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Online Poker: Interview With Isaac 'westmenloAA' Baron

Previous Online Player of the Year Leader Moves Back Into Second Place

Isaac 'westmenloAA' BaronIsaac "westmenloAA" Baron is one of the most volatile players in the 2007 Online Player of the Year (OPOY) race. He's bungeed up and down the top 10 spots in the standings throughout the year and has found himself duking it out among a cornucopia of notable Internet pros. He is one of the few online poker players out there who still has a shot to overtake the Sorel 'Imper1um' Mizzi behemoth.

Baron started his hike to the top of the OPOY standings by winning a little tournament by the name of Sunday Million. He played in the $500 buy-in version PokerStars event on Jan. 28 and raked in the final pot to secure a $255,000 payday. Since that win, he's made 21 other OPOY-qualified finishes and earned $533,000 in OPOY winnings. If Mizzi is the man to beat, Baron may just be the man to beat him.

Baron recently got on the phone with Card Player for an interview to talk about strategy, prop bets, money, and his tumultuous ride in the OPOY:

Shawn Patrick Green:
The OPOY race has been somewhat of a rollercoaster for you. When we first started publishing the list, you were in first place. Then you dropped as low as fifth place when you had a dry spell of sorts in the bigger tournaments. You've recently bumped yourself back into fourth place, which puts you almost 1,900 points behind the leader, Mizzi. [Editor's note: Since this interview took place, Baron finished in fifth place in the sixhanded no-limit hold'em (with rebuys) tournament at the FTOPS V, earning him 450 OPOY points, which put him in second place in the standings and 1,428 points behind Mizzi] With all of the ups and downs in the OPOY race so far, do you see yourself reclaiming the top spot?

Isaac "westmenloAA" Baron: I think the main reason for the up-and-down was because at the beginning of the year I had that huge win, obviously, and I was playing a lot more tournaments, but then I kind of drifted into cash games toward the middle. Now, I'm starting to play a lot more tournaments again. So, I think if I keep playing as many tournaments as I have been over the past few weeks, I definitely have a good shot to overtake Sorel. But it really just depends on motivation or whether I'm going to be playing tournaments or cash. I think if I'm playing a lot of tournaments I can compete for No. 1.

SPG: How often do you play cash games now, then?

IB: I have this side-bet for who can be the best in tournaments for the month of August, so I've been playing a lot of tournaments. But before the month of August, I was pretty much playing mostly cash games, probably five or six days a week in the bigger cash games, and just playing tournaments maybe two or three times a week, mostly on Sundays. That's been from about maybe March until August. So, I'd say I'm playing them a lot; definitely more cash games than tournaments until this month.

SPG: And you've been doing pretty well in the cash games?

IB: Yeah, I have, actually. I had a little bit of a rough streak, which was my first rough streak in a really long time, right before this bet, but besides that I've been doing very well.

SPG: Have you ever done any interesting prop bets, or are you not into that aspect of gambling?

IB: Sorel and I have done some interesting prop bets. There's a $10 tournament on PokerStars, the Sunday Hundred Grand, and we did a $5K last-longer in that.

SPG: Who won?

IB: He did. I got busted out really early, actually. So, just stuff like that. I'm not a huge prop bettor, but I dabble a bit.

SPG: You kicked off your trek up the OPOY leaderboard when you won the PokerStars Sunday Million at the end of January. You got $255,000 for that win, which is big even in Sunday Million terms. Was that a life-changing score for you?

IB: Um … yeah, I would say so. I was already doing pretty well to the point that I was comfortable playing most cash games on the Net and most tournaments, but it definitely helped me to the point that I could take some money offline and invest it and be even more comfortable playing whatever I want online. But yeah, $250,000 was definitely some life-changing money at the time, for sure. No doubt.

SPG: What limits were you playing before that?

IB: The cash games I was playing were $25-$50 and $50-$100 no limit, mostly. To be honest, the Sunday Million never really went into the cash games. It wasn't really life-changing relative to my poker bankroll. Pretty much, after I won the tournament I just cashed out the entire $250,000 and invested it. But it definitely helped me because not all of my money was online and it helped me feel a little bit more financially secure. If I have a bad streak I always have money in the bank.

SPG: You've made $88,000 in live poker so far compared to your $480,000 online in 2007 OPOY-qualified tournaments alone. Do you simply focus on online tournaments or have you been coming up dry playing live?

IB: I just turned 20 in July, so I can't really play live [in the U.S.], but I actually really like live tournaments. I'm going to be playing a lot of the ones in Europe. I'm going to the WSOP Europe, for sure, and a lot of the EPTs and the WPTs overseas like in Spain and Niagara. So, I think I'm going to have a lot of success live. I already have for the small amount that I've played and I really like playing live.

SPG: How would you describe your playing style?

IB: I'm able to mix it up. I'd say my main style is more tight-aggressive, but if I'm at a table where I think that the players are playing way too tight and scared to bubble or something like that, I'll become crazy aggressive and raise almost every hand. I'm just able to mix it up, but my default style is definitely more tight-aggressive than a lot of the players online, like Sorel, lilholdem954 [Chad Batista], or Andy McLEOD. They're more loose-crazy-aggressive and that's not really my style.

SPG: What do you think it is about you that makes you so good?

IB: I think I have a really good understanding of the game. I understand situations in tournaments that come up. I've seen a lot of situations and I've done a lot of thinking and reading about the game. I also think that even when I was just getting into the game I had good instincts. When my gut tells me to do something, it's usually pretty spot-on, so I think that definitely helps, too, and I think that's really important for a lot of the really good players, to have good instincts.

SPG: What are your favorite tournaments to play online?

IB: I like the bigger tournaments. I really like the $1K on Stars [the Super Tuesday]. I also like the Sunday Million, especially when it's a bigger buy-in, like the one that I won, because the structure gets a little better and there's more play involved. And I really like the FTOPS and the WCOOP, especially the WCOOP. You know, the huge tournaments with really good structures and pretty much everyone, even all of the live pros, playing in them.

SPG: Are you good at any non-hold'em games?

IB: To be honest, PLO [pot-limit Omaha] and limit hold'em are really the only games where I feel comfortable playing even close to the stakes I play at in no limit. I feel like I have a decent grasp of the other games just because I'm a good poker player, but as far as advanced concepts in stud, Omaha eight-or-better, or razz, I'm definitely not to the point where I feel comfortable putting up a lot of money playing those games. But hopefully at some point I'll get there.

SPG: Do you have any advice for people just starting out in something like PLO?

IB: In PLO you really have to just not play it like no-limit hold'em. If you value hands the same way that you do in no-limit, you're just going to be giving money away. Sometimes a set is not that great of a hand in PLO, whereas in no-limit it's obviously a huge hand. And two pair hands are really hands that are going to get you into a lot of trouble in PLO. So, I'd say the best advice for a beginner is "don't try to play it like no limit, because you'll get crushed."

SPG: Well, what about bluffing in PLO, then? Do you bluff less in PLO?

IB: No. I think in PLO, at least at the higher stakes, you can get away with bluffing more, at least on the river, because most of the time the good PLO players are going to be trying to draw to the nuts or very powerful hands. So, it's a lot easier to represent a really strong hand and people are going to be less likely to call you down with hands that don't beat the nuts or the second nuts. So, in a way, it's even easier to bluff in PLO, but you have to be playing against a player who is aware of the difference in strength in hands between PLO and no-limit hold'em.

SPG: What about the other non-hold'em games? Any advice for those?

IB: It's not exactly my expertise, because like I said, I'm really only proficient in a few games. But my best advice would probably be to read as much as you can and even if you have a big bankroll, don't play what you can't for that bankroll, play smaller stakes to learn the game. Play a lot of hands before you move up to where people are really good players.

SPG: Once you get rid of your poker-training wheels, so to speak, and start to play at a higher level, what do you still have to learn?

IB: I'm learning things every day. The stuff that you're going to be learning after you already understand poker really well is going to be smaller stuff than when you're just beginning. But picking up on player tendencies, when to value-bet, becoming better at reading hands, and being able to manage yourself are all big. Self-control is obviously huge, and when you're playing cash games, especially; if you go on tilt you can lose your entire bankroll. So, once you've really learned the basics, the stuff you'll continue to learn will be smaller concepts than the stuff at the beginning, but you're still going to be learning every day. If not, you're not going to be able to compete at the higher levels because other people are going to be learning every day and getting better and better.

SPG: What's one leak that most of the entrants playing in something like the Sunday Million tend to have?

IB: Uhh … that's … whew, picking out one is just ….

SPG: [Laughing] You can pick out a few if you need to.

IB: There's so many. I'm trying to pick out one that is the most common. I'd say limping in with garbage in early position and ending up flopping a hand that they don't want to fold. I think the best advice for a lot of them is to play tighter preflop. Sure, a lot of the good players that they see will be playing a loose preflop game, but that's because they can. They can get away with it because they know how to get away from hands and they're really good at reading hands, whereas some of the worst players in the Sunday Million should really be playing a lot more straightforwardly preflop. They should be playing just really good hand values and folding suited connectors and small pairs in early position.

SPG: All right, I appreciate you doing this interview with me, Isaac. Thanks a lot.
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