A welcome Americas Cup of Poker return for Team USA
While the Copa America occupies the sporting screens of the Americas this month, nations of the poker world will come together in New Jersey for the Americas Cup of Poker.
This year the competition has a different look, celebrating the doors opening to online poker in the Garden State. While there will be teams from Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Venezuela and the "rest" of LATAM, particular attention will gall on Team USA, qualifying online for the first time since Black Friday.
It all starts today at Resorts Casino in Atlantic City, with a series of Sit & Go's between members of each team culminating in heads-up matches tomorrow to determine the final result.
We took a closer look at the US team, an eclectic bunch with various poker experience:
Robert "s.l. halper" Taylor
Frederick "Scooby-D0O" Ferrell Jr
Anthony "pokerkingBx" Garcia
Brian "s3lfreliance" Wood
Like Robert Taylor, a graduate of nearby Princeton and now a Certified Civil Trial Attorney. He's been playing poker with family since he was five.
"Our holiday party is the yearly Festivus tournament," he said, "an all-night poker tournament that is in its second decade."
He began playing poker online in 2005, turning $100 into a part0time poker career that helped him pay his way while working in a law business, and serving as a councilman, before opting to play full time in 2009.
"I thoroughly enjoyed the freedom of playing poker full time and got a well-needed break from the rigors of the legal world."
In 2011 he went back to law, setting up his own practice in Union, New Jersey. "I intended to practice law and play poker equally, but Black Friday temporarily closed off that possibility."
Then a second chance.
Online poker returned to New Jersey, and like many players, Taylor walked back into the light. For Taylor was a chance to play cards again and even pay a few bills, not to mention vacations with friends.
That would include the ACP.
Freddy Ferrell is another professional player. Aged 29, and known as Scooby-D0O on PokerStars NJ, he's been playing professionally for three years, and while he calls his live poker experience "modest", he still has more than $42,000 in earnings to show for it.
"I love poker so much because it gives me a very flexible life style and also allows me to be the best father I can be."
"When I read about the PokerStars NJ SCOOP schedule, me and a few friends made a bet on who was going to do the best in the leader board. Once I heard about what the leader board prize was, they gave me the most motivation I have ever experienced.
"Poker is my life for the time being and I really can't complain about how it has treated me."
Since PokerStars returned to NJ Ferrell has been making up for lost time, cashing for more than $85,000 and finishing second on the MTT leader board in the first month. Last month he finished first. That and his NJSCOOP leader board finish earned him his place on Team USA.
A philosophy and government major at Georgetown University and a graduate of Harvard Law, Brian Wood is also a pretty decent poker player.
"I always enjoyed games growing up. When I found poker in high school, instantly I loved it. The prospect of playing a game and being able to profit based on my skill level kept me consistently intrigued."
Wood played online during breaks in college and law school, playing tournaments, but now, juggling work commitments, he's more of a cash player.
But while for some people poker becomes their central preoccupation, it's clearly just a pastime for Wood, whose obsession lies elsewhere.
He's the co-founder of an organization called ThinkerAnalytix, which aims to equip students with fundamental reasoning skills to help them thrive in their academic, professional and personal lives.
More recently he has been working on issues related to preventing child abuse.
"I plan on dedicating a large part of my career to providing resources for those who are survivors of child abuse and ensuring that every child is protected from the trauma of emotional, physical and sexual abuse."
This weekend though his attention will be back on poker, a lucrative hobby up to now.
"It's a fascinating game psychologically and strategically. I feel lucky to have the opportunity to represent the United States at the America's Cup."
Ryan Woods is from South Plainfield, New Jersey. The 29 year old is a plumber by trade, but combines that with what he calls "an extreme love for the game!"
Woods won his place in the team in the Americas Cup of Poker Freeroll tournament, outlasting nearly 1,200 players.
"I am very excited, and honoured to be playing in this tournament and representing Team USA.
That Woods beat 1,200 players was quite something. But really, he beat 1.2 million players. That's how many entered the competition, to become part of their nation team and head to New Jersey this weekend to play.
For the winners some $30,000 to share between them and, in keeping with the sporting season, tickets to the Copa America final, to be played on Sunday between Argentina, and Chile at the MetLife Stadium in New Jersey.
It's all to play for. Check back on the PokerStars Blog on Monday to see how things turn out.
Stephen Bartley is a staff writer for the PokerStars Blog.