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A Poker Life -- David Baker

A Positive Attitude Leads To Positive Results


David Baker doesn’t want to hear your bad beat story. He doesn’t want to hear you complain. These days, the 40-year-old poker pro is a glass half full kind of guy and he’s not going to let you change that with your negativity.

After years of close calls and near misses, Baker is playing the best poker of his life, and he attributes his recent success to his attitude adjustment. This summer, he tore up the World Series of Poker, cashing eight times, making four final tables, earning four six-figure paydays and winning his first gold bracelet.

A Long Road To Poker

Baker was born in Connecticut, but only spent a few years there before his family moved him south. Baker’s father worked for the Shell Oil company and in those days, it was commonplace to be transferred often. David and his younger brother Seth spent a lot of their formative years living in both New Orleans and Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
David enrolled at Auburn University in Alabama and earned his bachelors degree in finance. After graduation, he took a job back in New Orleans with Dunn & Bradstreet as a credit analyst. It was there that he began playing poker with regularity.

“I was introduced to poker in college, but I didn’t stick with it,” remembered Baker. “It wasn’t until I was working in New Orleans that I started playing a bit on the weekends, making trips out to the river boats.”

Eager for a change, Baker jumped at the chance for a transfer and soon found himself in Houston. With no casinos in Texas, Baker almost gave up the game entirely before a chance meeting with poker pro Ray Henson.

“This was all pre-Moneymaker, so poker wasn’t as available as it is today,” Baker said. “I became friends with Ray and was immediately saw the appeal of his lifestyle. He was traveling the circuit and playing cash games and frankly I was a little jealous of the freedom he had with his job. He introduced me to some of the local games along with the occasional trip to Las Vegas. After a few months playing, I realized I was making more in the cash games than I was at my job.”

Most poker pros cut their teeth in the game with numerous losing sessions before they begin to turn it around, but Baker found success almost immediately because he was willing to embrace a high-variance style of play.

“You have to remember, this was back when $20-$40 limit was a big game,” he recalled. “I could never envision myself making a living playing those stakes now, but back then, it was feasible. I found a style that really seemed to work for me, playing a little reckless and very aggressive. In those days, people were folding A-Q to a raise from under the gun. That’s just how tight it was, so I was able to take advantage. It took them way too long to figure out what I was doing.”

Turning Pro

With a wife and daughter at home to provide for, Baker struggled with the idea of playing poker for a living. Ultimately, he decided that he was unhappy at his full-time job and that the benefits of poker outweighed the drawbacks.

“Around 2004, I had pretty much lost interest in my job,” Baker admitted. “I was doing sales and getting a lot of rejection, which is just the nature of the business, but I no longer had the motivation. I was taking off in the afternoon or taking long weekends to go play poker. I didn’t have a huge bankroll, but I was too miserable in my job to continue, so I quit. I told myself that I would give it six months and then reassess.”

Baker had been turning a consistent profit ever since he started playing part-time, so he figured his numbers would only increase if he focused on it full-time. He was right.

“I was making like $5,000 a month playing part-time. When I started playing full-time, I was more than able to entirely replace the income I was making at my job. I’ve always had more of an entrepreneurial brain and poker allowed me to explore that side of my personality. I didn’t like working a nine to five, but I loved being my own boss. Six months came and went with no issues. It’s now been over eight years and I don’t regret any of it.”

Putting It All Together

Baker has been scoring consistent cashes on the circuit since 2004, despite splitting his time between cash games and tournaments. However, when the WSOP rolls around, he puts all of his energy into the grind of the summer series. Though 2012 was truly his breakout year, Baker has had more than his fair share of close calls.

In 2006, he cashed five times. In 2007, he made his first WSOP final table. In 2008, he got even closer, finishing third in a $2,000 limit hold’em event. His 2009 campaign was particularly frustrating, following up a 17th-place finish with three consecutive 14th-place showings. It was still good money and he had even had some success elsewhere, making a World Poker Tour televised final table, but he was having trouble closing at the Rio.

His 2010 summer was his best yet, taking third in a $1,000 no-limit hold’em event, making another final table and then finishing 17th in the main event for $396,967, the biggest score of his career. 2011 saw five cashes and yet another final table, but it wasn’t until 2012 that he put it all together.

“It was an incredible run,” said Baker. “I started off the series zero for 11, but I was still confident about my game. I think you can complain about the beats, or you can focus on the play, which is what I did. Over the last 11 events of the summer, I somehow managed to cash in eight of them. I was banking chips nearly every night.”

Baker’s run started with a third-place finish in the $2,500 triple draw event. A week later, he won the $2,500 eight-game mix, defeating a stacked final table that included Donnacha O’Dea, Konstantin Puchkov, Kevin Calenzo and eventual runner up Greg Mueller. The finish put $271,312 in his pocket and all the confidence he needed to continue the grind.

A week later, he nearly final tabled the $50,000 Players Championship, finishing in tenth and banking $142,197. The next week, he finished fourth in the $3,000 pot-limit Omaha-eight-or-better event for another $100,820. Then Baker closed out his summer by simultaneously final tabling the National Championship and making a deep run in the main event. He ultimately bowed out in 56th-place overall, picking up another $128,384.

The Right Mindset

The truth is, as good as Baker’s summer was, he was just a few cards here and there from turning in a 2011 Ben Lamb-esque performance. But rather than dwell on what could have been, Baker insists on focusing on the good.

“If you look at my results from the summer, you could look at it in one of two ways. You could see the final tables and the bracelet and be happy or you could see the missed opportunities and wonder what could have been. I choose to be happy about the fact that I performed well rather than harp on the bad beats that may have cost me my second or even third bracelet.”

Baker, now divorced, credits his incredibly supportive girlfriend, Nicole, for supplying him with the power of positive thinking.

“Other players have asked me if thinking positively really affects your game and I wholeheartedly believe it does,” Baker said. “You don’t realize this, but that mindset shows through you to the other players at the table. It’s a confidence that others pick up on and that’s definitely to your advantage. Your attitude makes you a better player. Rather than moping around about your bad luck on a previous hand, you are sitting up at the table, picking up on the situation. You are dialed in, not phoning it in.”

Perhaps more importantly, he now realizes just how incredibly lucky he is to call himself a professional poker player.

“One of the biggest things that aggravates me about some of the younger players in today’s poker community is the complaining. They hate poker and if they ever won anything big they’d quit immediately. I can’t believe that. There’s nothing I hate more than opening up a poker site and seeing all of the complaining on the players’ Twitter accounts. Some of these guys have short memories and completely forget all of the times they caught a break to win a tournament. We play a high variance game, but rather than embrace that fact, some players feel that they are somehow above it all. Those guys need to go work a real job for ten years and then report back to me, because I just can’t believe that someone could legitimately complain about playing a game for a living. I love this profession and I don’t see that stopping anytime soon.”

Baker is in the middle of an incredible year, but he’s not planning on forgetting what got him to this point. He truly is a person who counts his blessings each and every day.

“I’ve realized over the last few years just what a great opportunity poker provides for me and my girlfriend. I’ve seen the world, just because I play a game for a living. The money is great, and has allowed me to build a future for my daughter, but our lives are richer because of poker in many more ways that don’t involve money.” ♠