Busy Man: Catching With Up With BetMGM Ambassador Darren Elias

13 Dec 2023
Sean Chaffin 13 Dec 2023
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  • Reflects on US Poker Open win
  • Thought on expanded BetMGM Championship
  • World Series of Poker plans
Darren ELias at the WPT Cash Game table in 2022. (credit: World Poker Tour)
It’s been a nice month for four-time World Poker Tour champion Darren Elias. The New Jersey grinder recently took down a U.S. Poker Open title and is also launching a new training program with Upswing Poker.

The PokerGO victory was particularly rewarding and became his first title on the network. He scored $313,200 in the $15,000 No Limit Hold’em event.

“It felt good to grab a win at the U.S. Poker Open,” he says. “It's always satisfying to have success against tough competition, and any time I'm out at one of these PokerGO series I enjoy the challenge of battling with other top players.”

No doubt many players aren’t always looking forward to battling Elias. The BetMGM Poker ambassador spoke with PokerWired about the win, his approach to poker training, his plans for the World Series of Poker, and the upcoming Aria Poker Championship.

At the Poker Tables

Elias is no stranger to poker success. The record holder for WPT wins has $11.2 million in live tournament winnings. On the WPT, he also holds records for cashes (47) and final table appearances (13). He also sits fifth in total winnings on the tour at $4.7 million. In the PokerGO Studio in late March, Elias says everything just seems to come together, including making several big hands down the stretch.

That included winning a major flip at the beginning of the final table. His pocket eights on the small blind held up against an opponent’s Ace-Queen in a small blind versus button situation.

“That took me from a middling stack to the chip lead and set myself up in a good position to win the tournament,” he says.

Elias also scored seventh- and ninth-place finishes in the series, moving him into 19th on the PokerGO Tour leaderboard. The win added to an already-stellar career. Looking back, that first WPT win at the Borgata Poker Open in 2014 for $843,744 remains his most-treasured win.

“That's still my biggest score and to be able to have that first major win at my home casino with my family there to watch,” he says, “was a special moment I'll always remember.”

Coach Elias reports for Poker Training Duty

With so many poker skins on the wall, it seemed a foregone conclusion that other players might seek some of his tutelage. In the past, Elias has offered one-on-one coaching and private lessons. He’s now launching something new, creating a training course with friend Nick Petraneglo.

“I think I'm able to bring a realistic perspective to the table, where I have a good assessment of what different types of players are actually doing strategically in poker tournaments,” Elias says.

“While understanding theory and doing solver work has a lot of value, especially in preparation for tournaments with strong fields, solver strategies certainly shouldn't be applied directly to smaller-stakes games or softer fields. I believe exploitative play will yield higher win rates against weaker competition and focus on that idea in most of my training content.”

The Road to Victory training program will be released on Upswing Poker on May 8 and each player brings his own views to the table. No stranger to being on camera after appearing at so many final tables, Elias found recording training videos took some adjustment.

“As an old guy getting familiar with the technical aspects, the recording software, microphone, et cetera, it was difficult at first as well as getting comfortable in front of the camera and recording,” he says. “However, once I got going initially it got easier.

“Collaborating with Nick was a lot of fun and we bring different areas of expertise to the table, so a lot of this content we created is unique in the sense that viewers will get to hear different perspectives and even debate from two strong players.”

BetMGM Championship Offers Plenty of Fun for Online Qualifiers

As an ambassador, Elias will be heavily involved in the $3,500 BetMGM Poker Championship, set for June 9-13 at the Aria in Las Vegas. The first event was held last year and included numerous online qualifiers from New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Ontario, Canada.

The platform has worked to partner with MGM’s premier resorts in recent years, offering online qualifiers to the Borgata in Atlantic City as well. Company organizers are hoping to bring even more online players this summer to the Aria.

The first tournament saw Joey Weissman take the win for $224,236. The event featured a $1 million guarantee and topped that by almost $100,000 with 343 entries. The guarantee has now been doubled and Elias is excited to be part of the festivities again.

“I’m really hyped for the return of the BetMGM Poker Championship this summer,” he says. “Players can expect an even bigger turnout than last year as we are guaranteeing a $2 million prize pool and sending around 100 online qualifiers.

“One of the cooler aspects of this event is that Day 3 and later will be exclusively in the PokerGo Studio. Giving players the chance to play in the premier venue in poker, where the Super High Roller Bowl and other high stakes tournaments and cash games are played, is a great perk as that’s always been my favorite spot to play poker.”

The mix of online qualifiers and poker pros can make for some interesting dynamics, Elias says. He enjoyed meeting some of the recreational online players, hearing their stories, and even offering some poker advice when sought.

“Last year I remember meeting a lot of players who hadn't really played any major championship-type live events or bigger buy-ins, so they were obviously really excited,” he says. “Some got in on freerolls or for as little as $20. I was able to give a few pointers to the qualifiers before the event and hope to do so again this year. 

“Similar to when I was qualifying for major live events early in my career, a lot of the qualifiers are just happy to be there and grateful for the experience. Even if not successful in the tournament itself, the qualifiers are still being treated to an all expenses paid trip to and staying at one of the nicest casino resorts in Las Vegas.”

Making Plans for the World Series of Poker

With the WSOP approaching, Elias will also be taking in some bracelet hunting action this summer as well. He’s yet to grab some hardware but came close last year, finishing fourth in a $3,000 NLHE event for $183,616.

As a family man with young children, Elias doesn’t get away for as many events as other players but is looking forward to the action. He likes to make two or three shorter trips of around 10 days, playing the bigger No Limit Hold’em events.

Those plans also include the $10,000 No Limit 2-7 Lowball Draw Championship, a particular favorite, and the $10,000 Main Event. But family life is important to Elias and he tries to keep that in perspective.

“It's always frustrating to have to miss some events I'd like to play, but putting family first is important to me and there will always be more poker tournaments,” he says. 

“I also enjoy the breaks from poker and being back home with my family during the series. I think a lot of players who stay out there the entire series and play everything end up getting burnt out and unhappy toward the end of the summer.”

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