Nearly every ride at Disney World starts with a slow build-up and crescendos into some combination of speed and excitement before inevitably slowing to a halt to allow the rider to safely depart. The last 14 months of Anthony Maio’s life have closely resembled a thrill ride, but one that shows no signs of slowing down at all.
The slow build-up actually came in October 2017 at Disney World in Orlando when he proposed to his longtime girlfriend, Jenelle, while Mickey and Minnie Mouse and Jenelle’s daughter looked on. Things began to accelerate a few months later when he took some of the money he’s won playing live and online poker in New Jersey and started putting it to work for him.
“It’s been a whirlwind, said Maio. “Especially to start the year. I started a charter fishing and motorsports business here in South Jersey.”
Maio admits he’s not much of a fisherman, and the business is actually run by one of Maio’s close friends, so it doesn’t take him away from the online games he frequents.
“I play probably seven days a week,” Maio said. “Start at seven to eight at night and end up around four every day. So I probably play eight hours, [six or seven] days a week. I usually try to take a night off for a date night every week.”
Maio, currently ranked #82 in the PocketFives Online Poker Rankings, might have thought he’d hit peak velocity over the summer. While poker pros from around the world headed to Las Vegas for the seven weeks of the World Series of Poker, Maio stayed back in New Jersey, where he found his working conditions improving quite a bit.
“Grinding in Jersey during the summer is the best decision I could make,” Maio said. “Not only for the business, that’s pretty much self-sufficient, but the fact that every grinder goes to Vegas. I’m the only one here. You see so many people come out of the woodwork that don’t play poker online that just are online in the summertime. I don’t know where they come from, I don’t know if they’re people just here visiting, but it’s great.”
That doesn’t mean he avoided Sin City entirely during the summer, though. He made one trip in mid-June and picked up $8,632 cash at the Venetian before heading back east. He continued grinding online and when the WSOP $1,000 No-Limit Hold’em Online Championship event rolled around, Maio was ready. He outlasted 1,633 other players before losing heads-up to Ryan Tosoc for the bracelet.
“Getting second in a bracelet event in Jersey at my home at 10 a.m. was pretty cool,” Maio said. “It would’ve been awesome to win the bracelet, but doing that in New Jersey was quite amazing.”
The thrill ride now in full swing, Maio packed up and headed back to Las Vegas with the WSOP Main Event in sight. This was the second consecutive year that he’s stayed home and played online and he’s noticed both years the difference it makes in his Main Event mindset compared to some of his colleagues who were gone all summer.
“I’m coming every year to Vegas and I’m fresh for the Main,” Maio said. “I see so many people burned out, they’re just away in the summer and their summer’s been going terrible. So they’re already over it by the time the Main rolls around, and I get there and I’m excited to play. So it’s a big difference.”
Coming in fresh, and with his fiancé there for support, Maio breezed through the first few days of the Main Event. As the money bubble approached, Maio couldn’t believe what he was witnessing.
“My table on the bubble was so insane,” Maio said. “I had 30 bigs to start when it went hand-for-hand and my table had all Euros on it. I didn’t see a pot. I got moved to this table. I sat there for a good 20 minutes of hand-for-hand, and I didn’t see one hand that was not at least three-bet. That’s how action-happy these people were.”
Seeing as how he couldn’t even enter a pot, let alone win one, Maio did something he’s never done before. While the tournament was hand-for-hand, Maio left the table and went outside to get some air while the madness played out inside the Amazon Room at the Rio.
“It took 20 minutes,” Maio said. “I only lost maybe 25K in chips. So not even four or five big blinds. I came back, had a great Day 4 table, and then made it to Day 5.”
He busted in 377th place for $33,305 and immediately headed back to New Jersey. He played a few live events at Borgata but mostly continued to grind online until the World Poker Tour Borgata Poker Open in mid-September. Maio continued his great run and wound up at the six-handed final table with a shot at $575,000. It wasn’t meant to be, though, as Maio couldn’t spin his short stack up and was eliminated in sixth. The final table wasn’t the most disappointing day of that tournament, though.
“It was frustrating the day before [the final table],” remembered Maio. “At the final table, the only frustrating part was the kid waking up with kings and slamming them down and fist-pumping it. That was frustrating.”
The frustration didn’t last, but Maio’s seemingly endless thrill ride did. In late September, on the second day of the PokerStars New Jersey Championship of Poker, Maio entered the $86 buy-in Chris Moneymaker Tour Online event that awarded a $30,000 Platinum Pass to the winner. Maio beat out 409 other players to win the tournament and now is preparing himself to head to the Bahamas in January to play the PokerStars Players Championship event, the largest $25,000 buy-in poker tournament in history. Maio, who doesn’t normally travel to play poker tournaments, is looking forward to this one.
“Every known player, I’m assuming, is gonna play that and they’re entering 300 Platinum Pass winners and most of the Platinum Pass winners are not professional poker players,” said Maio. “I’m probably one of the few Platinum Pass winners that’s actually a professional. So that alone, there’s so much value in the field. Plus, they’re adding a million dollars for first. The structure itself looks amazing. It’s a freeze-out, so the bosses can’t come in and just blast off. Because if you give Bryn Kenney 10 bullets, he’s just gonna beat you every time.”
Thanks to the runner-up in the bracelet event and the WPT final table, Maio decided to pitch Jenelle on changing up their wedding plans.
“We were gonna do something in Virginia, in the mountains, and then I got second in the bracelet event, and I just said, ‘Let’s just get married in Disneyworld’,” said Maio. Jenelle was all for it and almost exactly one year after getting engaged in front of Mickey and Minnie, the pair got married with friends and family watching on.
With the PSPC, another live Borgata series, and the online games in New Jersey all presenting opportunities for ever more momentum, Maio isn’t ready for this ride to end.