There was a time when winning one big major tournament was enough. Win the WPT Championship or the National Heads-Up Poker Championships or the $50,000 HORSE at the World Series of Poker and you were an instant superstar. You were seen on TV by millions and the sponsors lined up. For the fortunate few who found themselves in that position, the money they made off their victories far exceeded the dollar totals reported in event coverage.
It's easy to look back at those people with envy. They got in on the ground floor and still reap the benefits of their good timing. Watching that pattern continue to assert itself has to be hardest for those who came that close to the promised land.
Meet David Bach. You may not even know the name.
In 2006, Chip Reese won the new, much-ballyhooed $50,000 HORSE event. In 2007, it was Freddy Deeb. In '08, we all watched as Scotty Nguyen toppled a tough final table with a few too many beers in his gullet. All three victories were caught on tape, broadcast to an international audience. Those victories had that extra value alluded to above.
In 2009, the HORSE event was no longer being televised. Attendance dropped from 148 players in 2008 to 95 in 2009, but still, the field was a monster and the format a minefield. It was Bach who triumphed. Yes, the $1,276,806 for first place was obviously phenomenal money, but you couldn't help empathizing with Bach if he was a little disappointed when no one seemed to notice the greatest victory of his career.
"It bugs me just a little," Bach admitted after the end of Day 4 play in the 2011 WSOP main event. "To be honest, I was hoping for endorsement money and it never came. It's never come my way. I'd be happy to get it, but it doesn't seem to be my fate. I also would just like to see the broadcast. I never got to see it."
Sadly, neither did Bach's father. The senior Bach, a clinical psychologist by trade, was the one who imbued his son with the passion for poker that eventually propelled the junior to pursue it as a career. Bach senior die late in 2009, but a legacy of hard work and the application of empathy to his profession lives on in his son.
Bach followed his father in education and ability, studying psychology at the University of Georgia. He sees among his strengths a natural talent for reading people, a talent his father also possessed and used to assist patients, as Bach now uses to assess his opponents. But as much as his reading ability assists him, it's secondary as a the cause of his success to an unceasing work ethic.
"I do put a lot of work into it," Bach admitted. "I haven't made that too public. I was hoping to get [the tape of his HORSE win] before last year's $50,000 to review my play, see if I could pick up a physical tell I was giving off. That final table was so long that a lot of it was kind of a blur. We played 20 hours, so I can't remember quite a few of the hands. Going back to look at them would be valuable. I take notes of every hand I play and I write up a recap of my day at every tournament. I have some people who have pieces of me family, friends, and I sent them an email. That process of reviewing my play makes me accountable for what I do. I think I might forget a lot of what's going on if not for the notes and the recap."
"He works harder at poker than anyone over the age of 26," said Josh Arieh, whom Bach battled endlessly during their respective poker ascensions in Georgia almost two decades ago. "David, you can see he's logging every hand he plays. He's going back, he goes through every hand he plays and he studies. He works [extremely] hard. If I worked like he does, I'd be a much better player. He's a damn hard worker."
The disappointment of the HORSE fallout and Bach's studious nature have lead him down a road that took him to the table featured on ESPN2 on Friday night. Bach sat front and center at a table that included Vanessa Rousso, whom he systematically destroyed over a series of three hands that took her stack from over 900,000 in chips to out of the tournament.
First, Rousso doubled Bach up when he had aces against her ace-king. Then she called his all-in in a three-way pot with her set to his straight draw, which Bach completed after the chips were in. Finally, Bach picked up aces again, Rousso flopped top pair and her tournament was over.
"I really feel bad for her," Bach admitted afterward. "She's a great player. I'm good friends with her husband. I don't feel good about getting lucky to win that [second] pot from her."
However, there were benefits to the night's events
First, those email recipients got to see Bach play. "She watched the broadcast tonight," Bach said of his mother. "That was actually the best part of being on TV tonight. She doesn't understand poker, but she gets a big kick of seeing me on TV."
Second, he'll be able to assess his play as he's wanted to with the $50,000, having recorded the night's play. "I'm going to watch it right after I'm done with the main event," he said with a smile.
Third, Bach started the sequence with some 200,000 in chips, less than the tournament average at the time. Now he has 1,142,000, good for 16th place on the leaderboard at the end of the day. In other words, he may not get to check out the TiVo for a little while yet.
With experience, math, psychology, an eye on the big prize and a stack that can get him there, Bach seems primed for a run at the 2011 world championship. While we still don't know how sponsorships will shake out in this post-Black Friday environment, you have to think that if he takes poker's most coveted title, the endorsements he seemed to have earned two years ago will finally come his way. Of course, by then he might not care; he'd be $8,000,000 richer and have achieved every player's dream.
You can read more of Gary Wise's musings at jgarywise.com.