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Ask anyone at the World Series of Poker, at Bobby’s Room or in poker in general if Brian Rast and virtually everyone would say the six-time bracelet winner was a lock for the highest recognition in the game. This summer, that dream of his became a reality as he became the 2023 inductee in the Poker Hall of Fame. We caught up with this year’s newest member of poker’s most exclusive club to find out what it really means to him.
Winning his place in the Poker Hall of Fame as this year’s inductee is an achievement which Brian calls “meaningful and special’. The respect from his fellow peers means a huge deal.
“It’s full of worthy people who’ve had great careers.”
“It means a lot,” he admits. “I’ve worked really hard over a long time in poker. Having a lot of amazing players celebrate my career was something I’ll never forget. Specifically, the things some people said; Phil Galfond’s article, Daniel Negreanu speaking, Jeremy Ausmus saying I should get in when he was a fellow nominee – it was beyond the people in the Hall of Fame voting me in.”
The list of nominees was a packed one, and with Rast overcoming fellow legends Josh Arieh, the aforementioned Ausmus, Ted Forrest and Mike Matusow from the player side of the nominations, he thinks it will get even harder for others to get in next year if only one inductee is to be admitted.
“It’s a can of worms. What should the WSOP do about that? I think at some point it should be expanded or not enough deserving people will get in,” says Rast. “The wave of people who got in with the first poker boom turning 40 – I’m at the vanguard. I’m going to do my part trying to make sure the right people get in. It might be a good idea to separate the builders from the players. It’s comparing apples to oranges. They should be separate and not on the same ballot.”
Winning the Poker Players Championship (PPC) is something Rast calls ‘incredible’, especially against such tough competition. As Rast admits, there were a group of world-class players who made it to the final seven.
“[The PPC] is the modern-day Main Event, the successor to what the Main Event used to be.”
“Ray Dehkharghani – here’s a guy who has been a high stakes cash game crusher for a really long time – he’s not in the Poker HOF but worthy of consideration. Phil Ivey played great, and James Obst is a great mixed game player. Matt Ashton got third and he’s arguably one of the best all-round mixed game players in the world.”
Special praise was reserved by Rast for his heads-up opponent, British Hedge Fund Manager and top high roller Talal Shakerchi, who cashed for $818,756 in second place.
“Talal isn’t as well-known for his mixed game play [but has] posted a lot of great results in No Limit Hold’em. In the last few years, he’s been playing at Bobby’s Room, too.”
The WSOP Main Event was the biggest in history, with a record 10,043 entries, more than a thousand above any other year’s attendance. Rast, however, believes that the PPC is the closest the World Series comes to the Main Event of old.
“Historically, in the original Main Event, a lot of the best players would come and play a series of different cash games then they would elect a winner. The Main Event today is a 10,000-person No Limit Hold’em tournament. It might be the biggest, but the PPC is the closest thing to what the old Main Event was. This is five days of gruelling poker; it’s the modern-day Main Event, the successor to what the Main Event used to be.”
Rast is ‘grateful’ that he’s won the PPC a record-equalling three times (Michael ‘Grinder’ Mizrachi shares that achievement) especially considering that in poker history, there haven’t been a large number of PPC events.
“It was the most special of all of them, it marked the start of something new in my poker career.”
“The Chip Reese trophy is a lovely one…assuming they still have it! it’s not one you get to keep, so it’s not in my collection. I know they used to engrave all the names on, but I’m not sure if they still do that. Chip was one of the greatest to ever play. I got into Bobby’s Room just after he passed, so I got to hear some very cool stories about him from others.”
Rast rates his three PPC titles in order of importance, and you might be surprised to know that this year’s title isn’t his favorite.
“In 2011, I was a really good Hold’em and PLO player but I don’t know if I’d even played mixed cash in Bobby’s Room. It was my first major tournament win. Technically, I won the $1,500 Pot Limit Hold’em bracelet for $200k earlier that summer, but I was considering big buy-in tournaments to be more major.”
Rast had a couple of close calls to that first really big major in the years leading up to his 2011 PPC victory.
“In 2009 I bubbled the final of the $25k WPT event, maybe the second-biggest tournament in those days. I lost ace-king to kings seven-handed and didn’t get there. Yevgeny [Timoshenko] had the same hand but hit an ace in a different spot and first prize was $2.14m. Later that year in the WSOP, they had a 40th-anniversary event costing $40k. I had kings to fives all-in pre-flop and the guy made quads. To me, those were two big buy-in events.”
When Rast won it, it was in the Thunderdome at the Rio with the final table on ESPN. Playing the legend that is Phil Hellmuth heads-up, Rast’s victory remains the only time in a tournament he went crazy upon winning the event.
“I did the jumping up and down ‘hugging my friends’ joyous experience,” he laughs. “It was the most special of all of them, it marked the start of something new in my poker career from a notoriety standpoint.”
In 2016, Rast made it two PPC wins for his career but he calls it the ‘least significant’ of the trio. In that phase of his career, he was bouncing from Bobby’s Room to the next huge event, crossbooking himself against others in the famous cash game and doubling up on his winning run.
“In many ways, in the middle of that [decade], I was a poker terminator, a monster. I took a couple of years off poker during COVID and did no studying. The last couple of years, I’ve been playing a bit more but not quite as confidently as in 2016. Because of that, this PPC win was more meaningful, lining up with the Hall of Fame.”
For a while, Rast diversified his interests, looking at cryptocurrency trading. His focus now, however, is right back on poker, and he now spends little time outside of the game managing his investments.
“I’m treating the WSOP differently, playing more tournaments than I used to,” says Rast. “It’s the only place that really emphasizes all the mixed games.”
Rast credits mindfulness with much of his success, especially at the World Series.
“There are a lot of people who are talented. I believe my ability to lock in and focus, watch hands, get reads, is good. If you’re playing a cash game day after day, month after month, what you see in one hand is not going to be a big deal. You’ve built up thousands of hands. But if you’re playing the WSOP and you haven’t played hands with them, getting information or a live read is crucial.”
Here’s what happened when Rast made it three PPC wins in his incredible career.
Ask anyone at the top of the game who is tough to play, either in cash or tournaments and Rast’s name comes up often and has done so for the past 15 years. His mindset and focus is second to none and he credits his work on this part of his personality a decade ago as being pivotal to his success.
“I think it’s a big reason for my success. It has helped me elevate my game to the next level.”
“Being present and mindfulness became a focal point for me,” he declares. “I realized it was one of the best ways to prepare to play poker, but in life too. I think it’s a big reason for my success. It has helped me elevate my game to the next level from being a really good player to being able to play at a world-class level consistently.”
Rast feels like one of his edges is being able to play his A-Game when he’s ‘stuck’ or losing in a cash game.
“At Bobby’s Room, one thing that can be a leak might be guys not playing their A-Game. If I’m losing and frustrated and the game is not good, I’ll quit, but let’s say there’s a bad player in the game or some people are tilted but I’m losing. I have a really good ability to be mindful, play my A-Game and try to come back. I’ve had a lot of mind six-figure plus comebacks in my career. It’s one of my strengths.
One area of poker that Rast has little to no interest is in racking up bracelet wins purely by the number. He believes each event should be looked at on its own merit, in terms of buy-in, opponents and format.
“Phil insists that because he’s won the most bracelets, it makes him the best of all-time.”
“I don’t have any interest in catching Phil Hellmuth,” he says. “Even these last couple years, where I’ve played between 21 and 23 events; If I bust, I’ll quit go home, work out. I took one or two days off this summer. I’m not playing 60 tournaments to go for Player of the Year, but the WSOP is special to me and I come into the summer to focus on it. I’ll play it more seriously than other things.”
While Rast is impressed by the Poker Brat’s record, he doesn’t think it makes him the best ever.
“What Phil Hellmuth has done by winning the most bracelets ever is an amazing accomplishment and should be celebrated. Something that annoys a lot of people in poker, though, is that Phil insists that because he’s won the most bracelets, it makes him the best of all-time. That mathematical equation doesn’t do it!”
Rast believes that we truly are in the middle of a second poker ‘boom’, calling ‘objective fact’. The first may have been inspired by Chris Moneymaker, online poker’s growth spurt and hole-card cameras bring poker to thrilling life on television. It’s different this time.
“Twenty years ago, the quality of the information available was so bad.”
“The numbers are up at the World Series of Poker, the biggest Main Event by a thousand players. There’s a difference between today and then, the quality and material there is to learn. Solver breakdowns, opening spots, post-flop play, it’s crazy. Twenty years ago, the quality of the information available was so bad. Today, the gap between someone who’s playing at a world-class level and someone who’s just coming into the game is bigger. Poker has a long way to go before solvers or RTA are too big a problem and has a bright future.”
For the first time in his career, Rast is playing more tournaments than cash games across the year. He doesn’t see that changing in the coming months.
“The mixed cash scene in Vegas used to go off and on all year round, but with Doyle passing… he was a person who got games going, the games aren’t as consistent as they used to be. It’s been the first time in my career where the percentage is 60/40 for tournaments. The biggest reason is that I’m playing a little less and it has come out of cash games rather than tournaments. It might be a bit more like that going forward. Tournaments are fun.”
The life of Brian Rast at the poker table has been celebrated a lot this past summer in Las Vegas. The signs are strong that there’s plenty more to come from the 2023 inductee in the Poker Hall of Fame.
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