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A Poker Life: Brian Hastings

by Logan Hronis |  Published: Apr 17, 2013

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Brian HastingsBrian Hastings is one of online poker’s greatest players. He has won millions on the virtual felt, playing in some of the biggest games ever witnessed by railbirds.

The Pennsylvania native has also been recently finding success on the live tournament scene. In 2012, he won a $10,000 buy-in World Series of Poker heads-up event for more than $370,000. The year before, he won a World Poker Tour event in Florida.

The son of an engineer and a college professor, Hastings was raised in a household where people went to college and had “real jobs.” His conservative upbringing would shape his road to success slightly, but eventually, his concentration on poker would pay dividends.

Hastings was introduced to poker in 2003, in the heart of the Moneymaker boom. He started off small and not too serious. The spark that ignited the career of the online cash game monster, however, came from a high school employee.

“I got into poker playing home games with friends after the 2003 World Series of Poker coverage,” Hastings said. “It was really casual — usually $5 buy-ins. I enjoyed it, but never took it too seriously. Then, my junior year of high school, I had a teacher who said he made some significant side money playing online poker. I always finished my work early, so I started picking his brain. I created an account on Ultimate Bet, starting with play money. After a few weeks, I got a [real-money] transfer from a friend.”

Beginning Of A Career

Likening the game of poker to his younger days playing video games, Hastings had the competitive edge and the drive to keep improving his game. Even at such a young age, Hastings was motivated to keep moving up in stakes and fuel his bankroll.

“I was always competitive and loved to play games,” Hastings said. “I treated poker like a video game. Each stake was a new level, and I wanted to beat the end bosses. I loved the learning process and trying to develop the skills it took to conquer new levels.”

So Hastings got to work. His intelligence and competitive nature helped smooth the bumpy road to becoming a winning player. At first, he was breakeven, but quickly acquired a comfort and skill balance that would become the staple of his game.

“When I first started playing, the games online were incredibly soft,” he admitted. “As to why I believed I could be successful, I remember my first ‘a-ha’ moment being, ‘Wow, I don’t really know what I’m doing yet, but everyone else is so bad!’ It took me about four or five months to start winning, then I started ascending stakes rapidly. About a year after I started playing the game, I was beating no-limit $25-$50 tables.”

To Stay In School Or Dropout

Success came fairly easily for Hastings. The large-scale success was a surprise for him and his family. Well-known for his decision to stay in college after his profitable poker encounters, the conservative approach is something Hastings is proud of.

“I had a hard time picturing dropping everything and getting my own place at 18, and just playing online, he said. “It seemed like a strange and isolating social experience. I had wanted to go to college, and I talked to people who were a few years older. They all said I’d be making a mistake dropping out. I’m happy that I stuck it out and graduated.”

It wasn’t as if Hastings was unsure of his skills or lacked confidence, however. Hastings did not build a cash bankroll, beat every subsequent level, and position himself as an elite poker player via a heater. He had a knack for the game, and there was no question he could compete. When asked if there was a certain point when he realized he had made it, Hastings responded: “I don’t know if there was a specific moment or anything, but I graduated high school with $300,000 in my Ultimate Bet account and a very high winning rate. I was pretty sure I could be a full-time pro if I wanted to.”

Relationship With CardRunners

Hastings has been a part of one of the top training sites since its early stages.
“I first got in touch with the CardRunners team through Josh Suspak (jsup), one of the original CR pros,” Hastings said. “I joined as a member immediately after the site launched, basically watched every video, and posted on the forums a bunch. Then Josh made a video of a final table of a $100 multitable tournament on Ultimate Bet. I was at the table, had a big chip lead, terrorized the table and went on to win. Josh saw that I was a CR member, and we started chatting. He introduced me to Taylor (Caby) and Andrew (Wiggins). They asked me if I wanted to make videos.”

The relationship between CardRunners and Hastings was not simply a business relationship, however. Caby and Wiggins showed a young Brian Hastings the ropes in the poker realm, and they became friends. He cited Caby and Wiggins as a big part of his life to this day, and their CardRunners endeavors have continued.

“Taylor and Andrew have been some of my best friends for many years now, and have served as great role models for me,” Hastings said, “particularly while I was in college and trying to figure out how to balance school, poker, and everything else. They also invited me out to stay with them in Vegas when I was 18, and helped introduce me to the poker world. I can’t speak highly enough of them, and I’m glad we are still close friends and business partners — both with CardRunners and DraftDay.com.”

Battle With Viktor Blom

Despite all the recognition from CardRunners and his quick rise to poker stardom, Hastings is perhaps best known for his epic battle with Viktor Blom (Isildur1) in an online, heads-up, pot-limit Omaha game. The blinds were $500-$1,000 and the game lasted five hours — resulting in a record $4-million win for Hastings.

The online poker world was buzzing about the high-stakes war, and still is to this day. Hastings was forever immortalized. Hastings cites one of the reasons for the huge win being that Blom simply went on tilt. He claims that tilt is rarely an issue for him, however.

“During my big session with (Blom), he was on tilt for probably the last two-thirds of the session,” Hastings said. “I could tell that he wasn’t playing his A-game and wasn’t thinking straight. The overriding theme of his game was trying to get unstuck, and that is never a healthy style for a cash-game player. By contrast, that is one of the biggest strengths of my game. I’m able to be pretty honest with myself. I’m good at being self-aware and realizing when tilt is affecting my play. I’m able to walk away.”

Post-Black Friday And Moving To Florida

Like most American poker pros, Hastings said he was outraged by the United States government booting the top online poker sites out of the country.

“Our country was founded based on principles of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” Hastings said. “Restricting the citizens’ freedom to choose whether to play poker online is a horrible failing of those principles.”

Hastings said Black Friday “led to a lot of different temporary homes, stress, depression and a whole lot of confusion.” He admitted that questioning his life goals may have happened eventually, but Black Friday definitely expedited the process.

“I’m in a good place now — living in Fort Lauderdale playing live poker and traveling to play some, a little bit of online, and just getting into coaching,” he said. “But I would certainly love to be able to play online poker in my native country.”

Well-Rounded Hastings

Nowadays, Hastings remains conservative and well-rounded. He is still playing solid poker, and still posting with CardRunners. The long-time cash game pro has taken on a new challenge; poker coaching.

“I’ve also had reservations about coaching in the past because I felt like even if students were willing to pay the high rates I’d demand, I’d feel nervous that I wouldn’t give them their money’s worth,” Hastings admitted in his blog. “This mainly stemmed from a lack of experience in coaching and a lack of confidence in my interpersonal skills. I guess I still haven’t done tons of one-on-one coaching, but I’ve taught enough to friends and had enough people tell me ‘your videos helped me to become the player I am today’ to convince me that I can coach at a high level.

How much will poker knowledge from Hastings cost? Answer: $800 per hour.

Hastings admits that he is on a downswing currently (according to HighstakesDB he is in the red slightly this year online) but feels his poker game is the best it has ever been. Variance is always a part of the game, and he is confident he can rebound. With online poker not yet a reality, online cash players such as Hastings have been forced to adapt, and the resourceful and conservative Hastings has done just that. ♠