Black Friday devastation turns to retirement and riches

Darren Maroni had just made the leap.

He was going to be a professional poker player, and he was going to do it online. The dream--at least that part of it--lasted barely more than a year before poker's Black Friday. April 15, 2011, turned Maroni from an online poker player into...well, not much of anything.

"I basically did nothing from April 15 until the WSOP that year which put me in an even worse spot," Maroni admitted. "I brought my meager roll to Vegas with a plan to run it up at the Series & continue the grind or go busto and seek out a regular job."

In the binary world of big time or busto, Maroni ended with the zero.

Busted and beaten, Maroni re-evaluated and discovered his decision didn't necessarily have to be so binary. There was another option. He had a friend (known as Quadchrazs) who had some money to lend. It wasn't much, especially considering Maroni had to move to Canada to play. But, with a loan in place, Maroni began to play $2 buy-in 180-player SNGs.

"I had to start lower than I was used to because finances were really tight, but I now possessed a focus and drive like I never had before," Maroni said. "I had a new appreciation for the opportunity to play poker, and I did not want to waste it." Two months later, he moved to 6-max hypers. Three months after that grind began, with the loan paid back, he began the first of three Supernova Elite years.


Practice retirement

One can only grind the 6-max hypers for so long. Maroni burned out in 2014, moved to Florida, and didn't play a hand of poker for four months.

"Essentially this was a practice retirement," Maroni said, "and it was awesome!"

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While he didn't officially come out of retirement, he thought it might not be too bad to find a nice place with some nice weather where he could occasionally play online. Turns out, that place exists in Playa del Carmen, the home away from home for many of America's exiled online players. The plan was to just keep doing what he did before, but then he ended up at dinner with friend Aaron "abarone68" Barone, and the subject of Spin & Go tourneys came up.

"Aaron told me that he'd been giving them a try lately and that they seemed like a great option," Maroni said.

So, Maroni went home and gave the tourneys a spin.

"I decided that day to give this new format a shot and soon felt another surge of motivation to study, put in hours at the tables, and endure swings," he said. "I didn't have to endure very long, because about five weeks in, I spun the $180,000 Spin & Go and won it!"

You read that right. Maroni, known as live@pompeii on PokerStars, who was just a few weeks into dabbling with Spin & Go tourneys, won $180,000.

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Now, that's basically all he does on PokerStars. He grinds Spin & Gos.

"I love the freedom a quick format gives to my schedule," he said.


Freedom's riches

Maroni needs his freedom, because he is not your typical poker player. He's awake at 5:30am every morning. Indeed, at a time many poker players are going to bed, Maroni is racing the sun.

"Getting out that early helps me avoid the worst of the heat here in Playa," he said.

About 18 months ago, Maroni decided to start running. He needed to lose weight and found that putting foot to pavement was a good way. He dropped 50 pounds in short order.

"I am now as obsessed with running as I once was with poker. Poker taught me what it takes to be an expert at something. I'm beginning to take the same detail-oriented approach to running, and really enjoying the process," he said.

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Obsessed with his new life, now 29, Maroni is now more focused on qualifying for the Boston Marathon and contining his efforts with another online group of friends. Team Shenanigans counts miles instead of big blinds, and it's now a big part of Maroni's life.


No WCOOP plans...gone awry

When it came time to plan for WCOOP...Maroni didn't. His focus was on the Disneyland Half Marathon which conflicted directly with the beginning of WCOOP. Maroni left Playa for the race with no regrets.

When he came back, he realized he still had some money left from a Supernova Elite credit that he hadn't spent on SCOOP entries. He figured he might play some WCOOP events.

So, at one point, he decided to enter WCOOP Event #11. And, of course, he placed second, banking nearly $50,000.

With that money locked up, he wondered what would happen if he entered another event. He chose Event #20, and, again, of course, he made the final table. This time he placed fifth for another $30,000.


Retirement Redux

It's time to quit again. Sort of.

See, Maroni stopped figuring this poker this as a career a long time ago. That he has won a quarter-million bucks in the meantime is irrelevant. He has other plans.

He's going to soak up the sunshine in Mexico until spring of next year. Then he will pack up his running shoes and move back to the United States. He's going to get his MBA.

"I can't emphasize enough how much I appreciate the experiences I've had with this game," Maroni said. "I've met so many great people and learned so much, but I just feel ready to move on to something new. Probably."

You'll note he qualifies it with the "probably."

That's because WCOOP isn't over, and now that he has a lot more discretionary cash, he's strongly considering playing the WCOOP Main Event.

"Seems like a good time for one last big shot!" he said.

If you have any doubts about whether it will be his "last big shot," you aren't alone. The way Maroni runs--no pun intended--that last big shot could end up changing his plans again...this time to the tune of more than a million bucks.



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is the PokerStars Head of Blogging.

Brad Willis
@BradWillis in WCOOP