Mar 12, 2019
By Sean Chaffin
After leading the field on the third and fourth day of action back in Los Angeles last week, three bullet points were the focus of David “ODB” Baker. He’d won major tournaments, but never something as big as a WPT title. He’d scored in the six-figures, but never a massive one for seven figures.
Mostly a mixed games player, Baker also had a goal to win a big No Limit Texas Hold’em event. Now after six days of play that took him from the comfy confines of the Commerce Casino to the state-of-the-art environment of HyperX Esports Arena, Baker checked all three off his list in the early morning hours of March 12 after winning the WPT L.A. Poker Classic.
Baker topped a field of 546 players to add his name to the Champions Cup for the first time, winning $1,015,000 for his efforts. To say it was a dream come true for this 46-year-old longtime professional originally from Katy, Texas.
“It kind of sounds corny, but it really means so much to me,” Baker, who now lives in Arizona, said after his win. “I’ve battled my whole life in this business, I care about this business, I care about the prestige of these things and I know some of the guys are a little too cool for school. But I’ve had a glaring omission on my resumé. I get to check off all those boxes today and I’m overjoyed.”
A regular at Commerce Casino much of the year, Baker hasn’t lived near a casino for several years because of family obligations. Much of his cash game and tournament life is at the property. He considers the LAPC a special event and has played the championship for 15 years.
“I stay at the Commerce 200 days a year,” he said. “It’s my home away from home. I know everybody there and most the people there know me. Most of the people there don’t even realize that I don’t live there. Having won in the hometown, in the home casino, obviously, it just means everything.”
The tournament being a freezeout adds some extra cachet, Baker believes, because it offers less room for mistakes. Players with high bankrolls can’t play more aggressive, he says, and then buy back into the event.
“I think they’ve got a built-in advantage,” he said. “In this everybody’s got to play the same 40,000. When you’re out, you’re out. You go home.”
Baker stood second in chips when play resumed in Las Vegas, and found some big clashes three-handed with four-time WPT champion Darren Elias and Matas Cimbolas, who was seeking his second title on the tour. Ultimately, Baker was able to put some pressure on his opponents and build his stack, crippling Elias late in the evening when his held up against Elias’s .
With Elias eventually hitting the rail courtesy of Cimbolas, he and Baker were heads-up. With Baker holding a little more than a two-to-one chip advantage, he applied pressure and won the heads-up battle. For his part, Cimbolas, who finished runner-up in this same arena in last May’s WPT Tournament of Champions, took home $646,930.
Coming into action in Las Vegas, Baker was ready for the challenge. He studied final tables with Elias and Cimbolas and believed he and some friends had developed a plan of attack. He felt there were some opportunities, although unorthodox, that he might be able to utilize against such a stacked group of players. How did that work?
“Watching the videos didn’t really do that much, but what did do a lot was my friends John Racener and Cord Garcia,” he said. “I know what I’m doing, but they helped me develop a plan and run through my thought process and figure out a plan that was right for this table and these chip stacks. What could change? How things might develop?”
“We developed scenarios and situations for a lot of different things, and most of it went according to plan. I played a strategy that we laid out. You might watch the stream or the telecast where there might be a few hands or a few sizing that you might not understand, but they were all done with purpose. I was in a zone today. I knew what I was doing. I knew my purpose. I knew my reasons for things. I set up plays.”
While Baker was prepared, adapting to the game on the table was also a goal. One of his skills, he believes, is being able to adjust and feel what other players think of his own game – and then going the other direction. The win also feels like some vindication of his skills at the tables.
“My whole career, people have looked at me and thought I have holes, I’m sloppy, I’m this, I’m that,” he said before the day’s action. “Everybody has their own notion about me. One of my strengths I feel is I’m so diverse in my game that a lot of people have different opinions of me, and I’m pretty good at figuring out which one you think I am and playing off of that.”
“I don’t have a style – I can be aggro, I can be tight, I can be loose, I can be spewy, I can be solid, I can be anything. I’ve always thought I’m kind of a chameleon in poker, so my goal today is just to adjust to the situations and try to make the best of it.”
As numerous fans cheered him on and supported him from the stands, Baker stayed focused. Many sported black and white #TeamBaker T-shirts and chanted throughout the evening.
“My crowd was awesome,” he said. “I knew they were going to be. It should be really good for the telecast. They crushed it and they were supportive.”
Along with Garcia and Racener, Baker also met with Josh Arieh and Ray Henson between breaks to strategize and reinforce his plan. He credits his team and family with helping him be successful. His cheering crowd allowed him to talk strategy during breaks.
“It was perfect,” he said. “This was surreal. This is what I’ve dreamed of and everyone around me was a part of it.”
Along with his winnings, Baker takes home a Hublot Big Bang Steel Watch and a $15,000 entry into the season-ending Baccarat Crystal WPT Tournament of Champions.
A visit to the WPT Seminole Hard Rock Poker Showdown in April may now be in the cards as well. What’s next for this full-time player now with an extra million bucks? He plans on taking the family on a vacation, but don’t plan on him being gone from the tables long.
“Honestly I’ll come back up and grind,” he says. “I’m in a mixed game that I just love. I love the people, I love playing it, it’s fun. I’m a poker player. Some of these people play just for the money and want to be lazy, I love this shit. I’ll probably be back in a week grinding.”
Sean Chaffin is a freelance writer in Crandall, Texas, and his work appears in numerous websites and publications. Follow him on Twitter @PokerTraditions.
Photography by Joe Giron / PokerPhotoArchive
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