Earlier this week, Santo “kleinebakker007” Bakker captured his first Spring Championship of Online Poker title on PokerStars.
Bakker outlasted a huge 3,835-entry field to win Event #64-M, a $530 buy-in progressive knockout tournament. Between the first-place prize and bounties, the 19-year-old player from the Netherlands collected a handsome sum of $210,519 for his win.
It was quite a moment for Bakker, who has been intrigued by poker for many years.
In fact, you could say he was already learning to bluff when just a boy.
“When I was six years old, my dad always watched televised poker at night,” says Bakker. “I always pretended to be asleep and watched with one eye closed, because I found it really fascinating. So I learned the basics of poker at a really young age.”
Growing up he’d play heads-up games for fun with his father, and he would watch his dad play on PokerStars as well. Later Bakker played with friends, then upon turning 18 began playing on PokerStars himself.
“I’d play micro-stakes tournaments once or twice a week,” he says. “I consistently min-cashed, and sometimes ran deep.”
Eventually father and son took a trip to play poker at a casino in Amsterdam.
“On the first night I made 900 euros at the 2€/2€ table,” Bakker says. “Still, I never thought I could earn a living with poker. I just saw it as a hobby.”
He continued studying the game.
“I read a lot and analyzed my game,” he says. “I had already watched Lex Veldhuis play poker on Twitch for a long time where I learned a lot.”
Eventually he had a revelation.
“I needed to improve my consistency and my marginal hand plays,” he says. “So I worked on this, and when I tried to apply what I’d learned, I felt quickly I had improved my game enough to compete in almost all the mid-stakes tournaments I played.”
All of that study — from the six-year-old sneaking peeks at televised poker until now — came together for Bakker in Event #64-M.
“It was an amazing tournament,” he says. “The last couple of weeks had been mentally great for me, and I assume that helped. I felt I was mentally there, and that resulted in the right decisions at the right spots.”
In fact, the lead-up to Bakker’s win included a near-miss the week before in Event #20-M, a $109 PKO event in which he took third out of 4,753 entries.
“I played really well, but unfortunately I lost some key flips at the final table there which didn’t allow me to get to heads-up.”
Those flips instead went Bakker’s way in Event #64-M, although the win clearly resulted from a combination of good decisions and good fortune.
“With such a strong field, every hand is difficult on its own,” he says. “Every thinking process drains energy from your brain, especially knowing that every mistake will be punished. And of course, there is some luck involved.”
One hand in particular stood out in Bakker’s mind as exemplifying both some welcome cards and smart play. With about 400 players left, he raised with pocket eights, then called the button’s three-bet. After flopping a set, Bakker check-called a big c-bet, then check-called again on both the turn and river, his opponent shoving on the final street.
Bakker’s opponent showed pocket aces, and Bakker collected both the big pot and a bounty. Suddenly “kleinebakker007” was sitting high on the leaderboard with a top-five chip stack.
“It wasn’t my best-played hand, but one of the more memorable,” he says.
There would be other more challenging spots, but with every additional deep run Bakker has become increasingly prepared to respond.
“Day 2’s have been good for me… I love playing them,” he says. “The dynamic is way different and only great players are left.”
Once the tournament got down to 15, a couple more good hands pushed Bakker up into second position, and eventually he managed to take it down.
Bakker says not too much has changed for him since the win, other than having bought his family some gifts. But he’s pretty content where he is in the city where he was born and raised.
“I love Amsterdam,” he says. “If it’s up to me, I would never leave.”
He enjoys his job at a tech company located on the capital city’s canals, a business that involves cryptocurrency, precious metals, and tokenization. Poker-wise, he’s contemplating the possibility of playing full-time, although seems comfortable for now keeping the game as a night-time hobby. Having won a SCOOP, he now hopes to collect titles in all the major online series.
“I am even thinking of streaming my poker one day,” he says. “I love to entertain people and interact with them as well. Who knows?”
Indeed, who knows? Perhaps one day someone will watch Bakker play, much as he watched others, and be intrigued enough to learn the game and become a poker champion, too.