When Day 4 of the $3,500 Seminole Hard Rock “Rock ‘n’ Roll Poker Open” Championship kicked off, just 18 players remained from the 766-entry field, with Jake Bazeley sitting on the second-shortest stack, albeit with 23 big blinds. By the time the final table of six was reached, Bazeley sat in fourth place and still in contention for the $568,687 first-place prize. And just a short while ago, Bazeley completed the comeback, outlasting David Prociak to win the title.
I wanted to recognize Bazeley for one reason — the guy is always going deep. For each of the past five years, he’s managed more than $200K in live tournament earnings, with 2014 having been a previous career year for him with $773,047 in live earnings. Now he’s even topped that in 2015, earning more than $1.1 million this year alone while passing $3 million-mark for his career.
Despite such consistent success, Bazeley is one of those players that doesn’t hog the spotlight. Instead, he quietly grinds and collects checks. Prior to this week he made two World Poker Tour final tables, finishing fourth for $371,931 in the 2014 Seminole Hard Rock Showdown and third in the 2015 WPT Bay 101 Shooting Star for $461,470; finished runner-up in the 2012 World Series of Poker Event #2: $1,500 No-Limit Hold’em for $322,294; and won the 2014 WSOP Circuit Harrah’s Cherokee Main Event for $239,096.
From my observations, a lot of Bazeley’s success can be attributed to his focus upon tournament survival. When he’s short on chips, he doesn’t give up. When he has chips, he doesn’t get out of line. Both of those characteristics were put on display at the SHRPO “Rock ‘n’ Roll Poker Open” when he went from short stack to the final table.
It began when Bazeley managed an early double, and not long after, in Level 24 (12,000/24,000/4,000), he scored his first elimination. According to updates from the event, it happened when Joshua Gibson opened for 55,000 from the button and James Salmon three-bet all in for 550,000 from the small blind. Bazeley then shoved all in over the top from the big, which prompted Gibson to fold.
It was a coin flip, but the board ran out a clean to give Bazeley the pot, which brought him up to 1.45 million (60 BBs).
Not long after, Bazeley doubled through Gibson when, on a board reading , Gibson bet 110,000 and Bazeley popped it to 310,000. Gibson made it 595,000 to go, and then snap-called when Bazeley four-bet jammed for 1.08 million. Gibson tabled for trips, but it was no good as Bazeley flopped a boat with . The river was no help to Gibson, and Bazeley shipped the double to 2.2 million (100 BBs).
Flush with chips, Bazeley was able to shift from short-term survival (when the large blinds and antes threaten your stack) to long-term survival (where you have enough chips to relieve the pressure and wait for your opponents to bust).
What’s impressive is the fact that Bazeley valued his newly-won chips. For instance, in Level 26 (20,000/40,000/5,000), Matt Stout raised to 90,000 under the gun and Bazeley just called from the cutoff. Gibson came along from the big blind and three players took a flop of . Two checks saw Bazeley bet 180,000, only Stout called, and then both players checked the turn. When the completed the board on the river, Stout checked and Bazeley bet 400,000. Stout called only to muck when Bazeley showed .
I love how Bazeley played this hand. Being so deep, he took a line — not raising preflop and checking the turn — that allowed him to control the size of the pot and get value from his hand. Had he played it more aggressively, he very well could have lost a great deal if either Stout or Gibson had woken up with a hand like pocket aces, queens, or jacks.
It’s not an easy thing to go from a short stack to the chip lead, but in those instances when it does happen, it’s important to proceed with caution thereafter. Time and again I see players go too hard and too fast when it’s down to the final two tables, and they end up crashing and burning.
It’s my experience that the best players in the world navigate those tumultuous waters with extreme caution, and Bazeley is certainly among the best. I admire his patience, will to survive, and ability to capitalize when the cards fall his way. There’s a lesson to be learned from his Day 4 performance, and I intend to take it to heart. I suggest you do, too.
For a full recap of Bazeley’s win, be sure to check out PokerNews’ $3,500 Seminole Hard Rock “Rock ‘n’ Roll Poker Open” Championship final table recap on Thursday.
*Lead photo courtesy of seminolehardrockpokeropen.com