Ask many poker players “Who is a tough player to take on at the felt?” and they are likely to say the same name – Darren Elias. The New Jersey native has enjoyed a phenomenal 2018, during which he won a record 4th WPT Main Event title and cashed for over $1 million in the last 12 months, a fraction of his career earnings of $6.3m in tournaments alone. Known as a prolific and dedicated cash game player, Elias has the respect of his peers. He has also cashed half a dozen times in Las Vegas this year, but his love for Sin City goes back fifteen years. He was, in many respects, a different man.
“I’ve been going to Las Vegas since college when I was 17-18 years old. I was still doing well in poker, but I was young and stupid. I wasn’t treating it quite as seriously. I was going to Vegas at the weekends with friends. I played water polo and they were on the same team. I’d tell them I had a room at the Venetian for the weekend and we’d all go and hang out. I had a fake ID, we’d gamble and have a good time. I still keep in touch, but none of them were ever serious poker players. Some of them follow poker and shoot me messages of support on social media, it’s cool. Back then, Vegas was a party with more of a drinking and gambling theme than it has now.”
A RECORD FOURTH WPT TITLE
In 2018 alone, Elias has cashed many times in Sin City. He cemented his reputation as one of the most feared tournament players in world poker when he bagged his fourth WPT title, a new record.
“That was an amazing experience. It was the first tournament I played this summer. I’d just got off the plane in Las Vegas and I was able to win it. It was a cool achievement to do something no-one else has done before. As I get older and more mature, these kinds of accolades mean more to me. Winning the 4th WPT at the Aria is something I’ll always remember. I played poker eight or nine days straight, it led into the Tournament of Champions (where Elias finished third). To run that well and go to back-to-back final tables was such a memorable experience.”
When it comes to the World Series of Poker, Elias is mindful of burn-out and likes to mix it up.
I break it up into two trips. I go out for a fortnight in the beginning [of the World Series], targeting a couple of events on the schedule, usually higher buy-in No Limit events and the $10,000-entry 2-7 lowball event. I think it’s better to focus on a few events and be sharp.”
Many players head to Vegas for upwards of six weeks of summer, and Elias has seen the effect it has on their game.
“I see it every year. By the time the end of the World Series rolls around, they want to lose. I see it all the time at the Rio. People get a flip and they’re happy to not be there playing for a day. I never feel that way because I play less and I’m excited to play. I want to be there.”
CASHING IN THE MAIN EVENT AT LAST
This last summer was very exciting for Elias as he made it to Day 5 of the WSOP Main Event, the first time he has ever cashed in the signature event.
“Making any kind of run in the Main Event is exciting. It was the 10th or 11th time I played and the first time I got into the money! It’s definitely a fun experience but I try not to look too far ahead, so on Day 5, I’m not looking at the final table. I’ll appreciate the moment and enjoy it. I try to take it one decision and one hand at a time.”
If there’s a mantra Darren Elias lives by, it might appear to be that measured but driven step forward he always tries to take. Other visitors to Vegas have a lot less focus, and he puts this down to the number of attractions such a fun city offers.
“For the poker crowd, Vegas provides a lot of temptation and vices. There are many things in Vegas that can throw you off your game. You might want to go out drinking one night, sports betting, gambling, all kinds of things. They can detract from being a poker professional. When I was younger, I was more into those things. But as I’ve got older, I’ve let that fall by the wayside. I guess that’s the thing I’ve noticed over the years in how Vegas has changed for me. I love Las Vegas when I’m there for a week or two to play a couple of tournaments.”
THE BIGGEST PRIZE OF ALL
One of the biggest changes in Elias’ life is the recent addition he’s had to his family. He and his wife have a young inspiration in everything they do. It keeps him within the Americas when it comes to poker travel.
“I have a two-year-old daughter now and I’m married, so I’ve cut out a lot of International travel. Most of the tournaments I play are either World Poker Tour events or the World Series in Vegas, The Bahamas or Canada. I don’t really travel to Europe or Asia much anymore. That’s where a lot of the bigger Super High Roller tournaments are, but those aren’t really my focus at this point in my career. The bulk of my schedule is North American tournaments costing between $3,500 and $25,000 to play.”
Daughter won’t smile for pictures but showing potential for elite mean mug pic.twitter.com/OO6ErP6QQ5
— Darren Elias (@DarrenElias) August 26, 2018
Elias counts himself as very lucky that he can turn off that burning focus as quickly as he is able to switch it on for a big poker tournament.
“When I’m home, poker isn’t on my mind as much. By the time another tournament comes around, I’m so hungry and so excited to play. I think that helps me compared to the guys who get a little burned out by traveling all the time and studying poker non-stop. Being able to turn off and have some family time helps me be sharp.”
Over the last fifteen years, Elias has established a solid routine for his visits to Vegas. He stays in a hotel on the Strip to stay amongst the action. It’s all towards creating an upbeat headspace.
“I try to make sure I’m in a positive mindset. It’s a tough life at the Rio, so I try to avoid that. I’ve stayed at the Aria and Venetian this year. I love food and a lot of my favorite restaurants are in Las Vegas. If I get knocked out of a tournament early or have a night off, I might go for a nice dinner with a friend or by myself. I like the convenience of the Strip all being in one place. The new place I’m liking a lot is Carbone, an Italian restaurant at the Aria.”
Poker Central’s U.S. Poker Open and Super High Roller Bowl both take place in Vegas, and Elias is a confirmed fan of the new PokerGO studio at The Aria. If you’re not a PokerGO subscriber, then it might be worth signing up just to take a look at it.
“I think the Poker Central events are great tournaments. The new PokerGO studio is beautiful, I’ve played in there a couple of times and it’s always a great experience. The ARIA is what you’d picture in a movie, like a James Bond film. There’s a bar, a fancy bartender back there, although I’m not sure I could do a vodka martini shaken not stirred, I’m more of a bourbon guy! There’s a poker table in the middle of the room with people watching. It’s pretty cool.”
Darren Elias sounds as excited about the new Vegas and latest PokerGO tournaments as he was about Sin City when he was a freshman on his first visit. While his own Las Vegas pursuits have changed over the years, his fondness for the city has never waned. With his success in the home of poker, can you blame him?
Sign up now to take a look at the new PokerGO studio in action, with Friday Night Poker and the latest Super High Roller Bowl action available on demand, along with a host of classic shows. You just might fall in love with Las Vegas a little bit more yourself.