Jake Bazeley broke through for his first WSOP-related victory Monday night in the World Series of Poker Circuit Main Event at Harrah’s Cherokee in Cherokee, N.C. Bazeley, a 31-year-old professional poker player from Cincinnati, earned $239,096, a Circuit gold ring and a berth in the season-ending National Championship following the hard-fought win.
Despite laying claim to nearly $2 million in tournament earnings, Bazeley owned just two career victories prior to Monday night. While his resume boasts runner-up finishes in both a $1,500 bracelet event and a Circuit Main Event, Bazeley hadn’t broken through on the WSOP stage until he made the journey south to Cherokee. With those close calls in his rearview mirror, Bazeley put all his confidence in his solid play and left the rest up to the cards.
“I never really go by leaderboards and points and stuff like that,” Bazeley said. “I’m just more about making money and at the same time having fun and being competitive with it. Winning is winning. I don’t really do it to get points or a ring or anything. I just want to win.”
Bazeley began the third and final day of play in the Cherokee finale second of 12 remaining players and well within reach of an elusive title. Play moved fast to start and the field narrowed to the official nine-handed final table in less than an hour. Early on, Bazeley, who remained second in chips at the time, looked down at aces and after a few rounds of betting, saw chip leader Hai Le six-bet shove jacks into him. Bazeley snap called and earned a pot worth nearly 7,000,000 chips — almost half those in play. Bazeley retained his sizable lead all the way to three-handed play and looked down at pocket kings. Again his opponent did the betting for him when Caleb Brown moved all in and again Bazeley snap called. Brown held queens and never improved. From there, Bazeley went into heads up play against Chad DeBerry with about a 3-to-1 advantage and the rest was history.
“I just had some hands in fortunate spots where people just weren’t folding to me,” Bazeley said of his good fortune. “I got very lucky to wake up with some hands in the right situations.”
One player who didn’t share in Bazeley’s good fortune was fellow tournament pro Darryll Fish. Fish who also lays claim to nearly $2 million in career earnings, moved all in holding on an board. His opponent, Le, called and instantly tabled for a set. Fish never improved and with that, Bazeley’s most feared foe hit the rail shy of the final table.
“It hasn’t even set in yet,” Bazeley said of the win. “I’ve been working so hard to get a win and been so close. Poker, you can get close and you still get paid well, but you don’t get that fully satisfied feeling until you win. Hopefully when this sets in I’ll feel like I’ve accomplished what I wanted to.”
Bazeley made the trip to Cherokee with close friends Fish, Jared Jaffee and the Massey brothers Aaron and Ralph. Together, the quintet accounted for four in-the-money finishes and more than $263,000 in earnings in the championship event alone. After his victory, Bazeley gave a nod to those who helped him along the road to the winner’s circle.
“That just makes these tournaments so much better,” Bazeley said of sharing the victory with friends. “They’re very long days. When you’ve got someone else to enjoy the ups and downs of poker with you it just makes it so much better.”
Bazeley’s life wasn’t always about poker. While a senior in high school, his basketball team qualified for the state championship game and he ended up being offered a Division II college scholarship. He logged four years playing for Christian Brothers University in Memphis and two years coaching there. During his playing years, he and his teammates would often be confined to their rooms on game nights. To pass the time, they’d play poker and this marked Bazeley’s introduction to the game.
“We’d have a lot of nights where we weren’t allowed to go out partying because we had games and we’d just sit around and play cards,” Bazeley said. “Eventually you just meet more and more poker friends and get into different games and different formats.”
The Main Event marked the last of the ring events on the Harrah’s Cherokee schedule. The $1,675 finale drew 797 entries — nearly 20 percent more than last year — creating a $1,195,500 prize pool. The early stages of play were headlined by 2004 WSOP Main Event champion Greg Raymer, this year’s APAC Main Event champion Scott Davies and three-time Super Bowl champion Richard Seymour. Seymour and Raymer took two shots at it, but ultimately came up dry of an in-the-money finish. Davies, meanwhile, capped off a hot year with a 33rd place finish and $5,475 score. Others to finish in the money included David Nicholson (77th, $2,977), Ralph Massey (71st, $3,240), Jaffee (69th, $3,240), Brian Reinert (54th, $3,873), Nicholas Palma (52nd, ($3,873), Tyler Morris (32nd, $5,475), Viet Vo (24th, $8,536), Kyle Cartwright (21st, $10,126) and Fish (11th, $18,148).
“Harrah’s Cherokee is my favorite Circuit stop of the year,” Bazeley said of the North Carolina property. “The fields are massive and everyone here is having a good time. They’re really nice and treat you well.”
With Bazeley’s victory comes the conclusion of the Harrah’s Cherokee Circuit series (the first of two on the schedule this year), but WSOP action starts up again this Thursday at Harrah’s Atlantic City. More on that series is available on WSOP.com.
Harrah’s Cherokee final table results:
1st: Jake Bazeley – $239,096
2nd: Chad DeBerry – $147,405
3rd: Caleb Brown – $108,671
4th: Raymond “Trey” Walton – $80,995
5th: Dan Gilmer – $61,174
6th: Ray Kazerouni – $46,804
7th: Hai Le – $36,260
8th: Corey Bierria – $28,441
9th: Mark Dumonski – $22,583