PokerStars Live Festival New Jersey: A Tale of Two Qualifiers

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Peter Smyth came all the way from England to play the PokerStars Festival New Jersey after winning an online qualifier (PokerStars photo / Joe Giron)

Every time PokerStars hosts a live event, whether it’s the European Poker Tour, the Asia-Pacific Poker Tour or the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure, there’s always a slew of players who have made their way to the tournament by qualifying online.

With the rebranding of all of their live tournaments under the PokerStars Live umbrella that didn’t change and as the first PokerStars Live Festival event plays down to a champion Friday night, two players remained who had a shot at turning a small online buy-in into a five-figure live score.

And that’s basically where the similarities end.

Peter Smyth is a 60-year-old British retiree who plays on PokerStars.com more as a hobby than as a means of making any money. He does okay – he’s a SuperNova – but playing poker for him is all about having some fun and taking advantage of his math, statistics and gambling background.

“When it comes to mathematics and gambling, everybody is good at something and that just happens to be my thing. I’m certainly not a professional, there’s much better players than me, I’m very pragmatic and realistic about that. It’s the mathematical challenge, I’m not great at reading people, which is part of the reason I prefer to play online, I think I play a lot tighter live, maybe a bit frightened to make a fool of myself or something,” said Smyth, a former trading director for one of Britain’s largest gambling companies.

Smyth was playing on PokerStars.com from his home in England and noticed the satellite in the tournament lobby.

“(The buy-in) was like $200 and I just happened to notice, I was playing in a couple of other tournaments at the time, and it looked like there might possibly be an overlay,” said Smyth. “I haven’t played live for maybe five or six years, just the traveling and stuff, and I thought well it looks like value. I think there were three packages and there were just 12 players and you could re-enter once. And I thought well why not and I got through okay, so that was fine.”

Next thing he knew he was booking airfare on his way to Atlantic City.

Michael Gagliano is one of New Jersey’s most respected online pros (PokerStars photo / Joe Giron)

Michael ‘Gags30’ Gagliano is a professional poker and the #8-ranked poker player in his home state of New Jersey. He makes his living playing on the regulated poker sites his state has to offer and the surrounding live tournament scene in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. He also won his first World Series of Poker bracelet this summer.

Gagliano qualified in a $109 buy-in satellite that guaranteed 25 seats. Being a pro in one of the only three states to offer regulated online poker means being able to take advantage of low buy-in qualifiers for some of the bigger land-based events that fill the calendar.

‘I knew they had satellites for this. There was a few that ran during the week that only had one seat. So I played a couple. I was pretty sure I was going to come to this anyway, but once I won a seat, obviously I had to come,” said Gagliano. “I play all of the satellites. I played all of the satellites for this, all of the satellites for Borgata. Anything that runs that’s going to be in the area, I definitely play a satellite for it.”

Smyth eventually busted in eighth place, turning his $200 investment into a $4,455 payday. He had dreams of turning his satellite win into top three money and sticking around the East Coast in hopes of running it up, but it wasn’t meant to be.

“If I finish in the top three I might well stay and play next week in the Borgata, possibly,” said Smyth before he was eliminated. “If I finish seventh or eighth I’m back on the plane, back to England and back in front of the screen again.”

Gagliano, as he’s done for most of the tournament, is still hovering near the chip lead with seven players remaining in the hunt for the $38,220 first place prize.