PROFile: Pro poker status keeps journalism alum Ryan Hagerty in Garden State

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Poker and money isn’t the combination that made Ryan Hagerty fall in love with the game.

“It’s a misconception that people think I’m playing poker for money,” said 24-year-old Hagerty. “I can make money doing other things. I play poker because I love it.”

A former journalist and sports editor of The Whit, Rowan alumni Hagerty juggled poker into his life no matter how hard it was. He is now one of the best online players in New Jersey: at press time, he ranks 18th best in the state and 25th in the country, according to PocketFives.com. His goal is to climb the ranks to number one in the state. 

Even if Hagerty wasn’t playing for a living, he would still be playing.

“I told my parents I have a opportunity right now that not many people have in their lives. I see it every day,” he said. “I see people working jobs that they hate just to make money and I get why people have to. For their families, bills, to eat. But I have a chance to do something I love for a living. That’s why I really want to make it work.”

It all started in Hagerty’s high school parking lot during his senior year. His buddy asked him if he wanted to play poker and he nonchalantly agreed. He was terrible, but he wanted to go back and keep playing anyway. He started to research everything about poker.

He began studying journalism at Rowan University upon graduating high school. Before he turned 21, he made trips to a casino on an Indian reservation in New York called Turning Stone that welcomed 18-year-old players.

When Hagerty turned 21, there was a comeback of online poker in New Jersey, and he realized he had a knack for the game online. But when Hagerty became a senior, he had to pause his poker life. His dad wanted him to focus on school and quit the game.

One Saturday, though, temptation hit and he played a $10 tournament. He came in second place, winning $750. He played another $50 tournament on Sunday, and came in fifth place out of 640 people, winning $1,500.

“All of a sudden I have like $2,000, which is a lot more than I’ve ever seen in my life at one time,” Hagerty said, known online as ‘hags021.’ “To make all of that in one night, sitting behind my computer, was the coolest thing to me. I was good – I wasn’t great, I had a lot to learn for sure, but I obviously had some kind of talent for it. I knew enough to win.”

After graduating, his life left little room for poker. He moved to Maryland with his girlfriend and had jobs at NJ.com and Target. But by the next February, he was visiting New Jersey to watch the Superbowl, and he ended up on the couch and playing poker, winning $4,800.

This motivated him to come home more, and he started winning a couple thousand every time. Soon after, he came home for a big tournament and ending up winning $21,000.

Now, his poker nights range from the comfort of his desk, with a 34-inch monitor setup, to Harrah’s and the Borgata in Atlantic City. Being at the casino gives Hagerty the chance to become a face in the poker community.

The biggest learning experience in poker is talking to and being around other poker players. Even if the player isn’t the best, Hagerty says there is always something to learn from them.

Hagerty at Parx Casino in PA. – Photo courtesy of Hagerty

“That’s what I do,” Hagerty said. “If I’m not getting better, then what am I doing?”

Poker is 20 percent luck, Hagerty said. To prepare for an upcoming tournament, Hagerty does two things: practice and study. Studying for poker consists of watching videos online of professional players, and even replying to them. With a notebook in hand, Hagerty watches recordings of himself playing.

“It’s like when you write a story,” he said, comparing journalism to poker. “Walk away and come back and think ‘what the hell?’ after thinking it was a good story.”

While his move back to New Jersey helped him pursue his love of poker, it had negative effects on other parts of his life.

“My relationship ended in March of last year,” Hagerty said. “The fact that I wanted to do poker was a part of the break up, because I kind of knew that I couldn’t balance poker and the relationship. It would’ve been too hard. She knew it too. And I would have had to give up playing poker.”

One of Hagerty’s most recent wins was at Parx Casino in Pennsylvania in February: $3,300 and 22nd place. He wants to go to Las Vegas this summer, but is hesitant as it can affect his financial situation. There are series coming up at the Borgata worth “a lot” of money, he said.

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