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Brian Hastings Discusses His High-Stakes Poker Career

From The Biggest Online Cash Games To Five-Time Bracelet Winner

by Julio Rodriguez |  Published: May 04, 2022

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When Brian Hastings won his fifth World Series of Poker bracelet last October, he put himself in elite company. Despite being just 33 years old, the Pennsylvania native is one of just 29 players in poker history to earn five or more bracelets.

Perhaps it’s a surprising trajectory for a career that started far from the bright lights of Las Vegas back in Hanover Township, Pennsylvania, when a then-17-year-old Hastings started playing online. By the end of his senior year of high school, he had already amassed a bankroll of $250,000 playing cash games.

His blossoming poker game followed him to Ithaca, New York, where he was attending school at Cornell University. He continued to climb the ranks of the biggest games online playing as ‘Stinger88,’ while simultaneously earning his degree in economics and helping to run a burgeoning poker training site.

Then in December of 2009, he famously took on Viktor ‘Isildur1’ Blom in a record-breaking heads-up pot-limit Omaha match that saw him pocket a whopping $4.18 million. Although he could still not legally enter a Las Vegas cardroom, Hastings had already become one of the biggest winners in online poker history.

As it turns out, Hastings had a lot more in his bag than just heads-up online cash games. Black Friday forced him into the live arena for the first time, and he responded with his first bracelet win in the 2012 $10,000 Heads-Up Championship.

He expanded his game even further with two more titles in 2015, taking down the $1,500 10-Game Mix and the $10,000 Stud Championship. Hastings was back in the winner’s circle in 2018 for the $3,000 H.O.R.S.E. and just this fall, he earned his fifth career bracelet in the $10,000 Stud Eight-Or-Better Championship.

Hastings also has a World Poker Tour final table finish under his belt, and he won a WSOP Circuit ring back in 2019. In total, the Run It Once instructor has now banked more than $4.4 million in live tournaments.

The Florida resident joined Card Player’s Poker Stories Podcast to discuss his career. You can listen to the full episode on Spotify, iTunes, YouTube, or any podcast app. Highlights from the podcast appear below.

Julio Rodriguez: The story goes that you found poker in high school…

Brian Hastings: That’s correct. I graduated in 2006, and [Chris] Moneymaker’s WSOP happens in 2003 and the WPT started becoming big on TV. I recall going over to a friend’s house and watching the final tables while playing our own little $5 home game.

I did that kind of stuff for about a year, and then in my junior year, I found out that my math teacher was playing poker online. He told me that he had made more money online than he had teaching the entire previous year. So I think that was when I really thought there could be some potential in this.

I broke even for maybe six months or so before I started finding training resources. By my senior year, I had quite a bit of success. It was just a lot of no-limit cash. I’d win enough money to move up stakes and then I just kept doing that.

JR: Is it true that you had a bankroll of $250,000 before you even graduated high school? I imagine some questioned why you were even bothering with college at all.

BH: Yeah. But I was just so young that I wasn’t confident enough that I even wanted to be all-in on poker long term. I just thought it was a good idea to stick with college. I wanted to be serious about my academics, but also wanted to continue with poker, which was obviously going pretty well. I was able to learn how to manage my time and do both.

JR: At any point did you have to do some kind of mental adjustments concerning the amount of money you were playing for?

BH: At that age, I just didn’t really have any obligations. Money was just the way of keeping score. Also, it was just so easy to win back then. I always felt that if I took a shot and lost, it wouldn’t be that hard to grind it back up.

JR: You were still in college when you beat Viktor Blom in a high-stakes, heads-up, pot-limit Omaha game for more than $4 million. How did that change your life?

BH: The money was great, but it didn’t change my material situation that much. I had been doing well, so in terms of my day-to-day life, it didn’t really change much of anything. I had already bought my house after my sophomore year of college. The only thing I can remember splurging on was a gift for my parents. I bought them a guided trip to Italy.

JR: What was the biggest pot you ever won or lost during your time playing those high-stakes games?

BH: I obviously played some very big pots against Viktor, but I don’t remember any of it. I’m really bad at remembering these kinds of things. There was one PLO pot against Patrik Antonius that I think was about $500,000 or so. I just remember he three-bet me in position and I called with some lower rundown. I check-called the flop and turned a straight. I led and he raised all-in drawing dead.

JR: What was it like the first time stepping into Bobby’s Room and playing with those guys live?

BH: I think there is some intimidation aspect. There are some of the very best players in the world, playing in that room, so it was always a really cool experience for me. It’s some of the most motivated I’ve ever been to play poker and I really enjoyed it.

JR: In 2012, you won your first bracelet in the $10,000 heads-up event. Was a bracelet something that you had on your poker bucket list?

BH: It was definitely cool to win a bracelet, but I don’t think it was something I had thought about too heavily before that. I hadn’t really played a full schedule since turning 21 and I still identified more as a cash game player than [tournament] player, so it wasn’t really at the top of my list of goals. But I do look forward to the WSOP every year and really try to give it my best. It’s cool, some of the company that I’m in by having that many bracelets.

JR: Your bracelets are in heads-up no-limit, stud, stud eight-or-better, H.O.R.S.E, and 10-game mix, so you’ve got a little bit of everything in there. Is that something that you hang your hat on? The fact that you can sit down in any game and know you can hang with anyone?

BH: To a point, yeah. But to be honest at the moment I’ve been driven toward playing more no-limit hold’em tournaments again, circling back to that. I love playing mixed games, but it’s really hard to find places to play these days, at least on a regular basis. Back when I was really learning mixed, I could just log on and play whatever was on PokerStars and Full Tilt. Nowadays there’s not that much to play. But I know there’s [no-limit] tournaments to play every day. ♠

Rapid Fire Questions With Brian Hastings

JR: What’s the worst job you had before poker?

BH: I had two part-time jobs before poker. I was a dishwasher at a country club, and the other one was at Little Caesars Pizza, where I did a variety of things that included dishwashing, but also making pizzas and standing outside by the side of the road waving the sign. It wasn’t too bad, but I remember my boss blasting country music in the back and there were definitely days where I’d just be watching the clock.

JR: What’s the best swap or piece you’ve ever had over anybody?

BH: There was one year in the [WSOP] main event where I had 40 percent of one friend and 80 percent of another. They were both still in with about 30 people left, but it kind of fizzled out from there.

JR: What’s the longest session you ever played?

BH: I played a few live poker sessions that approached 20 hours. These were mostly mixed-game sessions, but maybe once or twice it was a big PLO game.

JR: Do you like telling people you’re a professional poker player?

BH: It depends on who, but I’d say on average no. I just think the reactions and the follow up questions can be annoying and uninformed.

JR: Favorite gambling movie?

BH: Rounders. I know it’s everyone’s classic choice, but I have memories of myself in college [watching that movie]. Once I got a limo for some of my friends to go up to Turning Stone casino (where you can play at 18) and we watched Rounders in the limo on the way there.

JR: What’s your biggest pet peeve at the table?

BH: Definitely people that just unnecessarily act too slow. I have no problem with people thinking through real decisions, but the kind of actions where someone just insists on taking 15 seconds before every play.

JR: Who’s the most famous person you’ve played poker with?

BH: Let’s go with Paul Pierce. I think he knows how to play. He can obviously afford to lose so he probably plays too many hands, but he understands the game and is capable of playing post-flop.

Top Tournament Scores

June 2012 WSOP $10,000 Heads-Up NLHE 1st $371,498
Nov. 2021 WSOP $10,000 Stud 8/OB 1st $352,958
April 2018 WPT $3,500 Hard Rock Showdown 3rd $336,466
June 2015 WSOP $111,111 One Drop 11th $332,593
July 2019 WSOP $10,000 PLO 8/OB 2nd $286,570
June 2015 WSOP $10,000 Stud 1st $239,518
July 2018 WSOP $3,000 H.O.R.S.E. 1st $233,202
Aug. 2011 WPT $2,000 Summer Splash 1st $213,877
July 2019 WSOP $3,000 H.O.R.S.E. 4th $182,575
Jan. 2022 WPT $5,000 Lucky Hearts Open 2nd $150,230
July 2015 WSOP $10,000 Main Event 49th $137,300
June 2015 WSOP $1,500 10-Game Mix 1st $133,403
July 2014 WSOP $10,000 Main Event 64th $103,025
June 2014 WSOP $10,000 Stud 8/OB 4th $98,828
June 2013 WSOP $5,000 Omaha 8/OB 4th $96,268