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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    UA student plays poker with pros

    Courtney Smith/Arizona Daily Wildcat

Justin Gaines won 36,000 playin poker.
    Courtney Smith
    Courtney Smith/Arizona Daily Wildcat Justin Gaines won 36,000 playin poker.

    A marketing student at the UA won more than $36,000 playing poker in Las Vegas against professionals last weekend, and he has won more than $100,000 since August.

    Justin Gaines, a marketing senior, ranked fourth place and won about $36,700 in a live poker tournament in Las Vegas last weekend and played against renowned poker professionals.

    Gaines participated in the $2,500 buy-in event, one of many in the Five-Star World Poker Classic. Gaines was one of 250 participants in the two-day tournament of No Limit Texas Hold’em at the Bellagio Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, he said.

    He played with Men “”The Master”” Nguyen and Scotty Nguyen, two national professional poker players, said his friend, accounting senior Dustin Salzano.

    After receiving fourth place in the tournament, Gaines paid to have three of his friends fly to Las Vegas from Tucson to hang out with him and enjoy the night scene.

    Salzano, who has traveled to Las Vegas with Gaines in the past, said Gaines once won a Hooter’s poker tournament, winning the grand prize – a Hooters T-shirt.

    “”He’s playing against the people you seen on TV (now),”” Salzano said.

    Gaines has won more than $140,000 since August, and he said he plays in at least two poker tournaments a week, mostly online.

    “”We don’t really get to play with him anymore, but it’s fun when we get to because he’s a big shot,”” Salzano said.

    He said that Gaines visits Las Vegas at least once a month to compete in poker tournaments.

    But even though Gaines is making a lot of money and is playing with the pros, he said he doesn’t plan to become a pro himself.

    “”I don’t want to live a gambler’s life,”” he said. But he added that he will always play for fun.

    Gaines said he started playing poker to pass the time with his roommates freshman year. Even though Salzano was not one of Gaines’ roommates, he said he knew he was always above average even when they were all starting out.

    “”We realized it wasn’t all about luck and that there was some skill involved,”” Salzano said of the first times he and some friends played with Gaines.

    Salzano said that he can learn from Gaines every second he plays because he is always involved in some sort of strategy.

    “”He can be a little rambunctious, which is a lot of fun, and other times he’s so quiet, still and to himself that you’ll forget he’s there,”” Salzano said, referring to their game times.

    Salzano said the way Gaines played drew many of them into the game.

    “”He’s the guy that got a lot of us into poker,”” he said.

    Gaines treats poker like a school subject – he now reads books, studies the game, watches other players and practices in order to perfect his strategy.

    Salzano said his hard work has paid off because he is now able to play at a very competitive level.

    “”He is able to make really smart decisions at the right times at a tournament setting, which is hard for people to do,”” Salzano said.

    Gaines said even though he started playing informally with his friends, one of his uncles took poker seriously when he retired and even traveled around to play.

    “”He guided me through the growing pains of playing at a professional level,”” he said.

    Gaines said he began to play more serious poker when he turned 21 because the prestige and big prize money are part of the bigger tournaments. But even though he is now an expert, he still cannot play as much as he would like.

    “”It’s hard for me to get away because of school,”” he said.

    As for advice for those who want to achieve what Gaines has, he said to stay patient and focused when playing.

    “”I would say play within yourself, don’t try to be too creative,”” he said.

    Gaines is not quite sure what the secret to his game is.

    “”To tell you the truth, I don’t even know how I do it,”” Gaines said.

    Gaines said players should try to improve their skills to increase their chances of winning.

    “”I try to minimize the gambling aspect of the game as much as possible, and I try to make it as much of a skill game as I can so I won’t put myself in situations where I have to get lucky,”” he said.

    But most importantly, he said he does not use strategies unless he knows they will work.

    “”I stick to what I know I can do, and I don’t do things I know I am not capable of doing,”” Gaines said.

    Gaines said he plans to participate in The World Series of Poker in Las Vegas, which is a televised poker tournament.

    “”My goal is to be on TV over the summer,”” he said.

    Salzano is excited for Gaines and confident he will do well.

    “”Watch out for Gaines, that’s all I’ve got to say,”” he said.

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