Casino win­ner’s no stranger

Sun Sentinel Broward Edition - Showtime - South Broward - - GAMBLING - By David Rater­man

Well, this is my first casino col­umn for the Sun Sen­tinel, and I swear I had noth­ing to do with my cousin’s boyfriend win­ning more than half a mil­lion dol­lars last week at the Semi­nole Hard Rock Ho­tel and Casino.

In the cra­zi­est of co­in­ci­dences, Jake Baze­ley, who lives in Cincin­nati with my cousin Josie Ploehs, won the main event at the 2015 Semi­nole Hard Rock Rock ’n’ Roll Poker Open. On Dec. 2, Jake, 32, beat the nine other fi­nal­ists, out of 766 en­trants, to earn $568,687. That’s the big­gest win in his young ca­reer. So far, he’s earned $3.15 mil­lion.

“I’ve prob­a­bly played eight to 10 times at the Semi­nole Hard Rock,” Jake says. “They have a few tour­na­ments a year. I got fourth place there in April 2014 for about $370,000, so I love that casino.”

I’d met Jake only once, a year ago af­ter an­other poker tour­na­ment at the Hard Rock. I have 62 first cousins — that’s not a typo— with most be­ing up in Cincin­nati, so it’s hard to keep up with all of them and their sig­nif­i­cant oth­ers and kids. I hadn’t seen Josie in a couple of years, so I definitely hadn’t met Jake. But she came down with him for that trip and was bored while he played, so I took her to Fort Laud­erdale beach. Jake joined us a couple of hours later at the Elbo Room. He lost money in the tour­na­ment, but was still in a happy mood.

Jake is an op­ti­mist. And a num­bers guy. Af­ter earn­ing his un­der­grad­u­ate de­gree in busi­ness man­age­ment while play­ing bas­ket­ball at a small col­lege in Ten­nessee, he worked on his MBA while coach­ing the team. He had plenty of free time, so he started play­ing poker on­line. And he be­came good. To this day, he says he’s never had a “real” job.

“This was the cra­zi­est tour­na­ment ever,” Jake says of the Rock ’n’ Roll Poker Open. “Day 1, I’m one of the short­est stacks [of chips]. Af­ter Day 2, I’m do­ing good. Af­ter Day 3, 18 peo­ple are left, and I was in last place. On Day 4, I ran up and was chip leader with 10 peo­ple left. And on Day 5, I went from bot­tom to top. It was a roller coaster.”

Be­cause play­ing poker is his main form of in­come, Jake says he is cal­cu­lated and strate­gic. “I don’t play cash games for money, the in­stant-win types,” he says. “The odds aren’t as good for my way of play­ing poker. But pro­fes­sional tour­na­ments level the play­ing fields. You know who you’re play­ing against. You can study them.” And take their money. The play­ers Jake beat at the fi­nal ta­ble were David Pro­ciak, Joshua Gib­son, Martin Carnero, Marvin Ret­ten­maier and Jes­sica Daw­ley, all from out­side South Florida ex­cept Carnero, who lives in Davie. Jake and Pro­ciak played heads-up for 68 hands un­til Jake fi­nally won out.

Jake says he may re­turn to the casino for its next tour­na­ment, the Semi­nole Hard Rock Lucky Hearts Poker Open, which will take place Jan. 7-20 with a $1 mil­lion guar­an­tee. He says he’ll definitely re­turn for the March 31-April 23 Semi­nole Hard Rock Poker Show­down, which will have a $3 mil­lion guar­an­tee.

RALPH NO­TARO/COUR­TESY

Jake Baze­ley won $568,687 on Dec. 2 at the main event of the Semi­nole Hard Rock Rock ’n’ Roll Poker Open.

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