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A Poker Life With Isaac Baron

by Julio Rodriguez |  Published: May 19, 2015


At just 27 years old, it would be easy to dismiss Isaac Baron as a beginning player, but the California native has actually been playing poker for the better part of the last decade, having won more than $8 million in combined live and online tournaments.

With 11 six or seven-figure scores on his resume, Baron has become known as one of the most consistent players on the tournament circuit despite the fact that these days, he focuses more on cash games.

Here’s a look at one of the best young players in the game today.

Poker Beginnings

Baron grew up in Menlo Park, California, an affluent city in the San Francisco Bay Area that borders Palo Alto.

“When I was younger, I didn’t realize just how nice Menlo Park was,” Baron said. “But after traveling the circuit for a few years and seeing some of the less-desirable parts of the country, I definitely have an appreciation for it. I was very lucky to grow up there.”

Baron’s mother was a lawyer before giving up her career to raise him and his sister. His father was a professor at Stanford University before moving on to teach at Yale University. Needless to say, his parents put a great deal of emphasis on the importance of an education.

“My parents didn’t really have a specific goal in mind for me,” he recalled, “but poker was definitely not at the top of the list, especially with my dad. I got started playing poker in high school. It was the classic story for a player my age. I was watching the World Series of Poker on ESPN and really wasn’t into poker or any card games at all, but for whatever reason I was captivated by Chris Moneymaker and what he did that year. After that, my friends and I started playing together, then I found PartyPoker, which is where everything kind of took off for me.”

After enrolling at the University of Oregon, Baron found himself spending day and night at the online tables.

“I guess it was the combination of not having my parents around to tell me what to do and the rainy weather, but all of my free time was spent playing online poker and building my bankroll. After my first year, I transferred to the University of California, Santa Barbara. I wasn’t sure if college wasn’t clicking for me because of the school itself or just because I was so into poker. Then, that year, I went on a big heater that included winning the Sunday Million on PokerStars, so I decided to take a semester off and really devote myself to it. The semester turned into a year and, after that, I basically never looked back.”

Transitioning From The Online Poker King

Baron crushed his online competition, playing under the name “westmenloAA.” In 2007, after starting off the year with his big Sunday Million victory for $254,518, he continued to stay hot. In total, he won seven figures online and was crowned the 2007 Card Player Online Player of the Year.

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly how much Baron has won playing online, but some back-of-the-envelope estimates put him somewhere in the neighborhood of $3 million on the major online sites. But back in 2008, the then 20-year-old Baron was eager to put his stamp on live poker tournaments as well.

It was at the EPT Grand Final main event in Monte Carlo that Baron made his mark, finishing in fourth place for a massive $931,268 payday, which continues to stand as the second biggest score of his career.

“When I dropped out, it really helped that I was able to go to my dad and he could see how well I was doing online, but he was obviously still skeptical and still wanted me to finish school,” Baron recalled. “It wasn’t until I final tabled the Grand Final in Monaco that he kind of changed his stance and realized that maybe I didn’t make the worst choice in the world.”

So what does a young poker pro do with all of that cash?

“I definitely did some typical stupid 20-year-old things,” he admitted. “I bought a house. I bought a Maserati. I did all of the standard things that someone who winds up with a lot of money does. That phase didn’t last too long, thankfully.”

The truth is that Baron didn’t really have to sweat his big purchases because the transition to live poker wasn’t that jarring, and he continued to find success.

“There were some growing pains,” he admitted. “Patience was the biggest skill I had to improve on. You get so many hands in online that live poker can sometimes feel slow, which causes some people to push the action too hard. But for the most part I never really felt outclassed or like I was out of my league. Poker is still poker and I knew that as long as I did my thing and played my game I would be alright.”

A Model Of Consistency

In the seven years that Baron has been playing live tournaments, he’s never really gone through an extended dry spell, having been a consistent winner racking up a total of $5.1 million in earnings.

“I’ve definitely been fortunate to never have a serious prolonged downswing. Everybody goes through downswing, but I’ve never had that desperate feeling like I just couldn’t win. I don’t know how sustainable my results are, but so far I haven’t had to worry about that.”

Indeed, he hasn’t worried at all. After his final table appearance in Monte Carlo, Baron finally turned 21 and began playing in U.S. events. In 2009, he won the Caesars Palace Classic main event for $246,928. In 2010, he took down a side event at the EPT Grand Final for $408,036.

In 2012 Baron again returned to the winner’s circle, banking $240,512 for his first-place finish at the Wynn Classic main event. Then in 2014, he kicked off the year with a monster third-place showing at the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure, which was worth $1,207,599. Most recently in March of 2015, he finished runner-up at the WPT Bay 101 Shooting Star main event, which paid out another $704,200.

“It was a little bittersweet,” said Baron. “I really wanted to win Bay 101, just because it’s an event that basically is in my backyard. I had friends and family there, including my Mom, who had never seen me play before. It would have been really special to take that one down. But after a week goes by, you start to feel better about only winning $700,000.”

Despite racking up numerous accomplishments on his poker tournament resume, Baron no longer grinds the circuit and prefers to spend his days focusing on cash games, especially high-stakes pot-limit Omaha games, which he has embraced in the past couple of years.

“I made a decision a couple of years ago to focus on live cash games and not travel the tournament circuit as heavily. Tournaments are great if you are chasing glory, which I am, but if you are serious about making a consistent living playing poker, you need to reduce variance and costs by playing cash games.”

Moving Forward

Baron has no plans to quit poker anytime soon, but he does recognize that the game is getting more difficult to beat every day and sympathizes with his peers who are struggling to make it.

“It’s tough out there,” he admitted. “A few of my best friends in poker are struggling, and it’s hard to see. You want all of your friends to do well, but the reality is that the game is getting harder every day and you really need to put in the work. A decade ago, if you had any idea what you were doing, you could just show up and the other players were so bad that the money would just flow in your direction. You need to be dedicated and treat poker not like a game, but like a business.”

In order to stay ahead of the competition, Baron says he watches videos and reviews hands whenever he can. He also likes to try and get in at least a couple cash game sessions each week to keep himself sharp. Eventually he’d like to get to the point where he can play recreationally.

“I’ll always play in some capacity. I enjoy the game and the competition and even if I’m at the point where I don’t need to make any more money, I’ll still be looking for a game. Hopefully I’ll be one of those 60 year olds who plays for fun and doesn’t have to grind to pay the bills.” ♠