Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass alum wins poker jackpot

By Sam Butterfield

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(Courtesy Brian Barboza)

If you play your cards right, you might get rich. At least it worked out that way for one University of Massachusetts alumni.

Brian Barboza, 2001, recently won $100,000 on a Pokerstars.net tournament, “Pokerstars Million Dollar Challenge,” which aired on Fox. Based on his performance in the top five of contestants on the show was selected to fly to Los Angeles to play in a $1,000,000 tournament with the other top contestants and poker extraordinaire Daniel Negraneu.

Barboza said that while he had learned to play conventional poker as a child, his rise to the top of the online poker world had been a fast one.

“I didn’t get on the site until March, I think it was,” he said of his online experience.

“At that point, I kind of knew how to play. It’s basically a free site. It’s all fake money, and I picked it up for an hour here, an hour there,” Barboza added.

Barboza said that he began practicing ardently when he saw an advertisement for a chance to appear on the renowned World Series of Poker tour, though that fell through.

From there, he was determined to poke into the top echelons of poker, and when his computer flashed with a promising pop-up ad, he was ready to make his break.

“I think it was in July,” he said. “A window popped up when I was playing that said ‘click here for a chance to be in the Pokerstars Million Dollar Challenge,’” and with that, Barboza’s road to riches began.

“I won this pre-qualifier. It was like a 10,000 person tournament,” he said.

From there, the producers of the Fox mini-series Pokerstars Million Dollar Challenge contacted the pre-qualifier winners and asked them to produce a video discussing why they deserved to be on the show.

Barboza and two friends made a short video, which Barboza said they did not take seriously, only to get a call back from the producers, who told him they enjoyed his video and asked him to fill out a questionnaire to appear on the show.

“About a week after I sent the video, I heard back from the Pokerstars people,” he said, “they said they really enjoyed the video, sent me a questionnaire, and then I didn’t hear anything for a month and a half, so I thought it was over,” he added.

But the hand Barboza had been dealt was a promising one.

“Finally I got contacted by one of the casting directors who said I was one of 12 who was going to go on the show,” he furthered, and so his run to poker prominence began.

“Me and my two friends went out (to Los Angeles) the first week of October,” he elaborated, continuing that he was unsure at first what to expect and highly nervous.

The sports marketing alumnus who originally hails from Raynham, Mass. was still in for more luck.

In the first round, the contestants play a celebrity, and Barboza’s opponent was 2008 Playmate of the Year Jayde Nicole.

“She was pretty good,” Barboza said of his photogenic foe. “I was pretty nervous that first round and almost lost. I kind of snapped out of it and won,” he said.

Barboza explained that poker superstar Daniel Negreanu, a featured guest on the min-series, was allowed to advise him in the first round, but not to see his cards.

For his first round win, Barboza was rewarded with a trip to the Bahamas.

After he felled Nicole, Barboza was met by Pokerstars.net’s pro poker player Vanessa Rousso, a tough opponent, for a pot of $25,000.

In the second round, Negreanu was not allowed to be in the room, but was able to inspect Barboza’s cards over closed circuit television and advise him of his moves over earpiece.

Perhaps it was fated, but Barboza took round two and the $25,000 bonus and was faced with a decision. go home $25,000 richer, or take on Negreanu himself for $100,000.

Barboza took the risk and went after the champion himself, and his decision paid off, as he felled the legend and took home the prize.

Thursday Barboza will fly to Los Angeles to play in the final round of the series, which features the show’s top five winners vying for a chance to take on Negreanu for $1,000,000.

With any luck, and maybe a few good hands, one UMass alumni will head home to Bridgewater to his liquor wholesaling job a million richer. Talk about a jackpot.

 Sam Butterfield can be reached at [email protected]

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