Jason Baldridge didn’t have to wait very long at all for a breakthrough victory. Just a couple months into life as a part-time tournament poker player, Baldridge won the $1,675 Main Event at Harrah’s New Orleans, defeating a field of 758 entries to collect the season’s last gold ring. It’s just the second result on his tournament record, and it was worth $227,412 in cash, along with one of the precious seats in the season ending WSOP Global Casino Championship.

Baldridge is a 34-year-old poker player from San Antonio, Texas. Born and raised in the Lone Star State, he graduated from St. Mary’s University with a degree in Business Management, and he's been playing the game since. It’s more about bankroll management than business management nowadays.

Like so many first-time winners, Baldridge is primarily a cash game player, but he sometimes tags along on his buddies’ tournament trips. “I play cash games when I go to tournament spots, usually,” he said. “I travel with Jose (Anaya) and I’ll play some tournaments, but I never really took them seriously.”

Anaya does take them seriously, though, and it was his run in the season-long points race that seems to be the thing that eventually grabbed Baldridge’s attention. “Jose started getting points, and I was like, 'Oh yeah, I want to do that,'” he said. “We’ve been coming to all these stops because Jose needs points.”

Baldridge followed Anaya to Choctaw back in January and failed to post a result himself, despite building a big stack on Day 1 of the Main Event. Then it was on to Baltimore this spring where he endured a similar fate in the Main, falling at the end of Day 1. He did, however, make the final table of the Turbo event on the final day, where he finished in sixth place for a $2,683 payday and a real, live tournament result.

Two weeks later, Baldridge was suddenly sitting at the final table of the Harrah’s New Orleans Main Event — entering Day 3 as the chip leader, no less. Anaya was planted on the rail, nervous, along with their mutual poker friend John Alvarez. Baldridge didn’t seem nervous at all.

“I’m a dork,” he said of himself in his postgame interviews. “I like to joke around.” Baldridge wore a bright-orange Reese’s hoodie for the duration of the final table, and he produced a furry koala hat from his backpack at one point as he was sifting through it. He’s a drinker and a dart player and he clearly knows how to grow a beard. And he put on a fine poker performance on Day 3, too.

Baldridge picked his way through the final table with a deftness typically exhibited by players with significantly more tournament experience than him. He played back at five-time ring winner Caufman Talley early and often, and he stole a big pot from the dangerous Ryan Leng after standing his ground with pocket sevens on a wet board with three overcards, among a few other highlights.

Baldridge dipped in and out of the chip lead over the course of the final day, but he grabbed it back for good with five players left. Leng limped the cutoff with ace-jack, Baldridge raised the button with ace-queen, and Leng moved all in for about 25 big blinds. When Baldridge called, Leng saw the bad news of his domination, and he could not catch up to stave off a fifth-place elimination.

Talley started to mount a bit of a challenge after eliminating Hal Kizzire in fourth place, but he was dismissed in third by William Tait in a bit of a cooler just a short while later. That left Baldridge heads-up with a big lead against Tait, and the early orbits were dominated by the big stack.

After winning three postflop pots in a row, Baldridge had Tait down under 20 big blinds, and although he doubled up once, Tait could not overcome the deficit. Baldridge has clearly picked up a thing or two from Anaya and Alvarez along the way, and his tournament aptitude was put on display in the final hand of the match.

After check-raising the turn of a ten-eight-five-deuce board, Tait bluffed all in when an ace fell on the river. He was holding nine-seven for a complete miss, needing Baldridge to fold to keep him alive. Baldridge found a call with eight-six, though, and his pair of eights was enough to earn him the final and most important pot of the tournament.

In the moments after his win, Baldridge was surrounded by friend as he posed for a fake-serious set of winner’s photos. Anaya and Alvarez were front and center.

When asked if this title is going to tempt him into playing more tournaments going forward, Baldridge nodded and became briefly and unusually serious. “I have to, you know?”

Final Table Results
1st: Jason Baldridge $227,412
2nd: William Tait $140,192
3rd: Caufman Talley $103,353
4th: Hal Kizzire $77,032
5th: Ryan Leng $58,180
6th: John Cressend $44,514
7th: Jett Schencker $34,485
8th: Gabriel Andrade $27,049
9th: Jeffrey Turton $21,478

Ring winners who finished in the money include Loni Harwood (15th place), Nadya Magnus (19th), Jeremy Stein (20th), Vincent Moscati (22nd), Tim Burt (23rd), T.K. Miles (26th), Jonathan Poche (27th), Russ Head (28th), Marshall White (30th), Bob Beck (31st), Doug Carli (34th), Krzysztof Stybaniewicz (35th), BJ McBrayer (38th), Bubba Dukes (39th), Brett Bader (41st), John Richards (42nd), Raymond Walton (45th), Viet Vo (47th), DeJuante Alexander (48th), Curtis Terry (50th), David Aker (56th), Cory Waaland (58th), James Alexander (60th), Rob Georato (62nd), Sean Small (63rd), Kyle Cartwright (66th), and Kevin Sherrill (73rd). Harwood and Cartwright are also WSOP bracelet winners.