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Brian Altman Joins Elite Club Of Three-Time WPT Champions

Boston Poker Pro Stays Red Hot On Live Tournament Circuit

by Erik Fast |  Published: Sep 08, 2021

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Despite not getting his first cash on tour until late 2014, Brian Altman has become one of the most accomplished players in WPT history. He is one of just seven players to have won three or more World Poker Tour main event titles, and he secured the most recent season’s Player of the Year award thanks to two other final tables.

Altman also holds another interesting distinction as the only player ever to win the same WPT event twice. He achieved that feat by taking down the WPT Lucky Hearts Poker Open main event in both 2015 and 2020. He earned his third title on the tour this June when he topped a field of 1,165 entries to win the 2021 WPT Seminole Hard Rock Tampa $3,500 buy-in main event for $613,225.

The 32-year-old Boston, Massachusetts resident has accumulated just shy of $5.6 million in recorded tournament earnings. While Altman’s four largest career scores have all come in WPT events, he has also accumulated more than $2.8 million on other tours, including a final-table showing in the main event of the last PokerStars Caribbean Adventure ever held.

Altman has made five final tables and won two titles so far in 2021, cashing for more than $1.1 million along the way. As a result, he is currently among the top contenders in this year’s Card Player Player of the Year race. We recently caught up with Altman to discuss his poker origin story and the incredible success he has enjoyed on the tournament circuit in recent years.

From The Classroom To The Poker Room

Like many other professional poker players in their 30’s, Altman found the game during the so-called ‘Moneymaker Boom’ that permeated pop culture after a Tennessee accountant with a too-good-to-be-true surname won an online satellite and then the 2003 World Series of Poker main event for $2.5 million.

“The allure of that story was that an amateur could win the biggest tournament in the world. Being a young kid who knew nothing about poker, it was inspiring to see, ‘Oh, this a game where anyone can win,’” said Altman.

In his youth, Altman played a few real-time strategy games like Age of Empires and Command and Conquer. He also attributes some of his competitive streak to high school wrestling.

“I think that’s where I really developed my competitive nature. If I want to do something, I want to do it well. I don’t want to do something if I’m not going to be good at it. So, I kind of just go all in.”

Altman transitioned from low-stakes home games with friends to dabbling in online cash games. He was midway through a six-year program at Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences when he decided to try to take poker more seriously. Altman initially faced a problem that a lot of beginners encounter, which was poor bankroll management. He would deposit $50 online, run it up to over $1,000, go bust and have to start all over again.

“I had already made a little bit and deposited a thousand dollars,” he recalled. “I was playing 5¢-10¢ no-limit hold’em, and I was 24-tabling. I had been tracking my results and I was making a little bit more than what I was making at my job [as a Pharmacy Technician]. So I quit. I forced myself to make sure that I was beating that particular stake before I moved up to the next level. That’s when I really felt like I was taking it seriously as a professional.”

Altman at the WSOPBy the time Altman graduated, he had won enough online that he had a big decision to make. After taking some time to travel with friends and reflect on the crossroads he found himself at, he opted to continue pursuing poker with the knowledge that he could return to a career as a pharmacist in the future if necessary.

Black Friday hit the poker community right before his graduation in 2012, which led Altman to move to Montreal to continue playing online the following year. While he initially focused on cash games, Altman says that he also dabbled in other formats.

“I messed around with pretty much all the no-limit hold’em formats, from heads-up, sit-n-go’s, and then eventually I kind of found tournaments and really liked the asymmetric upside they offered.”

With a new focus in mind, he began to slowly dip his toes into playing on the live circuit, which would soon prove to be a very lucrative decision.

Becoming A WPT Champion

Altman’s first ever recorded live tournament cash came in the summer of 2011, but he didn’t start to really accumulate scores until 2014. He had more than $200,000 in cashes under his belt by the time he registered for the 2015 WPT Lucky Hearts Poker Open $3,500 buy-in main event alongside 1,026 other entries.

The event spanned seven days, and when the dust settled it was Altman who had emerged victorious with the title and the first-place prize of $723,008. It remains the largest payday on his tournament resume.

“It meant a lot,” Altman admitted. “I think in poker, especially tournament poker, people playing aspire for that big win, that validation. I was certainly very lucky to win a huge event like that relatively early into my live career. I understand the big element of luck in tournament poker and luck in life. That win certainly propelled me to play more live and probably was the initial snowball of the results that followed.”

Over the next five years, Altman cashed for more than $3.3 million on the tournament circuit. He won another 14 titles in that span, largely in side events at series around the country and the globe. While some players have crashed and burned trying to establish themselves on the high roller circuit following a big win, Altman instead focused on playing in events with buy-ins from $500 through $10,000.

“I’ve always wanted to just play in games where I think I’m a big favorite. The medium-high stakes main events are where I thought that was going to be,” said Altman. “You have a mix of all different types of players, from amateurs to some of the best pros in the world [in those events], so it keeps it interesting when you get to play with such a diverse player pool.”

When asked if there is any character trait that has helped him excel on the circuit, Altman was quick to point out the importance of mental toughness.

“I think I have a lot of grit. On a tournament-by-tournament basis, you face a lot of adversity, in the sense that you just lose most of the time. 80 to 85 percent of the time you get nothing in return for your buy-in. I think it’s important to be able to process a loss on an individual event, and then move forward and not let the past dictate suboptimal decisions in the future.”

Altman at the VenetianAltman continued his run into the early months of 2020. He defeated a field of 843 entries in that year’s WPT Lucky Hearts Poker Open $3,500 main event, making history as the first player to ever win the same WPT main event twice.

He banked $482,636 for that win, and then just nine days later made the delayed final table of the WPT Borgata Winter Poker Open $3,500 main event. That final table was set on Jan. 30 and was scheduled to play out roughly two months later in Las Vegas, but because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the event didn’t crown a winner until a whopping 471 days later.

Making The Most Of The Situation

“I played like 60 entries in 60 days. I was playing a ton, and then I won Lucky Hearts, which was wild. Then I final table Borgata just over a week later. And suddenly everything was put on pause,” said Altman.

“Ultimately nobody could really control what happened in the last year in regards to the pandemic,” Altman said. “But in terms of how I dealt with the situation, I just tried to focus on improving myself, within poker and outside of poker. Everyone shifted to playing online. And I like to think that I made the most of the situation. It forced me to improve. Online games tend to be tougher. I was playing much smaller stakes than I do live, but against much tougher opponents. And when you see more hands, more situations come up and it forces you to reflect and learn from your mistakes.”

Part of that focus on improvement was centered specifically on preparing for his upcoming final table. Altman ultimately had to wait for more a year before he could finally take his seat with his third WPT title on the line. Despite the indefinite delay for the final table, he stayed positive.

“I actually didn’t mind waiting for the final table. Waking up every day and knowing you have this great opportunity, this great thing to look forward to was a nice feeling. And also, it gave me time to prepare. I’m grateful for that because it gave me an opportunity to study up and improve and prepare for such a big spot,” shared Altman.

Armed with stack sizes, the seat draw, and a lot of time, Altman set about preparing for the final table while also playing online during 2020. The final table finally reconvened on May 16, 2021, several months after the live tournament circuit began to reopen around the globe. (Altman had already made two final tables and won a $1,100 buy-in event at Venetian during that time.) He survived to the top three players, but he ran aces and threes into the turned straight of eventual champion Veerab Zakarian to earn $333,012 as the third-place finisher.

Completing The Hat Trick

Even though he fell short, Altman didn’t have to wait too long for his next shot at another WPT title. Just five weeks later he made the final table of the 2021 WPT Seminole Hard Rock Tampa main event, navigating his way through a field of 1,165 entries to take the chip lead into the final nine.

Altman scored the first three knockouts on the final day to extend his advantage and then was able to outlast fellow WPT champions Jonathan Jaffe (4th – $225,675) and Zachary Smiley (3rd – $302,200) to set up a heads-up showdown with Gabriel Abusada. Altman held more than a 3:1 chip lead and converted that advantage into a win when his pocket jacks held up against his opponent’s pocket sixes. It was another $613,225 for the win added to his bankroll.

As a result, Altman has entered into a six-way tie for second place on the WPT’s main tour title leaderboard, joining Gus Hansen, Carlos Mortensen, Anthony Zinno, Eric Afriat, and Chino Rheem with three victories each. Darren Elias currently sits alone atop the standings with four WPT titles.

“To earn my fourth title and chase Darren [Elias] down would be pretty awesome. He’s a buddy of mine, and I appreciate him taking this one off and giving me a better shot to win, so kudos,” Altman told WPT reporters at the time.

In fact, back in 2014 when Altman was recording his first ever WPT score (a min-cash worth $6,868), it was Elias who went on to win the tournament and the first of his four championships.

“It means a lot to be in that group,” said Altman when asked about joining the prestigious list of three-time champions on the tour. “Before I won a WPT, I was like, ‘I want to win one.’ But after I did, I told myself, ‘I just want to be the guy that’s always in with 30 players left.’ I just want to be in the mix. And if I’m always in the mix, the wins will come, the deep runs will come. I think being process-oriented, as opposed to goal-oriented, is what will ultimately get me to my goals.”

His latest victory also earned him the WPT Player of the Year award for the tour’s pandemic-extended 18th season. He bagged four main event cashes and three final-table finishes to go along with his title run during the season.

Nearly half of Altman’s live tournament earnings have now come in WPT events, with his four biggest scores all being earned on that tour.

“I think I have a good grasp on the player pool. It’s a lot of the same players, both professionals and recreational. Also, the structures are great,” he offered when asked why he has excelled in WPT tournaments. “I’m always in a good mood when I go to a WPT stop because they’re just really well-run events. I love playing them.”

All three of Altman’s WPT titles have come in events held on Seminole Hard Rock properties in Florida. (He also won a preliminary event there in 2017.) But he waved that factoid off as a bit of variance combined with the peace of mind that comes with being comfortable and familiar with one’s surroundings.

“If I went to a new stop, a casino at a place I’d never been to before, there’s a certain amount of mental energy I need to exert in terms of getting there and setting up shop and like, ‘Where do I eat? How do I get to the venue? What’s the registration process like?’ But when you play at the same venues, stop after stop, all that friction goes away.”

Moving Forward

With two titles and five final-table finishes, Altman currently sits in fifth place in the 2021 Card Player Player of the Year race. He has cashed for $1,124,401 so far this year. While he is among the top contenders for the award, Altman admits that chasing POY awards isn’t his main focus.

“To string together a year where you win [one of those awards], I’m sure you have to play well, I’m sure you have to run good in some big spots. I would love to win all the titles, get all the recognition,” said Altman with a laugh. “But really, I just want to focus on showing up and trying to do good work. And if I get the positive side of variance within a 12-month span and I’m able to win Player of the Year, that would be fantastic.”

“I actually have a little bit of a break now. So I’m going to just take it easy, which is something I don’t normally do. I’m not great at taking time off, so I’m looking forward to it and spending time with some family and friends,” said Altman. “And then I will play the remaining WPT events and then spend some time out in Vegas for the World Series of Poker. That pretty much fills up the rest of my year.”

Altman is approaching a decade of playing poker professionally, with millions of dollars in earnings and plenty of titles and deep runs made along the way. When prodded about his goals for the future, he paused for a moment.

“I think, for the time being, I just want to play,” said Altman. “I have a tough time thinking about what I’m going to want five years from now, or 10 years from now. I’m having fun playing poker, and as long as I’m having fun and enjoying it, I’ll continue to show up.” ♠

Altman’s Top Tournament Scores

Date Event Finish Payout
Feb. 2015 $3,500 WPT Lucky Hearts Poker Open 1st $723,008
June 2021 $3,500 WPT Hard Rock Tampa 1st $613,225
Jan. 2020 $3,500 WPT Lucky Hearts Poker Open 1st $482,636
May 2021 $3,500 WPT Borgata Winter Open 3rd $333,012
Jan. 2019 $10,000 PokerStars Caribbean Adventure 6th $297,020
Oct. 2017 HKD$100,000 Asia Championship Of Poker 5th $204,321
Oct. 2019 $3,500 WPT Maryland 3rd $149,515
May 2016 CAD$1,675 WSOP Circuit International 1st $127,452
Aug. 2017 $1,100 Hard Rock Poker Open 1st $118,157
Nov. 2015 CAD$3,850 WPT Montreal 4th $113,109
Feb. 2018 $1,675 WSOP Circuit Coconut Creek 3rd $110,107
July 2021 $3,500 Wynn Summer Classic 4th $110,075
May 2017 $1,100 CPPT Venetian SuperStack 1st $106,479
May 2019 $1,100 CPPT Venetian DeepStack 1st $90,905
Dec. 2015 $600 Foxwoods Megastack Challenge 1st $84,208