Fitness key to killer play, says sbrugby

Brian Townsend

Let's face it, poker and fitness do not exactly go hand in hand. The fact is, most people who play the game for a living spend way too much time snacking on casino club sandwiches and wiping Doritos stains off their computer keyboards to think about working out much. Brian Townsend is not one of those people.

The gifted pro who once came out on top of the largest hand ever played on Full Tilt Poker recently completed one of the most difficult triathlon courses in the world.

Townsend, who operates the online poker school CardRunners.com and is sponsored by Full Tilt Poker, says that being committed to his physical health has turned his game around and given him an edge over his opponents.

Known in the high stakes online poker world as "sbrugby," Townsend found himself really getting out of shape when he first went pro. Despite being an athlete earlier in life, he was sitting all day and really starting to lose interest in most things other than poker.

"When I first started playing poker more seriously I stopped playing rugby and I was in front of the computer screen for like eight hours a day, or whatever," says Townsend. "I gained a lot of weight my first year and I think it really affected how I was playing. I couldn't concentrate as well; I didn't feel as good about myself."

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Much of that negative impact on his poker game, according to the Full Tilt Poker pro, was because of mental breakdown and fatigue.

"You know when you're in one of those sessions where you just can't win? Whatever it is, you are tilted, you are losing a lot of pots and you are probably running below expectation and you just have to call it a day. You just have to say, 'Alright, I'm just gonna go.'

"Before, when something like that happened, I'd go watch TV or something and then [losing] would start to bug me and all I could think about was getting back and playing. If you do something active, it kind of relaxes you and gets that itch out of you and stops you from wanting to play or from chasing your losses. Having something where you have to go outside and do something that's not sedentary is very good balance."

However, much as in the rest of his life, Townsend was not content to just go for a quick run or play a casual game of pickup basketball. Nope, this former college rugby player decided he'd train for a triathlon. And not only would he train for a triathlon, he'd train for one of the hardest triathlons on the planet, the World's Toughest Half in Auburn, California.

No, his decision wasn't based on some prop bet with Doyle Brunson or Erick Lindgren. Townsend got into this hill-filled 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile run and 13.1-mile bike ride that people describe as exhausting and filled with excessive climbing of his own free will. He got what he asked for and more besides.

"It was pretty brutal. I took these sodium tablets, because you sweat so much, and I threw up four or five times on the course during the race."

Most of us get a sweat on making the trek to 7-11 for Slurpees, but if it involved puking, even once? Well, the Slurpee, let alone the multiple hours of grueling exercise in triple-digit temperatures, would just have to wait. Not so for Townsend.

"It took me a little over eight hours, but I finished. I think I would have been closer to seven if I hadn't gotten sick. The heat really impacts you. It gets to like noon and it's 100 degrees and really… it's tough."

No matter how tough it was, sbrugby believes that preparing for the physical challenge has made a significant and positive impact on his bankroll.

"I am a much better player because [of exercise]. I was getting used to playing really long sessions where I sat at the computer all day. Now I play two or three hours and I go work out or do something outside and that really helps balance me. I play much better," said the full tilt pro.

"In my mind it's better to play two or three hours of focused poker. The games are so tough, any advantage you can get helps."

Townsend estimates that on the pro circuit about 80% of players are very out of shape, but says that about 20%, including some of the best players - Patrik Antonius and Erick Lindgren, for example - take very good care of themselves.

He says that improving health and fitness can help take players' games to the next level, and that philosophy has become an established part of the regime at his online poker school.

"We just started a health and fitness forum led by a physical trainer and he answers any questions people have related to health," says Townsend. "It's turned into a very big thread."

It doesn't look like many of the other people on the thread are asking about improving their triathlon times, either. In fact, the trainer will answer even the most basic questions about health and how it relates to poker.

And how about Townsend himself? Is he going to keep up with triathlon training even after the repeated losses of lunch in his last competitive race?

"I would definitely do it again. It's a big commitment and I don't think I was as prepared for it as I could have been. I think if I was going to do it again I would be a little more serious. I did an Olympic distance triathlon and was ready for an Ironman. It is only 30% further, but Auburn is one of the toughest. A normal Ironman might have been a better one to start with."

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