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Capture the Flag With Brian Rast

by Brian Pempus |  Published: Jun 22, 2016


High-stakes poker pro Brian Rast is riding high after winning $600,000 from Dan Bilzerian and Bill Perkins in a Las Vegas-to-Los Angeles cycling prop bet. Rast completed the more than 300-mile trek in late April with just one hour to spare.

He was given 6:1 odds thanks to having less than a week to prepare. In fact, Rast had never even used a road bike until just days before starting the bet.

Rast, who has roughly $16 million in lifetime tournament earnings, used the $600,000 to climb out of the hole that he found himself in from the cash games during the first few months of 2016. Card Player had the chance to speak to him about his prop bet win, as well as where his game is at these days.

Brian Pempus: How did you decide to do this bet?

Brian Rast: Dan came over to my house just to hang out and have some BBQ. He was really trying to push this bet. There’s a little more to the backstory than that, but basically I needed a bet where I could choose the route…[a previous] bet was going to be down the Pacific Coast Highway in California with the wind at my back. I was going to be able to use recumbent bikes and everything. I think Dan’s motivation was that this bet was going to vindicate him somehow [from the previous bet he bought out of], that this was going to be tougher. I could have maybe done a better job with some of the stipulations. I wish I could have used a recumbent bike. It’s hard when where you are getting 6:1 to argue too much.

BP: How did it feel to win and did you feel like you had anything left at the end?

BR: It felt amazing. I’m glad I was able to accomplish it. With that said, I don’t think I would take the same bet again. It mattered a lot if I ran into headwinds. I had nothing left to give at the end. Had there been significantly worse headwinds, I probably wouldn’t have made it in time. The last 20 miles were very slow.

BP: In terms of pushing the envelope on sleep, do you think your history of playing marathon cash game sessions was beneficial?

BR: Yeah, that is something I considered. I’ve done multiple 40+ hour sessions in my life. Then again, poker is very sedentary. Last summer, I played over 100 hours of poker each week during the WSOP. One of the big things was not falling off the bike when tired. Falling off the bike is the worst thing that can happen.

BP: It sounds like giving you 6:1 was pretty fair.

BR: I think so. I think if you have a person who is willing to put it all on the line, maybe my side has slightly the best of it. But whether or not a person is willing to do that is probably what you are betting on when you’re laying 6:1. While the bet was going on, I was taking hydrocodone, I got a cortisone shot on the road for inflammation and pain. I was basically willing to go until I collapsed. I briefly had a panic attack when I was 20 miles out. I was pretty much at my limit, but nothing was going to stop me from getting there. I was taking beta-Alanine 20 miles out, which was making my fingers tingle, but at the time I thought I was maybe having a heart attack. That psyched me out for a bit.

BP: Did your commitment to fitness years ago give you the needed confidence?

BR: Yeah, if I had a lower level of fitness I don’t think I would have even entertained this. So, it helps that I feel like I am in shape. This ride is just aerobically taxing, like a heart rate of 140 the whole time. You’d have to be a world-class athlete to do that. I had never done anything close to this though, so that’s why the price was what it was.

BP: Did you think about this bet, given its proximity to the start of the World Series of Poker, as a way to freeroll the summer?

BR: I’m not thinking about it in terms of future poker play, more like $600,000 is a lot of money (laughs). I actually haven’t had a good year so far in cash games.

BP: Where are you logging the majority of your hands?

BR: I’m playing mostly live and very little online. I just started playing online again recently. I only play online when I travel. I’ve had a lackluster start to 2016. Coincidentally, over the last month, ever since I won money betting on [Dan’s biking bet], I have actually had a bit of an upswing in poker, but not enough to make me anywhere near even for the year. But winning a bunch of money on bike bets has kind of done that. I am about even on the year thanks to three biking prop bets (laughs).

Downswings happen in poker. I’ve been playing this big-bet mixed game where I’ve lost most of the money this year. It’s a really big game. It’s a $100,000 buy-in, and every single game in it has an ante, even PLO. The PLO is like $300-$600-$600, so it’s easy to swing really big. It’s not like there are really bad players in the game dumping a lot of money. Luckily, I had a really good year last year. I did have a downswing for three weeks right before last year’s WSOP, then I basically immediately got out of it. I had a monster win in the big-bet mix and just a great start to the WSOP. The whole WSOP was good for me, and winning the Super High Roller Bowl was also awesome. I also won a satellite to it. I won in cash games all summer. It was my best WSOP ever, from start to finish. It was all winning. I think I played really well, but obviously there is a lot of luck involved in it at as well.

Sometimes you have bad luck though, and you have to ride things out and not let it affect your game or confidence too much. This year, I will say that my confidence took a hit sometimes, and probably affected my play a little bit. I’m better than the vast majority of poker players at tilt control, but for anyone when they are losing consistently, it’s hard not to be a little results-oriented. The good news is that these bike bets and in April I had some cash game wins, so it was kind of “let’s erase the first three months of the year.” Now I am feeling good going into the WSOP.

BP: Is it really important to be feeling confident in your game before the long summer grind begins?

BR: In poker you are kind of like an independent businessman, so yes, it is important to be feeling good with your game. If you keep losing, you run out of money at some point, and I don’t want that to happen either.

BP: Does the big-bet mix run pretty often in Las Vegas?

BR: It probably goes once or twice a month, and when it goes, it runs for a couple of days. This guy Marcus, who is the CEO of a company, flies into town. Matt Kirk, who we call “Aussie Matt,” and also myself and Andrew Robl, and a whole group of other people, play the game regularly now. Usually it happens when Marcus agrees to come to town. We do $10,000 PLO flips in addition to the eight games [in the rotation].

BP: Is it fun to throw the $10,000 in there and just see what happens?

BR: Yeah, the idea is to get money moving around the table. We’ll [immediately] do another flip if someone wants to pay $1,000 juice, so they can pay that or a group of people can pay the $1,000. Then there’s another flip. It’s $2,000 juice for another, or we move on [to a different game]. We have a whole bunch of quirky rules for the mix. The flip is a way for someone who is stuck to win $70,000 or whatever in one hand, all luck. It’s also a way for juice to get paid, or for people who don’t want to pay juice to be flipping for juice. Money changing hands is good for the game. Maybe someone goes on tilt or whatever. It’s a fun insert into the game. It’s pretty common for people in cash games to do a flip every once in awhile, and PLO is more fun for flipping than hold’em.

BP: Other than the PLO and the PLO flips, what other games are in the big-bet mix?

BR: So it’s also no-limit hold’em, crazy Pineapple, PLO eight-or-better, pot-limit five-card high double draw, pot-limit badugi, no-limit deuce-to-seven single draw, and pot-limit deuce-to-seven triple draw.

BP: Is it rare these days to find someone who has a weak game?

BR: Oh, everyone has their weak games and their strong games. The truth is there aren’t many players who are good at all these games because some of these games aren’t played that much. Nobody really plays five-card double draw high. We made it double draw because we thought it would be a good twist on the game and make some of the drawing hands more powerful. You have two chances to make your draw. Not that many people play pot-limit badugi either. ♠