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Eric Baldwin Wins Card Player 2009 Player of the Year Award

The Former Baseball Player Proves That He Can Hit for Power and Average on the Felt

by Ryan Lucchesi |  Published: Feb 05, 2010


Eric Baldwin
Each year, the Card Player Player of the Year (POY) race awards points in the game’s most important tournaments. To lock up the award, a player must perform well in the World Series of Poker (57 bracelet events in 2009), on the World Poker Tour (11 championship events in the U.S. in 2009), or on the European Poker Tour (12 main events worldwide in 2009) in order to build a strong base. Event champions rise to the top, but those who supplement big wins with consistent performances in preliminary events of large tournaments distinguish themselves as true contenders.

The poker player who can hit for both power and average eventually wins the award, and no player was better at both in 2009 than Player of the Year winner Eric Baldwin.

At the start of 2009, Baldwin sat on the shores of Paradise Island in the Bahamas and discussed the upcoming year with friends. They were competing in the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure (PCA) at the Atlantis Resort, and between sessions at the tables, while relaxing on the pristine white sand that meets the turquoise water of the Caribbean, he discussed the year’s poker plan, thinking, “It would be so cool to be in position to win the Player of the Year award, or chase after it.”

Baldwin finished 142nd out of a field of 1,347 in the PCA main event, and returned home. But the POY thoughts he had in the Bahamas crept back into his memory. Early in the year, he played at major-tournament stops, but concentrated mainly on the big Sunday tournaments online, all while working on improving his game.

“It’s just so important to keep learning and finding new ways to learn, whether it’s training sites or talking hands with friends,” Baldwin stated.

Before the WSOP, Baldwin had made just three final tables, but he was just getting started. He hit a rough patch at the start of the Series, going 0-for-13 before topping a field of 2,095 players to win the 34th event, $1,500 no-limit hold’em.

Baldwin’s college baseball coach at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, John Vandelich, was on hand to watch Baldwin win his gold bracelet. He offered this analysis of Baldwin’s approach to baseball in a past issue of Card Player magazine: “He was a great hitter; he could hit for average and power. … He was very committed to baseball all year long.” Baldwin would apply those attributes to tournament poker during the second half of 2009.

One week after the bracelet win, he made the final table of the $10,000 pot-limit hold’em world championship, finishing in third place. He had won 2,560 points in seven days, and was just a few points behind Vitaly Lunkin for the POY lead. That was when he decided to shift his focus to winning the POY award.

“It’s not something you get a shot at every year, so I focused my time and energy on going after it while I had a shot,” said Baldwin.

He became a fixture at each tournament stop during the final months of 2009, and frequently found himself seated at a final table. He made a big final-table appearance in October, finishing fourth in the UltimateBet Aruba Poker Classic $5,000 no-limit hold’em championship to keep pace with the top contenders. He made four final tables in one week at the Caesars Palace Classic, and then won a $1,000 no-limit hold’em rebuy event at the Five-Diamond World Poker Classic to add 792 points to his total. That win gave him 6,994 points, which was more than enough to make him the 2009 Player of the Year winner.

“This award absolutely means the world to me. It’s been a dream of mine ever since I started playing poker for a living,” Baldwin said. “Being the player of the year means so much to me because it really takes a consistent year and multiple big scores to win the award.”

A year of consistency against poker’s toughest players also helped Baldwin sharpen his game. When asked about ways that green players can improve and make more final tables, Baldwin replied, “Discover ways to pick up pots without holding good cards. Over the course of a tournament, you’re not always going to have good cards, so you need to find spots where you can pick up chips and make it deep in the tournament with more than a few big blinds. Then, when you do pick up cards in big spots, you put yourself in a position to have a big stack late and possibly win the tournament.” Baldwin used this strategy to become one of the most effective players on the circuit. He made 17 final tables in 2009.

Baldwin also received some more good news just a few days after he clinched the POY award. He was signed to a sponsorship deal with UltimateBet to be a member of team UB. He is excited to be able to play in the 2010 NBC National Heads-Up Poker Championship as an automatic qualifier thanks to his POY win, and is looking forward to playing in the big 2010 tournaments.

“For now, I’m probably going to lie on the couch for a week, but then I will get the itch to go back out there and start playing again, just because I love it,” said Baldwin.

Eric Baldwin
Beaver Dam, Wisconsin
27 years old
2009 POY Place: 1
Points: 6,994
Cashes: 17
Winnings: $1,494,494
Final Tables: 17
Tournament Wins: 4
Average Winnings Per POY Cash: $87,911

When you look at what Baldwin accomplished in 2009, one thing jumps out at you — 17 final tables. Since 2004 — the first year that full POY statistics were kept online — only two players have made more final tables in one year. Gioi Luong made 22 in 2004, and “Miami” John Cernuto made 19 in that same year.
Cornel Cimpan
Cornel Cimpan
League City, Texas
38 years old
2009 POY Place: 2
Points: 5,934
Cashes: 6
Winnings: $2,807,781
Final Tables: 5
Tournament Wins: 3
Average Winnings Per POY Cash: $467,964

Cornel Cimpan scored his biggest win of the year at the World Poker Tour L.A. Poker Classic. He was awarded just over $1.6 million in prize money, and the 2,400 POY points that created a solid foundation for him in the race. He became a serious contender in November, when he won his second WPT title at the World Poker Finals and added 2,100 points and $910,000 to his totals. He finished the year as the POY runner-up with 5,934 points.

“It’s been tough, because I have a wife and two kids that I love very much, and they want me at home as much as possible, but this is what I do. It’s been a fabulous year. I played enough to showcase what I’m capable of doing when I have the opportunity, so it’s been exciting,” said Cimpan.

He also offered some strategy advice concerning his favorite type of tournament. “I love to play deep-stack poker, because I’m willing to play poker when the buy-in is big, and that enables me to take advantage of every opportunity to increase my stack. That’s very important; you need to have enough chips to remain confident.” He also realizes that planning your year effectively is another piece of the puzzle. “Management is the key, because you can run dry in tournaments for a long time and put yourself in a position where you make bad financial decisions.”

Yevgeniy Timoshenko
Mukilteo, Washington
21 years old
2009 POY Place: 3
Points: 5,509
Cashes: 5
Winnings: $3,948,098
Final Tables: 3
Tournament Wins: 2
Average Winnings Per POY Cash: $789,620
Yevgeniy Timoshenko
Yevgeniy Timoshenko scored two of the biggest wins in poker in 2009. He won the $25,000 WPT Championship in April, for $2,149,960 and 2,448 POY points. Then in September, he won the $5,000 main event of the World Championship of Online Poker on PokerStars, which was the biggest online tournament of the year and the only one to qualify for POY points. He topped a field of 2,144 players and took home $1,715,200 and 2,880 points.

“I’m really proud of 2009. Even if I try, it’s really going to be tough to top that performance in 2010, just because so much of tournament poker is luck. It is conceivable that I could play even better next year and not win anything,” said Timoshenko.

There were many weeks when Timoshenko led the POY race, but he eventually finished the year in third place with 5,509 points. He also cashed 30 times in Card Player Online Player of the Year events, and earned 6,668 points.

Another category in which Timoshenko distinguished himself was tournament winnings. Aside from the champion and runner-up in the WSOP main event, no one won more money than Timoshenko in 2009. “I play for the money as much as I do for the thrill of winning, so I focus on the big main events and the big prelims,” said Timoshenko. He took home more than $3.9 million in 2009, an amount that only two players (Daniel Negreanu and Carlos Mortensen) have topped in one year without the assistance of a WSOP main-event final-table appearance.

Vitaly Lunkin
Moscow, Russia
39 years old
2009 POY Place: 4
Points: *4,473
Winnings: $3,151,602
Final Tables: 5
Tournament Wins: 2
Average Winnings Per POY Cash: $525,267
Vitaly Lunkin
Vitaly Lunkin scored his first cash in the 2009 POY race when he won the $7,000 no-limit hold’em main event at the Russian Poker Tour stop in his hometown of Moscow at the beginning of May. By the end of the month, he had captured the biggest win of his career and his second WSOP gold bracelet. He won the prestigious $40,000 no-limit hold’em event to take home nearly $1.9 million and 1,440 POY points. “They were both very important wins for me, because they showed my ability to adjust. My win in the RPT tournament was a rehearsal; that win gave me the support and confidence that were ingrained in me during this tournament,” said Lunkin after winning the $40,000 event.

It was the beginning of a strong WSOP for him. He cashed three more times during the summer and made two more final tables. He was the runner-up in the $10,000 pot-limit Omaha world championship, and he finished fourth in the $50,000 H.O.R.S.E. world championship. Lunkin finished the year in fourth place in the POY race with 4,473 points. He attributes his success to his ability to read opponents. “I really try to adjust to the players at my table during each stage of the event, to be able to compete at the highest level.”

Soheil Shamseddin
Houston, Texas
52 years old
2009 POY Place: 5
Points: 4,283
Cashes: 10
Winnings: $939,039
Final Tables: 9
Tournament Wins: 2
Average Winnings Per POY Cash: $93,904
Soheil Shamseddin
Soheil Shamseddin was a late bloomer in the 2009 POY race. He finished second in the WPT World Poker Finals in November to win more than $460,000 and 1,750 POY points. That score helped him to become a factor in the race, but his jump to 4,000 points would not have been possible without the consistent results (10 cashes) that he posted throughout the year. His other major highlight was a third-place finish in the WPT Southern Poker Championship. Shamseddin ended the year in fifth place with 4,283 points.

“I play position poker, and I play it hard. If they let me rob them, I’ll rob them, and when I’ve got the nuts, they’ll pay me,” said Shamseddin about his tournament strategy. He also suggested that beginning players should quickly learn the advantage of position. “If you’re a beginner and don’t know too much about tells, you can still put your opponents to the test by betting or raising in position. When you start out, it is good to just avoid playing hands when you’re out of position, and when you have position, you can enter pots with a wide range of hands.”

Daniel Alaei
Burlingame, California
26 years old
2009 POY Place: 6
Points: 4,142
Cashes: 4
Winnings: $2,059,913
Final Tables: 4
Tournament Wins: 2
Average Winnings Per POY Cash: $514,978
Daniel Alaei
Daniel Alaei won two big tournaments in 2009. He added a second WSOP gold bracelet to his collection in June, when he won the $10,000 Omaha eight-or-better world championship, which was good for $445,000 and 1,080 POY points. He came close to winning his third bracelet when he finished in fourth place in the $10,000 limit hold’em world championship eight days later. Alaei saved his best performance of the year for the very end. He made his first WPT final table in the $15,000 Doyle Brunson Classic Championship, and won the event, for more than $1.4 million and 1,980 points, to finish the year in sixth place in the POY race.

Alaei is also a well-respected cash-game player. He is a winner in the biggest live and online games, and he presented this advice to beginning cash-game players: “It’s really important to follow your opponent’s thought process. Make a conscious effort to see how much each individual opponent knows about poker. Based on the way that players play with their chips or talk about hands, you can see how deep their knowledge of poker is. It should be a game of minds.”

Jason Mercier
Davie, Florida
23 years old
2009 POY Place: 7
Points: 4,130
Cashes: 11
Winnings: $1,245,876
Final Tables: 9
Tournament Wins: 5
Average Winnings Per POY Cash: $113,261
Jason Mercier
Jason Mercier showed that he could win with consistency during his sophomore season on the tournament circuit. He grabbed his first WSOP gold bracelet and 960 POY points when he won event No. 5 ($1,500 pot-limit Omaha). Mercier is a relative newcomer to the game of pot-limit Omaha, but he has quickly achieved success. He had these suggestions for players who might be looking to add the game to their repertoire: “New players need to play a lot of hands. Cash games are obviously different than tournaments, but cash games are what you’re going to play if you want to practice playing PLO [pot-limit Omaha]. You just need to play a lot of hands and find a few good players you can talk hands with. You also need to learn the math of the game.”

The young Team PokerStars pro also proved via his results that he can win just as easily abroad as he can in the United States. As international tournaments become more of a factor in the POY race, a traveler like Mercier gains an advantage. He should be a favorite for years to come. “I really enjoy playing live, especially in tournaments. I probably played more tournaments than anyone this year, or I’m in the top five. I just really love coming to play every day. I hope to do the same thing in 2010.”

Faraz Jaka
San Jose, California
24 years old
2009 POY Place: 8
Points: 3,950
Cashes: 3
Winnings: $1,746,770
Final Tables: 3
Tournament Wins: 0
Average Winnings Per POY Cash: $582,257
Faraz Jaka
Faraz Jaka joined the top 10 late, thanks to a third-place finish in the WPT Doyle Brunson Classic Championship in December. The 1,320 POY points that he won gave him 3,950 total, which was good for eighth place in the race. Jaka was the runner-up in the WPT Bellagio Cup V in July, and he finished third in a $5,000 six-handed no-limit hold’em event at the WSOP. His first big win is yet to come, but he still made a nice haul of more than $1.7 million in 2009.

Jaka was also one of the few players to rack up more than 3,000 points in both the POY and OPOY [Online Player of the Year] standings in 2009, and he thinks that every beginning player should incorporate both online and live play into their learning process. “I definitely think the strongest player in the game is going to be the person who understands both styles. Online players have a lot better fundamentals, while live players have a lot better feel for momentum and the flow of the game. I believe that when you put those two together, it really creates a monster,” he said.

Brock Parker
Silver Spring, Maryland
27 years old
2009 POY Place: 9
Points: 3,838
Cashes: 4
Winnings: $854,107
Final Tables: 4
Tournament Wins: 2
Average Winnings Per POY Cash: $213,526
Brock Parker
Brock Parker made headlines at the 2009 WSOP when he became the first player to win two bracelets during the summer. He was awarded 1,332 POY points for his first bracelet win in event No. 14 ($2,500 six-handed limit hold’em), and he captured an additional 1,800 points just three days later when he won event No. 19 ($2,500 six-handed no-limit hold’em). “I was surprised to take down the first one. I thought it would probably happen at some point, and then the second tournament was just unreal,” said Parker.

He was soon joined by Phil Ivey and Greg Mueller in the 2009 double-bracelet club, and Jeffrey Lisandro topped them all, winning three bracelets during the course of a memorable summer. Parker managed to stay ahead of those players in the POY standings, thanks to a sixth-place finish in the UltimateBet Aruba Poker Classic. He ended the year in ninth place with 3,838 points.

Joe Cada
Shelby Township, Michigan
21 years old
2009 POY Place: 10
Points: 3,600
Cashes: 1
Winnings: $8,546,435
Final Tables: 1
Tournament Wins: 1
Average Winnings Per POY Cash: $8,546,435
Joe Cada
It’s hard to make an argument against the WSOP main-event champion as the player who had the best year in poker, but the POY award is based on an entire body of work, not just one victory. However, the 3,600 points that Joe Cada was awarded as the main-event champion were enough to catapult him into 10th place in the final standings. Cada was also the leading money winner in 2009, thanks to the prize money that he won in Las Vegas. Spade Suit