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A Poker Life: David Bach

by Julio Rodriguez |  Published: Feb 22, 2012

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David BachWhen David Bach graduated from college, he took a good, long look at himself and thought about what he wanted out of life and his career. Though he had a number of options to explore, it was poker that kept calling to him.

Since he had no family to support and no serious financial obligations, Bach took the plunge into the professional world of poker. After cutting his teeth in the Georgia home-game circuit, Bach began to dabble in tournaments and was even one of the early online poker pioneers.

After a number of close calls, Bach finally gained the recognition he was due by winning the 2009 World Series of Poker $50,000 Player’s Championship, considered by many to be the toughest tournament of the calendar year.

It was a long journey to the top, however, and Bach took a few side roads to get there. This is his story.

It Runs In The Family

Bach was born in Springfield, Missouri, but moved with his family to Athens, Georgia when he was just five years old. His father, who worked as a clinical psychologist, always played poker on the side and even introduced the game to the rest of the family.

“We always played the game for pennies growing up, so I guess you could say that playing poker runs in our family,” said Bach. “Back then, we’d play a variety of games like draw or stud poker. My grandmother was probably the best player in our game. I could picture her now and how she would fare in today’s average casino game and I think she would do quite well. Unfortunately, societal roles in those days kept most women out of the game entirely.”

Though he was familiar with the game at a young age, poker wasn’t Bach’s first love. While attending the University of Georgia and seeking a psychology degree, Bach paid his tuition by traveling the bowling circuit.

“I was an average student,” admitted Bach. “Probably because I focused my early college years on bowling. It wasn’t a lot of money. The biggest score of my career was for $25,000 after finishing second in a tournament in 1992, but that was more than enough for a college kid.”

David BachOf course, it wasn’t lost on Bach just how profitable poker could be as well. “My father took me to my first real poker game for my 18th birthday,” he recalled. “It was a $25 limit seven-card stud game. The game was actually played with cash instead of chips. I wound up playing in that game for several years and doing pretty well. The level of play, at least fundamentally, wasn’t very good. My simple mathematical approach was more than enough to turn a consistent profit.”

Bach finished school and was then faced with a choice. He could take up the family business or see what he could accomplish in the games he loved. With his degree to fall back on, Bach decided to take his chances out on the road, playing poker and competing in bowling alleys across the country.

“I figured, why not give it a shot? Worst case scenario, I’d just come home with a little less money and take up my father’s ready-made psychology practice. It wouldn’t have been the end of the world, but I’m obviously glad that I’ve been able to ride out a career in poker.”

A Little Bit Of Both Worlds

Though his poker career was never in serious jeopardy, Bach quickly found that he was outmatched on the bowling circuit.

“I joined the professional bowling tour in 2001 after they got new ownership and played for a couple of years,” said Bach. “At the time, I had already started my poker career, but I wanted to keep bowling, just to see if I could compete while I was still young. It wasn’t about the money. Bowling money doesn’t even come close to poker money. I just wanted to see how I measured up.”

Anybody looking from the outside in would’ve seen an incredible bowler. Bach managed to bowl four perfect 300 games in sanctioned competition and even added another three during practice, but in the end, he realized he couldn’t compete consistently with the best in the world.

“I was humbled by the whole experience,” he admitted. “Those guys are really, really good and they rarely have off nights. At my best, I wasn’t ranked much better than 50th in the world.”

Bach may not have taken the bowling world by storm, but he does have fond memories of his time on the tour. “It was a lot of fun,” he said. “I got to compete against Jason Couch, who was a three-time Tournament of Champions winner. I can even say that I once beat Pete Weber in a tournament in North Carolina. Of course, the fact is that he withdrew from the competition, but hey, a win is a win.”

Poker Becomes The Focus

Meanwhile, Bach continued to improve as a poker player. Though he spent much of his early years playing in home games, he credits those experiences as the reason why he is such a well-rounded player today.

“The home games featured a little bit of everything. I started out playing $3-$6 dealer’s choice. In some of those crazy games, you really have to think on your feet. One of the first home games I played in featured Josh Arieh and Mark Wilds, so you really have to feel bad for the other players who had no idea what kind of talent they were going up against.”

David BachEventually, Bach decided to try his skills out in a bona fide casino game. During an early trip to Atlantic City to visit some family, he sat down with his $800 bankroll in a $10-$20 seven-card stud game. Bach did so well that he decided to stay for two weeks. By the end of the trip, he was playing as high as $75-$150.

“I still remember playing in that game,” he said. “I was dealt back-to-back rolled up trips and both hands won me big pots. All of a sudden, I had a $20,000 bankroll to take with me back to Georgia.”

Bach made his initial visit to the World Series of Poker in 1997 and although he managed to cash in his first event, he insists that it wasn’t the greatest performance.

“I got my clock cleaned,” Bach stated. “I had a lot of talent, but almost zero discipline. I would get hold of a lot of chips and then quickly give them away to anybody who stood up to me. The biggest problem was that I would eagerly take coin flips in spots where, today, I would never take them. Daniel Negreanu’s first bracelet came in an event where I basically gave away the chip lead with about 45 players left. I just didn’t have a good grasp of tournament strategy.”

Bach continued to build his bankroll in the cash games. He even signed up for one of the earliest online poker accounts in an effort to increase his action, but it wasn’t until 2005 that he began to see his tournament results improve.

“That was the year that I really started to take tournaments seriously,” he remembered. “Josh Arieh convinced me to sell some pieces of myself and play more events. In the next three years, I made three WSOP final tables, got a big score at the L.A. Poker Classic and even final tabled a WPT main event. Even my online game improved and I wound up winning the PokerStars Sunday Million.”

Putting It All Together

Bach had already had a number of close calls at the WSOP, especially in the mixed-game events, but couldn’t justify putting up $50,000 for the annual H.O.R.S.E. championship. Finally, in 2008, he sold enough pieces to enter and wound up finishing in 11th-place for $187,450.

The next year, he had a much easier time selling pieces of his action. Those who took him up on his offer would be promptly rewarded when he won the bracelet and the $1,276,802 first-place prize. Bach’s cut amounted to 55 percent of that figure, but he says the notoriety he gained from that win has paid off handsomely in the side games.

David Bach“The bracelet and the money were great, but the exposure is what I really enjoyed the most,” he said. “Not because I have some huge ego or something, but because it has kind of put a target on my back when I’m playing in some of the bigger mixed games. People definitely come after me more, just to say they took down the $50,000 H.O.R.S.E. champion. I’ve obviously adjusted, which has made those games even more profitable.”

Bach wasn’t finished with tournament success, however. In 2010, he won another H.O.R.S.E. event at the Aussie Millions and then followed that up with a PokerStars SCOOP event bracelet. Last summer, he made two more WSOP final tables and then had a deep run in the main event to add over $550,000 to his winnings.

Though he is definitely a force on the tournament circuit, the 40-year old who possesses a mastery of all poker disciplines, is more excited about the recent surge in cash mixed-games.

“Those games are blowing up, which is obviously beneficial for a guy like me,” he said. “You’ve got all of these no-limit hold’em players who are looking for new edges, but most of them have leaks, whether they admit it or not. That’s when it becomes super valuable to be proficient in all of the games, because all of those little mistakes add up. Hopefully, they all add up in front of my stack.” ♠