PA’s Zachary Gruneberg Can Finally Return to His Online Roots

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Zachary Gruneberg is among the players looking forward to the return of online poker to Pennsylvania (WPT Photo)

Poker players in Pennsylvania rejoiced when the state formally signed online gaming into legislation, making years of waiting finally a reality. From his home in Boalsburg, PA, Zachary ‘hustlergrune’ Gruneberg was among those celebrating as the recent homeowner is now able to go back to his roots in online poker.

A lot has changed for Gruneberg since Black Friday, and he looks forward to seeing what the future holds for his home state once button clicking commences in 2018.

In his heyday, the Season XV World Poker Tour Borgata Poker Open runner-up was playing, in his estimation, 60-70 hours per week grinding online MTTs. Those hours added up to roughly $3 million in online earnings for Gruneberg.

Today, the 28-year-old Gruneberg travels to the occasional live tournament and plays in home games in the State College, Pennsylvania area where he has lived his entire life. Online poker is something Gruneberg is happy to have back in his life but says he will not be devoting a full-time effort to it the way he once did.

After Black Friday, Gruneberg bounced around between Costa Rica and Canada as moved forward with his online career. Eventually, a substance abuse addiction forced Gruneberg home where he was able to clean up his life through rehabilitation. Since 2014, Gruneberg has maintained his sobriety and credits the change for the ascension in his poker career. That summer, Gruneberg made three World Series of Poker final tables and fully immersed himself in the live scene.

Gruneberg never planned on fully giving up his life as a Pennsylvanian and coincidentally closed on his new home only a few weeks prior to the recent news.

Having familiarity with Pennsylvania’s player pool gives Gruneberg a unique perspective on what expectations should be for when play begins in the nation’s sixth-most populated state.

“Online poker should be one of the greatest things that have ever happened to the state,” Gruneberg said. “All the people I see around the state, they love gambling and playing poker. There’s a lot of farmers in the area. What better than working out in the field and playing online poker to end the day?”

The numbers that Gruneberg speaks of bear out, especially at Parx Casino. Located just outside of Philadelphia, the acclaimed Big Stax series runs five times per year and draws tens of thousands entries for 14 total tournaments.

Gruneberg thinks those numbers will carry over to the online side of things. In terms of drawing new players, Gruneberg is looking more toward the younger market for how sites should be attracting that audience. A trend that Gruneberg has noticed in his home games is most of the players he is up against are in their 40s and 50s.

When Gruneberg first came up in the online ranks, he played primarily on Full Tilt Poker due to his preference for the more appealing software choice. Given the popularity of video games for the early 20s demographic, Gruneberg senses they might be willing to try poker if, similiar to Full Tilt, there’s a video game design element to it.

“I think there’s a good chance of a boom happening. The sites need to adjust their interface to attract people who play e-sports and hit them in the right way. If you hit the younger generation, there could be a poker boom in the state.”

Gruneberg estimates that adding online poker to his day-to-day routine will help improve his overall bottom line. Playing cash games rather instead of tournaments also gives him the freedom to enjoy more of a social life with his fiance and spend time with friends in the area. When he came up in his late-teens and early-20s, Gruneberg burnt out from playing in front his computer for the dozens of hours each week.

Once online comes back, Gruneberg admits he will have a long way to go to catch up to the technology he thinks his opponents will be using to try and gain any edge they can.

“I’m behind the times. I’ve never used a HUD or watched a training video. As a whole, online is getting harder and harder. The great thing is, you can always get better at poker.”

Another major question on the plate of the state’s poker development is the addition of primary online brands.

Pennsylvania is one of the richest states of homegrown poker talent with 2015 WSOP Main Event champion Joe McKeehen, Paul Volpe, and Mark Herm earning their stripes online before moving on to the live game. The trio are current residents of the state and Gruneberg is curious about how much volume top players who also play live cash games will put in as the games get started.

There are also potential expectations of players moving from other states to play in Pennsylvania, regardless of whether or not the state joins the joint player pool coalition forged by Delaware, Nevada, and New Jersey.

Gruneberg, for one, is utilizing a “wait and see” approach.

“Right away, that could happen. Word of mouth is pretty important. You hear about Jake Toole crushing games [in New Jersey] and how easy it is. If you can get that type of hype, people will move there. Grinders will move where their ROI is the highest. I’m more about balance.”

There are many stories roaming through Pennsylvania of players whose lives have changed or may change with online poker available. Gruneberg’s is one of many and when the first hand is dealt in 2018, the next chapter of his poker career will officially begin.