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Final-Table Takedown: Online High Stakes Superstar Brian Hastings Captures First Gold Bracelet

by Craig Tapscott |  Published: Aug 08, 2012

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Brian HastingsBrian Hastings is a 24 year-old professional poker player, instructor for Cardrunners.com, and promoter for Draftday.com. He is best known for his $4.2 million single day win against Viktor Blom in December 2009, and has been a high stakes regular in various forms of poker since 2006.

Event 2012 WSOP Heads-Up Championship
Players 152
Entry $10,000
First Prize $371,498
Finish 1st

Hand No. 1

Key Concepts: Bet sizing; metagame; hand reading.

Craig Tapscott: Set up this final match for us.

Brian Hastings: My opponent is Jason Mo, an online heads-up no limit cash specialist. My reads are that he seems to be pretty good at poker, but I think he underestimates me a bit. A few hands before this, he bet the river, I tank folded and asked him “show one?” He fanned the cards out, I picked. He showed a queen, which was top pair. He tells me I owe him one, and I agree.

CT: Before we get started I’m curious what kind of prep work or homework you did to prepare for your matches. Can you share any thoughts on your game plan?

BH: I did a tiny bit of background checking before the matches, searching Twitter, Google, and Two Plus Two, but nothing super extensive. I don’t think I really had any game plan besides to play my best poker and try to win.

CT: And do you find that a lot of opponents know your game somewhat from your CardRunners videos or online histories? And how does that affect your play?

BH: Yeah, that does come into play. My semifinal opponent, Tommy Chen (a.k.a. tcblade) was a CardRunners member in the early days of the site when I was making lots of videos, so I was pretty sure he had watched at least some of my videos. However, my game is very different than it was then and is constantly evolving, so I wasn’t too concerned about it. I wasn’t sure if Jason Mo was familiar with my play or not; after the fact I learned that he knew me as a top high-stakes PLO player and that was about all he knew.  In general, it doesn’t consciously affect my play much at all. The only way in which it affects my play a little bit is that some people who are familiar with me through videos/reputation tend to give me a bit more respect and avoid playing pots with me, but obviously heads-up this is not a factor.

Hastings raises to 100,000 from the button holding 10Diamond Suit 10Spade Suit. Mo calls.

Flop: 9Heart Suit 8Club Suit 3Diamond Suit (pot: 200,000)

Hastings bets 110,000.

CT: What’s your take so far?

BH: Preflop and flop are standard and unexciting. I’m always min-raising preflop with these stacks with any hand I’m putting money in with.  

Mo calls.

Turn: 2Diamond Suit (pot: 420,000)

Mo checks. Hastings bets 500,000.

CT: How did you decide the large bet-sizing on the turn?

BH: My bet-sizing is not standard for everyone. In my opinion betting big is best. Mainly because I think his range is mostly one pair hands that are well ahead of my entire flop betting range, but I want to be able to barrel all my draws including hands like Q-T, and this bet-sizing puts his range in a tougher spot than a smaller one.

River: AHeart Suit (pot: 1,420,000)

Mo checks.

CT: How does the ace change things for you?

BH: On the river, the Ace changes the board quite a bit as it makes a new top pair and 4-5 gets there, but I don’t think it’s in his hand all that often.

CT: What hand range are you putting him on?

BH: Well only A-9, A-8, A-3 and ADiamond Suit xClub Suit are in his range at all, and he three-bets preflop sometimes with those holdings. If he had A-9 then he check-raises the flop sometimes, but it’s just not super likely combination wise. And really it probably isn’t in my hand all that often either.

Hastings shoves all-in.

BH: I go for the over-bet jam because again I want to lay him a worse price and put his range in a tough spot.  

Mo tanks a long time and then folds. Hastings wins the pot of 1,420,000. Hastings shows one 10.

CT: What do you think was going on when he took so long to fold? What do you think his hand was?

BH: Well he tanked for about four minutes before finally folding. I’m pretty sure his hand was just 9-x or 8-x, and that he made a good fold. However, after seeing the ten, he almost certainly thinks I’m bluffing with Q-10, J-10, 10-7, 10Diamond Suit xDiamond Suit.

CT: Would you have played the hand exactly the same if you had held those cards?

BH: Yes. I think it’s important to balance ranges (not always true in tournaments, but still somewhat true) and strong draws of that nature are good hands to have in a three-barrel range on this board. It’s a good spot to apply pressure. I think bluffs work quite a bit here, although Jason is a strong hand reader and certainly capable of hero calling.

Hand No. 2

Key Concepts: Hand reading; applying pressure.

Mo raises to 100,000 from the button. Hastings calls holding 6Diamond Suit 5Spade Suit.

BH: My preflop call is pretty thin but I’m getting a pretty good price versus a min-raise. In hindsight, it was probably a mistake against someone who’s good postflop.   

Flop: JSpade Suit 9Heart Suit 6Spade Suit (pot: 200,000)

Mo checks. Hastings checks.

Turn: 3Heart Suit (pot: 200,000)

CT: Where do you think you are in the hand at this point?

BH: On the turn, I think I usually have the best hand and want to protect against overcard hands that have six outs and maybe I can get some value from ace-high.  
Hastings bets 150,000. Mo calls.

River: 10Diamond Suit (pot: 500,000)

CT: Not a great card for you.

BH: No. After the river hits I don’t like my hand very much. All I’m beating is ace-high that decides to bluff and something like 4-5 that’s pretty unlikely for him to have anyway.

Mo bets 300,000.

CT: So what hand range do you but him on now?

BH: I think his range is very much skewed toward stuff like weak J-x hands, potentially some 10-x one pair hands, and a rivered two-pair like 10-9 or 10-6.

CT: So can you get him off of those hands?

BH: I put those hands in an awfully tough spot with the check-raise, as both the flush and straight that hit on the river are very plausible hands that I can have.
Hastings shoves all-in.

CT: That’s kind of crazy… but great. Don’t get me wrong.

BH: (Laughs) I think I also have a little bit of the fear equity component going for me here; as if he calls and loses he’s out in second. I would certainly play any straights and flushes I got to the river with like this and perhaps even strong two-pair hands.

Mo folds. Hastings wins the pot of 800,000.

CT: Can you talk a bit about hand reading skills. What do you think are the main keys to becoming a good hand reader? It takes a lot of guts to make this play based on your read.

BH: I think it’s mostly just applying logic. In this hand, he’s raising nearly 100 percent of buttons, often betting the flop with hands like K-Q or 8-7 which are some of the hands I would not try to bluff here, and while he can have a flush it’s just significantly more likely that he doesn’t combination wise. Hands like a weak jack and tens-up are just way more likely given his preflop range and the fact that he checked the flop and called the turn. Applying similar reasoning will help you to become a better hand reader. As for having “guts,” I do think it’s important to be able to pull the trigger when you think it’s the best play. Bluffing is an important part of poker, and every top player is able to mix value bets and bluffs at good frequencies, and is able to pull the trigger at any time when they think it’s the best play expected value wise.

CT: What are the major skills you picked up playing cash games that apply in tournament play?

BH: Playing cash games, especially shorthanded, trains your hand reading skills very quickly. Since no-limit cash games are usually played with 100 big blind plus stacks, most hands go several streets and there are a variety of complex decisions that each player must make. Ability to make these complex decisions translates strongly to becoming a strong tournament player as well. There are also some adjustments to be made, (like ICM) but I believe that with enough effort and discipline, any top no-limit cash-game player can become a top tournament player. ♠