In the cult classic card player flick Rounders (1998), poker protagonist Mike McD tells the audience that Las Vegas is the undisputed “center of the poker universe.”
That may have been true for WSOP hopefuls like him, but real Rounders fans can tell you Mike never takes a seat in Sin City. Instead, he rotates between the Big Apple and Atlantic City to feast on a steady stream of tourists.
As the East Coast’s lone poker hotspot 20 years ago, Atlantic City was the proving ground for many of the game’s most accomplished pros, including World Poker Tour legend Darren Elias.
College Kid Turned Online Poker Prodigy
Darren Elias was born in Boston in 1986, but his father’s career as a college football coach meant he would spend his childhood zig-zagging across the country.
Eventually, the Elias family settled down in Pennsylvania, but Darren’s water polo talents landed him at the University of Redlands in California.
As he later told CardPlayer Magazine, this early victory propelled Elias into a burgeoning career as a professional poker player:
“After that, everything just snowballed. I put in a lot of volume and started playing for bigger stakes. I wasn’t old enough to play in Las Vegas yet, so I would win satellites online to travel to Europe or Australia and play in some of the bigger buy-in tournaments over there.”
By early 2009, still only 22 years old, Elias banked $126,544 for winning his first career Full Tilt Online Poker Series (FTOPS) title. One year later, a sixth-place run in the PokerStars World Championship of Online Poker (WCOOP) Main Event produced a $396,987 haul, which was quickly followed by a PokerStars Sunday Million final table for $114,570 more.
During this heater, Elias was also climbing the live tournament ladder in series from Las Vegas to Los Angeles, but his largest score yet awaited in Atlantic City.
Atlantic City’s Adopted Son Comes Home to Crush
With his parents still living in neighboring Pennsylvania, Elias had plenty of experience grinding the poker scene in Atlantic City, specifically at the Borgata Poker Room.
Opened in 2003, the Borgata Hotel, Casino and Spa quickly became Atlantic City’s premier destination for high-profile tournament series like the World Poker Tour (WPT). By 2011, the WPT Borgata Poker Open had become one of the tour’s signature stops, attended by legitimate legends and aspiring pros such as Elias alike.
But for Elias, the Borgata had already earned a special place in his heart for reasons having nothing to do with flops and folds. He met his wife there when he was 22 years old, as he fondly recalled to the WPT Blog in 2019.
Elias also told the WPT Blog that he spent many a long night grinding in the Borgata’s notoriously tough cash game arena:
“Borgata has been good for poker for a long time on the East Coast… I played a lot of cash games at Borgata in my early 20s and they’ve always had good action on the weekends.”
So, it was in September of 2011, when Elias took his seat in the $3,300 buy-in WPT Borgata Poker Main Event. The prestigious no limit Texas holdem (NLHE) tournament attracted a huge field of 1,313 entries, but those numbers didn’t deter Elias one bit as he played his way to the six-handed televised final table.
Elias went on to add a runner-up finish in the Borgata Fall Poker Open’s $1,650 buy-in heads-up NLHE event, followed by a fourth-place run in the same event at the 2012 Winter Poker Open. But as a wise man once said, the best was yet to come…
In 2014, Elias returned to Atlantic City to compete in the WPT Borgata Poker Open Main Event.
And nearly three years to the day after his disappointing fifth-place exit, Elias redeemed himself by defeating a 1,226-entry field to scoop up every last chip in play, all while his wife and family watched live from the studio audience. The victory earned Elias a whopping $843,744 in winnings, along with his first career WPT title and the enduring respect of his peers in the professional poker player ranks.
Asked about the emotional journey he experienced from 2011 to 2014, Elias told the WPT Blog that winning big at the Borgata was a moment he’d never forget:
“Winning my first major title at Borgata, my home casino, was amazing. I made the final table a few years prior in the same event, and to be able to close it out in front of my friends and family felt really good.”
The Borgata Continues to Be Elias’ Home Away From Home
Elias made a valiant attempt to defend his title one year later, ultimately bowing out in 17th place from a 1,027-entry field.
Fast forward two years later, and Elias was back on his Borgata grind once again, winning the 2017 Borgata Fall Poker Open Main Event for $293,062.
He wasn’t done chasing WPT gold and glory either. Over the next five years, Elias became the WPT’s all-time tournament title leader with four first-place finishes. All told, Elias has won $3,893,049 on the WPT circuit alone, cashing on 40 occasions and parlaying those deep runs into 12 final tables and four victories, all tops in WPT history.
And with more than $7.5 million in career live tournament earnings, Elias now ranks sixth overall on New Jersey’s all-time leaderboard according to the Hendon Mob tracking database.
Today, his fellow pros proudly call Elias the poker world’s “End Boss,” referring to his uncanny knack of awaiting all comers at major tournament final tables.
Elias may not have been born in Atlantic City, but thanks to his sheer dominance at the WPT’s annual Borgata stop, poker fans can be forgiven for believing otherwise. Between cutting his teeth competing against pros 30 years his senior in high-stakes cash games, to becoming the WPT’s all-time top player, Elias has staked his rightful place in Atlantic City poker history.
One only needs to check his Hendon Mob record to confirm that. In his most recent cash to date, Elias won $8,735 for a 73rd-place run in—you guessed it—the 2020 WPT Borgata Poker Open Main Event.