like normal tournaments,” Alesi said.
When he first entered the poker world for a full-time living, Alesi gave himself 18-24 months to see where road less traveled might take him. Coming into the start of 2018, Alesi is excited that he has another year of poker to look forward to before reevaluating his plans.
At the rate his game is progressing, Alesi could be in for a year of strong finishes and potentially his first six-figure score. Alesi’s journey, like many others, starts at the Borgata and it will be interesting to see where things end up by December.