Controlling your emotions is a key component of being a winning poker player and Monday night in Las Vegas, David Baker put on a master class on how to do just that as he won the World Poker Tour L.A. Poker Classic for a little over $1 million.
In the afterglow of his win, as the WPT television crew was setting up for one final shot, Baker let go of that control, looked skyward and let out a very visible, audible deep breath. After years of playing poker, with a good amount of time spent at the Commerce Casino in Los Angeles, Baker finally erased some of what he considered were glaring omissions from his poker résumé.
“It kinda sounds corny, but it means so much to me,” Baker said. “I’ve battled my whole life in this business. I care about this business. I care about the prestige of these things and I know sometimes some of the guys are a little too cool for school to say that, but I do. I’ve got a good résumé, I’ve been there a lot, but I’ve never won a major No Limit Hold’em tournament, I’ve never won a WPT, I’ve never had a million-dollar score and I just get to check off all of those boxes today and I’m overjoyed.”
Fairly or unfairly, the win also changes the way Baker is viewed by the poker community and his peers and Baker admitted that’s important to him – if only for him to be able to put his head on his pillow every night knowing that the people he respects, respect him for the work he’s put in over the years.
“I know that I’m considered a good poker player and even probably really good by my peers, but I want to be elite, I want to be thought of as elite,” Baker said. “I know I’m not an elite No Limit Hold’em player. I know I’m not sitting down in the $100Ks and battling with the GOATs of GOATs, but I can still play man, I can still play with these guys in the $10Ks and all-around, I’ll take my all-around poker game versus anyone. I’ve always had this chip on my shoulder that I don’t know if I’ve always felt that I’ve gotten the respect that I deserve. I really feel like being able to put this on my resume really helps, at least helps me mentally just being able to do that.”
The final table might have been in Las Vegas, but the fact that this was the L.A. Poker Classic and not just some other WPT event, was another important component of why the win was so important for Baker. Over the course of his poker career, the Commerce Casino, the host of the LAPC, has become his home away from home – to the point that a good number of people are actually under the impression that he does live there year-round.
“I haven’t been able to live where there’s a poker room for the last 20 years because of family,” Baker said. “I’ve still been able to support my family by traveling 2-3 weeks a month every single month for the last 15 years and my major destination spot is the Commerce. I’ve grinded the cash games there since at least 15 years. I stay at the Commerce Casino 200 days a year and it’s my home away from home. I go there, I know everybody, everybody knows me. Most of the people there don’t even realize that I don’t live there because I basically do live there.”
The HyperX Esports Arena at the Luxor is designed to hold a good-sized crowd. Over the nine hours of play on Monday night, most of the seats were filled by Baker’s friends and family and each of them served an important role throughout the night. Some were there for moral support, others were watching the live stream and helped Baker understand what his opponents were doing and how he should adjust to them.
“I had the three or four people that I really wanted to talk to; Cord (Garcia), (John) Racener, Josh Arieh, Ray Henson,” Baker said. “Those were basically like my four guys. My wife, my mom, my other friends, they all just left us all alone. I jumped off the stage, I went, we talked, they got me in the right state, they pumped me up, they brought me down, whatever needed to happen. We discussed a strategy of how we were going to start and what we were going to do if things changed. Then they left me by myself for a few minutes, I could unwind. My crowd was great. A lot of crowds they just want to talk and bombard you, and drink and joke and do all that. My crowd was perfect. The four people who I needed, came to me, gave me what I needed, the rest of them left me alone and cheered and it was perfect. This is surreal. This is what I dreamed of and everybody around was a part of it.”
The million-dollar score isn’t just some box Baker checked off. The financial windfall served as a reminder of some of the hard times Baker has endured over the course of his career and the impact those tough times have had on the people he loves most. The tough times, including spending upwards of 250 days a year on the road away from his family, are part of the sacrifice Baker has made to reach this point in his journey. Having had to share the tough times with his family, he’s now happy to share the joy of the win with them as well.
“My wife has been through the war,” Baker said. “I do OK, but there have been many times in my career where I’ve had struggles. I’ve got very high expenses because of my family situation, my children and she has children from a previous marriage. We’ve battled a lot. Everyday,” Baker said. “There’s nobody who works harder than me, honestly, when it comes to the poker arena. I’m traveling and I’m at the Commerce 2-3 weeks a month, sometimes month round. I start the games, I end the games. I quit the game, I go play a tournament, I bust the tournament, I go back down and play the cash game. I work hard.”
Those cash games almost kept Baker from even entering the LAPC Main Event – even though he’s played in it every year for the last dozen or so years. Baker didn’t want to give up his seat in a game he enjoys playing to play a five-day tournament. A good satellite system, putting lots of qualifiers into the tournament who normally wouldn’t play a $10,000 buy-in event, was part of the reason he decided to play, but so was the scheduling.
“Our game really runs Monday through Friday, so I could play (the Main) Saturday, play Sunday and if I was still in Day 3, which was Monday, it was fine to miss a game or two,” Baker said. “Had this tournament started on a Monday, I probably wouldn’t have played, honestly, but the Saturday start got me to pony up.”
Baker isn’t sure what’s next. It might be a vacation with his wife and it might just be a return trip to the Commerce to get back to the high stakes mixed game.
“I’m in a mixed game now that I just love, I love the people, I love playing it, it’s fun, Baker said. “I’m a poker player man, some of these people they play just for the money and they just want to be lazy. I’m a poker player, I love this shit.”