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Poker Tournament Trail -- 2009 POY Eric Baldwin

Baldwin Talks About Winning the 2009 POY Race


2009 POY Eric BaldwinEric Baldwin (pictured right) is the 2009 Card Player Player of the Year. He won the award with 6,994 points. He won four poker tournaments this year including his first World Series of Poker gold bracelet in event No. 34 ($1,500 no-limit hold’em). His most impressive accomplishment in 2009 was the fact that he made 17 final tables. Baldwin takes over the POY crown from the 2008 winner John Phan, who won the award with 6,704 points.

This year’s race was one of the most competitive ever; multiple players were serious contenders until the very last tournament of the year, but Baldwin held all of them off to win the crown. His last tournament win of the year came at the Five Diamond World Poker Classic, where he won a $1,000 no-limit hold’em with rebuys event to add 792 points to his total and bring his winnings for the year up to $1,494,494. Card Player spoke with Baldwin multiple times during the final steps of his POY win and here are the highlights from those interviews.

Ryan Lucchesi: You put the cherry on top with the preliminary win at the Five-Diamond World Poker Classic? How secure did you feel after that win?

Eric Baldwin: It was great to have a little cushion and forced the guys behind me to finish in the top three or top four to beat me. It was still nerve racking though. It was tough to not let my mind wander to how they were doing.

RL: The 2009 race has been one of the most competitive in recent years. Did your opponents push you to raise your game this year?

EB: I think it did. I like the pressure. It’s a feeling I wasn’t sure I would ever get to experience again after being done with playing competitive sports with baseball. It’s a similar feeling to that. It’s cool that I have been able to find something that I can equate to coming down the stretch and being the favorite in baseball. It’s helped me elevate my game and bring my A-game every day, and it’s just a lot of fun [laughs].

RL: Something that stands out about this year’s race is that all of the finalists really love to play poker. Is that love for the game the factor that has carried you through to the end of the year?

EB: Even if those weren’t great guys I would still be here grinding and I think I would be playing well, but having those characters here makes it so much more fun. Cornel [Cimpan] is a hilarious guy once you get to know him and an amazing player, and Soheil [Shamseddin] is probably my favorite poker personality right now. He’s absolutely hilarious and he just loves the game. It’s never boring when he’s at your table. Jason [Mercier] is just an unbelievable player and a good guy, a funny guy, and Yevgeniy [Timoshenko], his results speak for themselves. Those guys have made it a lot more fun. It’s been great.

RL: Would you say that a certain camaraderie develops between the tournament players that attend the preliminary events in addition to the championship events throughout the year on the tournament trail?

EB: There definitely is, you run into the same guys day in and day out, and you all have the same goal, so you can really relate to each others struggles and successes. You definitely develop camaraderie, even though those are the guys that you are trying to beat.

RL: The number that really jumps out from your tournament results in 2009 is the 17 final tables. What is it about your tournament strategy that puts you in a position to win poker tournaments so consistently?

EB: My online results before when I was playing more online were similar, where I would go deep in tournaments. I’m not typically the guy that’s going to build a big stack early, but I’ll try and accumulate slowly by betting small pots. I get deep and then give myself the opportunity to find good spots, or find that rush of cards that allows me to get to the final table. I feel that I’m playing well but if you just put yourself in position enough times deep with chips and keep doing that over and over again, eventually things are going to work out.

RL: What are you looking forward to most in 2010?

EB: I’m also really looking forward to playing in the NBC Heads-Up tournament. I just found out that I get an automatic bid for that because of POY. That’s going to be awesome to be on NBC.

RL: What was your mindset heading into 2009? Were you planning on playing as many events as you did?

EB: On the beach in the Bahamas back in January my friends and I were talking about how cool it would be to be in position to win the POY and to chase after it. I knew I wanted to go after it eventually and obviously I had no idea that 2009 would be this big for me.

I guess I just started the year playing big events but not grinding every day, playing more online, especially on Sundays. After the World Series I found myself in a position to go after it and kind of refocus my year to make that my main goal. I really only had one big score before that, and I was 0-for-13 going into my bracelet win. At the conclusion of that week where I took a first and a third I found myself neck and neck with Vitaly Lunkin. I was like wow I really have a shot now. It’s not something that you might have every year so I’m really going to focus my time and energy on going after it while I have a shot.

RL: What does it mean to you to be the 2009 POY?

EB: It absolutely means the world to me. It’s been a dream of mine ever since I’ve started playing poker for a living. It’s kind of surreal realizing that I did it, I actually won it. The company that it puts me in, the previous winners like Negreanu and Men [Nguyen] and Mizrachi, and all of those guys, it’s flattering to be included with that amazing group of players.

I’m definitely going to take a little bit of down time after the PCA to relax and recharge. But I’m having a blast; I don’t feel like the burnout is that bad. I’m probably going to lie on a couch for a week and then have the itch to get back out there and start doing it again just because I love it.

I’ve got an amazing girlfriend that puts up with my lifestyle, not knowing if I will be able to come home and do something that night or not. She makes it easy, she’s hilarious and makes it easy to come home and totally flip the switch from poker to just enjoy time at home, so I owe a lot to her too.

RL: Do you feel it’s important because it awards a player’s total body of work?

EB: Anyone can run super hot and win one tournament. The award means so much to me because it really takes a consistent year and multiple big scores in order to win it. It’s super gratifying knowing that I’ve proved myself over the course of an entire year, and was able to deal with the challenges and the ups and downs that occur over that long of a time span and still be able to stay focused and come out on top when so many amazing players are also trying to win the award.

RL: What advice would you give to beginning players that want to start playing more tournaments?

EB: A general tip that I think is the most important thing if someone is trying to get better at poker is to always try and improve. The minute you try to stop getting better, there is so much luck involved in the game that you can think you know it all, actually be playing bad, and just blame your losing on bad luck. Even when you have success you need to stay hungry and keep trying to get better because the game evolves also and if you don’t make the adjustments necessary to stay on top the game is going to pass you by. You see it in a lot of people that used to have a lot of success and now they’re struggling and running around looking for stakes. It’s just so important to keep learning and finding new ways to learn, whether it’s training sites or talking hands with friends.

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, so 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.

People always get to thinking about how they run. If you go out of a tournament and it’s on a bad beat or a cooler, and if those are the only hands that you look at then you’re going to think, wow, I’m pretty unlucky. The people that do that forget about the coin-flip that they won to even get to that stage of the tournament, or they forget about a bad beat they put on somebody. It’s selective memory to only think about the times that you run badly. If you can have perspective about the times that you run good it really keeps you from falling into that negative thought process that ends up negatively impacting your play.