Brian Townsend Interview

“SBRugby”….”aba20″…..Brian Townsend’s online handles are more than household names throughout the poker community – they represent one of the game’s toughest competitors at any table. His meteoric rise to the highest levels in under 2 years is the stuff of legend. We sat down with Brian at this year’s WSOP with one burning question: If a $250K loss doesn’t affect his sleep, how much would it take?



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PokerLizard: All right. Maybe this will be better. Too bad we don’t have chairs. Of course you probably sit all day long playing poker. You probably want to stand up.

Townsend: Standing’s nice.

PokerLizard: Tough on the back and your knees. Shoot, I play for five, six hours I feel like I’ve been hit with a bat. Of course I’m also an old man. All right, man. Let’s see here. Family. What are your family’s thoughts on you being a pro poker player?

Townsend: Well, my grandpa actually played a lot of poker. He probably played the second tier game. So if the big game at the time was say, 100/200 or 200/400 limit, (it was all limit back then), he would play maybe 50/100 kind of the level below the big game. And he knew Amarillo , Puggy Pearson…all those guys. They were all good friends.

PokerLizard: So poker’s definitely in the genes.

Townsend: Yeah. I guess so. And back then it was much smaller and there wasn’t all the hoopla there is now. That was even when it was in Vegas in the 70s, 60s and when he played a lot. Then he played all the way until he passed away. So it was in my genes and that was on my dad’s side. And my dad is all about it. He loves it. He thinks it’s great. My mom’s a little bit more conservative. She just thinks I’m going to lose everything one day and be broke. But even that wouldn’t be the end of the world. That’s where I was before I started. So, I guess they have very differing opinions on it. But now that I’ve put enough away for retirement my mom’s pretty happy.

PokerLizard: So you think bankroll management is one of your big strengths?

Townsend: Yeah. I mean, I’m very aggressive in moving up and I’m willing to take risks and I have no problem losing and moving back down. That’s what I’ve always done. I’ve had to move back down multiple times. There’s always been times where I move up, I take a shot with say 20 buy-ins, I lose five and I gotta jump back down and rebuild and rinse and repeat until I move up. I think there’s almost no chance that I would ever go bust because I’m willing to move down when times are tough. Even if I do have money to play big I would still be willing to move down and get my head on right. I did that a couple months ago with my PLO game. It was a little off so I moved down to 25/50 and just killed it and now I’m back up and playing great again in my PLO. So I can see that happening, jumping down to 25/50 or 50/100 if my game’s off and playing 20,000 hands to get back on track.

PokerLizard: How long would it take you to play 20,000 hands?

Townsend: It depends how much I played, but I could do it in two weeks.

PokerLizard: Wow.

Townsend: That’d be a lot. But it’s pretty easy to do.

PokerLizard: When you multi-table, how many tables do you generally play?

Townsend: I can do four. That’s about my max.

PokerLizard: You ever see those crazy guys who do 18, 20?

Townsend: Yeah some of these kids can do 12 and even more. Up to 20. I don’t know how they do it. They’re just playing like robots. They’re not really thinking about the decisions and what’s going on.

PokerLizard: Have you totally gotten away from your limit game? You used to play limit a lot back in the old days.

Townsend: When I was younger I played a lot of limit. I don’t play it as much now. I still try just to keep somewhat fresh. I’m not a top limit player at all. But I can hang in the second tier games. I would never sit in a tough limit lineup, but a soft one with some soft spots. I would say my game’s proficient. It gets the job done. I think my big bet poker games are very, very, very strong and I wouldn’t say the same about my limit game.

And it gives me the option when there is a good game or if there’s a mixed game going I can hop in, which is nice. That’s why I want to learn all the HORSE games so I have those options.

PokerLizard: Yeah. ‘Cause when playing the big game they always want to play all KINDS of games. You were recently quoted that you don’t even lose sleep over a 250k loss anymore.

Townsend: I mean, I’ve been having a couple 200K to 300K losses the last four days just chunking off 200, 200, 200, and, I mean, I don’t like it. I don’t like to lose but it doesn’t bother me.

PokerLizard: How much would you have to lose for it to keep you up at night?

Townsend: If I lost 2 million in a night. I don’t know if I would even stay up the night anymore over it. But if I lost 2 million in a night I’d probably — I wouldn’t sleep as well.

PokerLizard: Toss and turn a little bit.

Townsend: I could drop a million and it wouldn’t bother me too much. I mean, it would bother me but not that badly. (Oddly enough Brian lost a $1.8 million hand to Bobby Baldwin a few days after this interview…I think he was bothered; read about he hand on his blog from July 14, 2007).

PokerLizard: What do you see yourself doing in the future? Do you think you’re going to play poker the rest of your life as a pro or are you going to do something else?

Townsend: I don’t know what’s going to happen. I’m already doing other business opportunities like CardRunners and stuff. So I’m just going to see where it goes. Right now I wake up every morning and I’m excited about playing poker. I don’t see that being the case when I’m 40, even 30, or maybe even tomorrow. I might wake up tomorrow and say I don’t want to play poker as a career. I’ll just play whenever I want to.

PokerLizard: So if they totally outlawed online poker in the United States would you move or would you just play it live?

Townsend: (makes an audible oof sound and looks like I told him his dog just died) I would stay in Santa Barbara . Or I might move to France . I’d probably end up just getting a place out in Nice (pronounced Niece) my dad lives out in the East Monaco area. I’d get something out there. I’d get something in Vegas and I would have something in Santa Barbara and I would just rotate between those three. Spend about a third of my time in each one.

PokerLizard: Nice (pronounced Niece again). Nice. You and Taylor Caby (high profile online pro aka “Green Plastic”) did the commentary work for the final table of the $5K six-handed event for the WSOP Live coverage in the “ Poker Cave ”. How’d you like doing that?

Townsend: It was long and I’m glad we didn’t have one of the long final tables like the HORSE one. I guess Andy Bloch did that the night before and they were up until, Jesus, I guess they did 14 hours, 15 hours. We only did four or five and that was plenty long enough. The last hand, when it was heads up, I was rooting for the guy to suck out and end the match.

PokerLizard: Just finally get it over with?

Townsend: Yeah. But it was fun to do and it was interesting seeing their hole cards. Taylor and I were very critical though. Maybe too much so.

PokerLizard: You thought they didn’t play all that well?

Townsend: Bill Edler, the guy who won it, started off short stacked. Played phenomenally. He played the best, by far, out of everybody. The other players were very, very weak (this table featured Erik Friberg, Dutch Boyd and Alex Bolotin).

PokerLizard: So everybody knows where the name SBRugby comes from ( Santa Barbara rugy) but where does the name ABA20 come from?

Townsend: It came from me just needing something with letters and numbers that was long enough and easy for me to remember. Nothing too exciting.

PokerLizard: You have a girlfriend, correct? Is it tough to maintain a relationship being a pro poker player? ‘Cause I’ve talked to a lot of guys like Scott Fishman, a lot of young guys who are like, “Man, it’s just brutal, keeping a relationship going with this lifestyle.”

Townsend: I wouldn’t say I have a girlfriend. I don’t have anything right now. Well, I guess, maybe I shouldn’t call her — but, yeah. Having relationships are difficult with these schedules. I try to go to bed at midnight, wake up at 8:00 a.m. It’s a little different in Vegas. You’ve just got crazy schedules. But when I’m back home I try to keep a really structured life because it helps me stay balanced and do the right things.

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PokerLizard: How do you balance your life outside of playing poker?

Townsend: I try to get outside. Since I’ve been in Vegas it’s been awful. I’ve seen the sunlight probably for five hours the whole time I’ve been here.

PokerLizard: Yes but, It’s so fucking hot.

Townsend: Gross, yeah. But if you don’t go outside you get so fucked up on these lights.

PokerLizard: Yeah. That’s true.

Townsend: What was the question again?

PokerLizard: How do you balance your life?

Townsend: Just by doing a lot of exercise. Doing a lot of relaxing things. Get a lot of massages. Go to the beach. Play with my dog when I’m in Santa Barbara . Do a lot of other outdoor activities to try to keep that balance ’cause it is very important. It’s very easy to let your health go and that will really affect your game. I mean, when you weigh 400 pounds and you can’t move and you’re energy level’s down you’re not going to play as well. And so that’s why I try to stay active and healthy.

PokerLizard: That’s for sure. What do you really want out of poker when it’s all said and done? Fame? Fortune? Just enough money that you can do what you want to do?

Townsend: Yeah. I guess my goal was to be the best player in the world at everything. And I feel like I’ve done that in a couple of the games but there’s a lot more games to go. So I want to master all games and get to the point where I feel like I’m the best or I’m happy. I have a lot of respect for the person who’s better than me and I have no problem saying, “Oh, this person’s better than me and I’ll never be able to beat them ’cause they have a much stronger game.” But I want to just learn every game and be the best that I can be at every game.

PokerLizard: What’s your next game that you want to conquer?

Townsend: I’m going to do all the HORSE games next. I’ve been playing Razz. I’ve played a lot — well, a few thousand hands. So I need some more work on that. And then I’m going to do Omaha High-Low and then I’m going to get started on the Stud games but they’re going to be tough.

PokerLizard: For somebody that plays so much online poker how brutal was it to play on High Stakes Poker? Didn’t each hand take about an hour to play??

Townsend: Yes, live poker isn’t even that bad when you have a machine and it keeps going quickly. It was awful ’cause the producer would stop between each card and the dealer would have to wait before they burn. It was so slow. We probably got 20 hands an hour, maybe not even that. It was so boring.

PokerLizard: So was it weird playing on TV like that? Or seeing yourself?

Townsend: No, not really. I’d been on TV before at the final table of the WSOP circuit event. I was on for five minutes, but that kind of got my feet wet. Got me used to it.

PokerLizard: The other day you pretty much put a spanking on Sammy Farha at the Bellagio lately. Is it kind of gratifying considering some of the shit he talked during High Stakes Poker?

Townsend: A lot of these guys they do stuff in TV and it’s — you look at Mattusow. Mattusow’s a nice guy. He doesn’t act like he does on TV. They just ham it up a lot for TV. Sammy and I get along. We’re cordial.

PokerLizard: Didn’t he say something like, “You need to get a girlfriend, buddy.” Or something? “You’re looking at me funny.” What did he say?

Townsend: I don’t know. I think it was something like, “You’re raising too many pots. You’d better be careful.”

PokerLizard: “This isn’t the internet, buddy.”

Townsend: Yeah. And then some internet comment. I don’t know.

PokerLizard: Now that you’re getting a limited amount of fame, are you worried that somebody might try and jack you someday?

Townsend: Security’s a big thing. I do have to be somewhat careful of that ’cause people might assume that I have a lot of money. I mean, I never carry money on me or anything. Not more than a normal person. People might think, “Oh, he’s walking out of the poker room. He’s going to have a million dollars on him.” Which won’t be the case. I would never walk around with that kind of money. Criminals are idiots and they might think that you would have that kind of money on you. It is a concern.

PokerLizard: Besides joining Card Runners what advise would you give a player to improve their game?

Townsend: To move up? Just play a lot. Play a lot. Think about your game. Eat, breath, sleep poker and you’ll improve. You’ll get better.

PokerLizard: How do you analyze your game?

Townsend: I’m actually becoming a little lazy about that recently just because I’ve been really busy, but I look at old hands and review and think about hands. And when hands come up I think about how they were played and what should be done, stuff like that.

PokerLizard: Do you use poker tracker or anything like that?

Townsend: Yes. I do use poker tracker too. I have all my hands that I’ve played for the last two years on my computer.

PokerLizard: How many hands is that? Do you have any idea?

Townsend: I don’t know. Millions.

PokerLizard: Really?

Townsend: Let’s see. A year and a half, averaging 1,000 hands a day. So not quite a million.

PokerLizard: How many hours a day do you play?

Townsend: It really depends but now I’ve been playing way too much. Probably 16 hours a day which is way too much for me. But when I’m back home in Santa Barbara, I spend about two or three doing that and then another two doing Card Runners related stuff.

PokerLizard: You graduated from college or did you drop out?

Townsend: Yes. I got my bachelor’s, dropped out of a PhD program.

PokerLizard: Well, lot of people do that.

Townsend: Yeah. That’s not a big deal.

PokerLizard: So what if somebody you knew wanted to drop out of college and play poker? What would you tell them?

Townsend: Go for it.

PokerLizard: You’re the first person to ever say that.

Townsend: I mean, you know it’s not going to be easy. You’re not just going to magically be making millions of dollars a day but if you work hard and you work on your game you can definitely succeed in this industry. There’s a lot of money to be made. So I would say go for it and if it doesn’t work out it doesn’t work out.

PokerLizard: Who do you think are better – the online players or the live pros?

Townsend: I think that distinction is getting really gray now. I mean, look at a guy like Patrick Antonius . He plays as much live as he does online now. Is he an online player? Well, he started playing online but I think in the future it’s going to be very common for people to start online ’cause it’s so much less intimidating than going into a casino. You don’t have to come to Vegas. You can just kind of try it out in the comfort of your home. I think that distinction is just going to be really gray. But as for ‘best in the world’, it’s kind of hard to say. In no-limit hold ’em, without a doubt, the online players. I mean, just they’re years and years ahead of the live players. Live game no-limit hold ’ems are very weak. And Pot-Limit Omaha online is much, much tougher and bigger. And then limit hold ’em is much stronger online.

But in the HORSE games, the live players are way, way ahead – a year or two ahead of the online players. But once those games get online you’ll see a big gray area and it’ll all come together. And one thing I found was even these live players are playing online now. I mean, there are very few people who don’t play online. Very few big online players never play live. As the years go on that distinction will just fade away, I think, and it’ll just be considered poker instead of live and online.

PokerLizard: So who would you say is your toughest competition right now?

Townsend: The games I play, Patrick Antonius is very good. He’s a very, very strong player for both no-limit hold ’em and PLO. There are a lot of good players and there are a lot of players that people don’t know about really, like Urindanger. Brian Hastings is great. There are just a lot of good players out there and the distinction between the low end and the high end is very, very small. Phil Ivey plays great. I’ve been playing Bobby Baldwin a lot. He’s really played well. Really, really tough opponent.

PokerLizard: Now that you’ve got some money are people always bugging you to lend them money or stake them?

Townsend: Yeah. It’s kind of funny. Last summer I came out and I brought maybe $100,000.00, which is a lot of money for me. And I did really well one night — a quarter million or even more when I was playing some 200/400 no-limit. And a lot of the live pros were just giving me shit. Nobody knew who I was. They were just generally just assholes. One guy challenged me to a heads up, freeze out, dick waving competition, bring a million dollars, whole thing. And then this summer I come out and he’s like, “Oh, can I have a loan?” And he was totally sucking up to me and you just gotta realize some people are like that and deal with it accordingly.

PokerLizard: Thank you very much for the time, Brian!

If you liked this interview please consider making a small donation, all proceeds will go toward my children’s college fund, Thanks.

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