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Hastings builds fierce reputation online
One player whom many of those entered in the Main Event at the 2008 World Series of Poker will be happy not to face is online phenom Brian Hastings.
At just 20 years old, Hastings is one of the many online studs still too young to play at the Rio in this year's high stakes so I am not too intimidated by players," says Hastings.
Although on the phone he sounds more like a slightly more confident version of "Super Bad" character McLovin than a to-be-feared tournament pro, that might just be the misapprehension of the century.
Hastings was involved in several huge Pot-Limit Omaha sessions earlier in the year, including one three-way monster with Patrik "FinddaGrind" Antonius and David Benyamine where he pocketed nearly $400k.
In that confrontation, he showed the kind of stones that make poker greats. Here's how one of the hands played out:
David Benyamine raises to $800
Brian Hastings raises to $3,000
FinddaGrind has 15 seconds left to act
FinddaGrind raises to $10,000
David Benyamine has 15 seconds left to act
David Benyamine calls $9,200
Brian Hastings calls $7,000
Flop: 7♠ 5♣ J♣
FinddaGrind bets $30,200
David Benyamine raises to $120,800
Brian Hastings raises to $142,246, and is all-in
FinddaGrind calls $38,141.50, and is all-in
David Benyamine calls $21,446
Brian Hastings shows 9♣ 8♠ 5♦ 7♣
FinddaGrind shows Q♦#2# QsA♠
David Benyamine shows Q♥ J♦ 7♦ K♠
Brian Hastings shows a straight, jack-high
David Benyamine shows two pair, jacks and sevens
Brian Hastings wins the side pot ($147,809) with a straight, jack-high
FinddaGrind shows a pair of Queens
Brian Hastings wins the main pot ($235,222.50) with a straight, jack-high
Can you say withdraw?
"I was in with pretty good odds, somewhere around 45%, but that will still lose a lot of the time," said Hastings. "Luckily it went my way."
Hastings was also more than just a little unlucky not to at least extend his match with Singer in the $25k Heads-Up event at Full Tilt Poker. Only down slightly in chips and all-in before the flop with pocket nines against the Full Tilt pro's pocket fives, Hastings was sunk when Singer hit his set on the flop. It was unfortunate, but the young player took it in stride.
"Basically I got a pretty fortunate draw," said Hastings.
"The players who I didn't want to get matched up with were guys like Phil Ivey and also high-stakes no-limit players like Phil 'OMGClayAiken' Galfond so I was pretty fortunate not to draw those guys."
He continued, "Against David Singer I took a couple of early hits but I was doing pretty good [regardless]. I definitely felt I was holding my own but I do think David played pretty well. He was probably the toughest opponent I faced.
"I watched a few of his earlier matches and I saw that he was playing really aggressive so I was trying to play a little trappy and more small-pot poker. I did a lot of limping in on the button, which I don't normally do. I took a couple of hits but I was fighting back and if I had won that hand it would have been a different story."
Sounds pretty sage for a 20-year-old. Sure, he started playing cards in high school, but that was just a few years ago!
In fact, Hastings learned to play poker in math class. He says he's not sure if his teacher would want people to know who he is, but feels it was definitely a valuable lesson.
"I had played in $5 home games before but in [school] one of my teachers started playing and talking about it a bit. I was pretty much the best math student in class and we started talking about it after class and I gave it a try."
Good thing he did, because he might just join the poker record books at some stage soon. Although the odds are long, a birthday in mid June means Hastings will come of age during the 2009 WSOP.
That positions him to potentially beat the current record of 21 years and 10 days old set by Steve "MrSmokey1" Billirakis on June 4, 2007 and become the youngest bracelet winner in WSOP history.
However, Hastings is still committed to his education and says a career in poker once he's of age is not yet a given. It's hard to believe that any kid who is only a college sophomore and has made so much money so soon would actually pass on the opportunity for more, especially considering his poker talent.
"I really haven't made up my mind if I want to be a full-time professional yet," says the Cornell University business student.
Hastings refers to himself as somewhere between a loose- and tight-aggressive player, but regardless of his style classification, Hastings' more experienced peers are clearly starting to fear his play.
"Brian Hastings is a tremendous player," says poker pro Brian "Sbrugby" Townsend. "He had a phenomenal month in March and I think he's just going to get better."
Townsend and Hastings are both instructors at the online poker academy CardRunners.com and Hastings maintains an active blog there. Last reports have him turning from PLO to No-Limit Hold'em. By all accounts he's fitting right in.
"My NLH game is a bit rusty right now since I've been focused on PLO, and I think I lost $30k or something the first day I played, including one pretty stupid bluff," Hasting says in his blog.
"The next day I watched a couple videos because I felt I was playing poorly. More games ran that night and I felt I played (and ran) much better, booking an $80k win."
Something tells us it won't be the last Hastings win we write about.