In spite of himself, Eric Baldwin can’t help but let the fantasy creep into his mind.He’s on top of the Rio, as ESPN films him and eight other players for its opening segment of this year’s November Nine broadcast. Just as Baldwin starts to feel warm and fuzzy from his dream, he forcibly shakes off the façade.“It’s crept into my head a couple times, but I’m quick to snap myself back to reality and say, ‘Wait, whose blind is it next hand?’” said Baldwin. “So yeah, that’s there. But I’m trying to stay mentally tough.”As Day 7 of the 2010 main event begins, only 78 players of an original field of 7,319 remain. One of the biggest names left is the 2009 Card Player Player of the Year, who is trying to cap off what has been a surreal year.Since last June, Baldwin has captured his first career WSOP bracelet, locked up the prestigious POY award, earned a sponsorship deal, accepted an invitation and played in the NBC Heads-up Championship , and recorded his first seven-figure cash thanks to a second-place finish in the 2010 Five-Star World Poker Classic . Heck, a baseball stadium’s clubhouse was even named after him after he made a generous $200,000 donation to his alma mater.Now, after all of that, he’s making a run in the biggest tournament of the year. It’s got to be good to be Eric Baldwin.“If you step back and think about how huge it is, it’s almost overwhelming,” said Baldwin. “Honestly, it’s just me and the cards and the numbers and the players.” Not too long ago, Baldwin was better known as “basebaldy” — his online handle. On the internet, he was quite respected, but he remained fairly unknown to the poker community at large. Now, he’s recognized as one of the best tournament players in the world and is certainly one of the most feared players remaining in this year’s main event.Even though he’s at one of the final few tables, Baldwin says this year’s championship event has been a struggle at times. Through his first two playing days, Baldwin took his starting stack of 30,000 and only improved it to 32,000. He’s been mostly below the average for the duration of the event, but he says that’s where his online game has really been helping him out.“I know exactly what to do in each different stack scenario and then with how much I’ve played live in the last year and a half, I’m able to mix my online short stack knowledge and my live reads,” said Baldwin.With so few tables remaining, every time a big hand develops, the cameras come over and the already ratcheted up pressure seemingly increases even more. Baldwin says his recent TV events have helped him feel comfortable, while noting that some people appear to have difficulty with that extra element.“I’ve had a couple hands this tournament where the cameras came over because I was in a pot and somebody spazzed out and tried to bluff me. It affects the amateurs. But some guys are just sharks and it doesn’t affect them one bit,” said Baldwin. “It’s an interesting dynamic, trying to figure out how the cameras and lights affect each different player.”With over $2 million in tournament winnings since last summer and now about $3.9 million in live tournament winnings in his career, Baldwin says he occasionally reminds himself of how bad he feels when he misplays a hand during a tournament as a way to stay sharp and focused on his current game.“You see people have success and then they just kind of put it on auto-pilot and start playing their ‘C’ game and give it back,” said Baldwin. “I just know how it feels when you bust out of a tournament after not playing your best. It’s just an awful feeling.”Baldwin is determined not to have that feeling as the main event inches closer to its final table.“It’s only going to get more and more intense,” said Baldwin. “But I’m zoned in.”Editor’s Note: Baldwin was eliminated on Day 7 in 59th place.
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