Brian Hastings win in $10K

Double Bracelet Winner Brian Hastings Accused of Violating Online Sites’ TOS

(Author’s note: Several secondary items in this story have been updated or corrected.  The author apologizes for unintended inaccuracies in the initial version of the story.)

Fresh off of winning his second bracelet at the the 2015 World Series of Poker, online player Brian Hastings is facing new allegations that he’s been playing at prominent online poker site PokerStars on an account already known to belong to another player.  Hastings has also been accused by other prominent players of using a VPN (Virtual Private Network) to disguise possible play from the US, which would violate the Terms of Service (TOS) of PokerStars, a site that does not currently allow US-based players.

Brian Hastings celebrates his win in $10K stud event at the WSOP two weeks ago. (Photy courtesy WSOP.)

Brian Hastings celebrates his win in a $10K 7-card stud event at the WSOP two weeks ago. (Photo courtesy WSOP.)

David “Bakes” Baker is one of the many well-known players who have voiced their beliefs that Hastings has been playing on the accused “NoelHayes” account on PokerStars in recent months.   Following this story’s initial publication, Bakes published a Skype message from Hastings confirming that Hastings was playing the “NoelHayes” account. Well-known online player and 2+2 poster “MastaAces” also claims to have assembled evidence that Hastings was also playing a high-stakes account on Full Tilt, screen-named “BigNittyBanker.”  FlushDraw has confirmed through third-party sources that Irish player Noel Hayes was indeed the original owner of both of these accounts, and occasionally posted about his play on them on public forums.  Examples of said posts include this link. (This paragraph corrects two errors from the initial version, while adding the Bakes DM confirmation.)

In a couple of responses to a 2+2 thread about the latest accusations, Hastings, who posts as “stinger88,” refused to offer direct comment.  Hastings also demurred when contacted directly by FlushDraw, writing, “I cannot publicly confirm or deny. It’s not all about me, it would be selfish to answer your question. I’m sorry.”  Whether or not the comment implies an inherent backing or profit-sharing dealing is left for reader conjecture.

Hastings’ non-confirmation / non-denial regarding the accusations took a longer form in his more public post, where he wrote, in part:

I have been following the [accusation] thread some but been very busy this summer playing the WSOP. I’m aware of the allegations, but at this time I have nothing to add to the conversation publicly. I stopped caring what strangers on the internet said or thought about me many years ago; otherwise I probably would’ve jumped off the deep end by now. What I do care about is something like this being a major story in the poker world at a time in which the WSOP is in full force and we should be trying to promote and grow the game of poker, rather than drag it through the mud. Think what you want about me, but one thing I have in common with most people reading this is that we love the game of poker and want to be able to play it freely in the comfort of our own homes. I’m moving back to PA soon to play 400/800 mix live and be closer to Sonya’s and my parents, and state regulation of online poker would be a nice cherry on top.

I think especially those of us who are professional poker players should be taking steps to try to promote and grow the game, rather than feeling sorry for themselves because Cardrunners was founded, Black Friday happened, everybody is too good now, etc. With enough hard work, I truly believe that just about anyone (at least anyone smart enough to be browsing 2+2) can make a living playing poker in 2015. I think it’s unfortunate that certain people have been on bad runs and choose to take their frustrations out outwardly rather than by trying to self improve, but I get it, it’s certainly not always easy. I did not turn a profit in 2 of the previous 3 years, but with an improved mindset, an amazing woman in my life, and a strong work ethic, I’ve gotten my game back to where it needs to be.

Several commenters in the thread responded in a highly negative fashion to the above and to a follow-up post which Hastings provided moments later.  The posters’ complaints centered on Hastings’ implied assertion that any talk about perceived cheating or rules-bending wasn’t good for poker’s image, and that public discussion regarding such behavior was “dragging poker through the mud.”

It’s far from the first such controversial moment for Hastings.  In 2009, Hastings was involved in a very high-profile situation involving Swedish online phenom Viktor Blom.  Hastings and two other online pros (Brian Townsend and Cole South) indirectly admitted to compiling a huge database of hands played against Blom, including hands obtained from third-party sources.  The trio analyzed those hands and then team-played Blom, winning several million dollars from the Swedish pro.  Hastings himself logged a $4.18 million win against Blom in one memorable, controversial session.

The original Full Tilt Poker, which was where the games against Blom occurred, gave Hastings and his partners a virtual slap on the wrist — Townsend was the only one of the three who received any sort of penalty at all, for hand-sharing — and declined to order a refund to Blom of any of the won money.  At that time, CardRunners also had a business partnership in place with the old Full Tilt for online tutorial and teaching services.  (The above two paragraphs correct information that was incorrectly relayed in the initial version of the story — hh.)

Whether or not Hastings was one of a large phalanx of star online players who began their online play while underage remains a point of debate. (Author’s update: A publicly-posted private message has now emerged on poker forums in which Hastings admitted playing online poker and signing a deal with CardRunners at age 17.)  Hastings’ Wikipedia entry acknowledges that he began playing online in 2006; he was born in 1988.  Underage play violates the rules of all regulated online sites.  Norway’s Annette Obrestad, Canada’s Michael McDonald, the US’s Justin Bonomo, and Australia’s James Obst are just a small handful of dozens of other prominent examples who have willfully violated sites’ regulatory requirements for personal gain.

Hastings’ innate ability to be a lightning rod for controversy takes some of the gloss off his fine WSOP series to date.  On Sunday, Hastings took down the WSOP’s Event #39, the $1,500 10-Game event, for $133,403.  The win came just ten days after Hastings captured Event #27, the $10,000 Seven-Card Stud World Championship, for $239,518.  The double-bracelet win was the first of the 2015 WSOP (Max Pescatori has since matched the achievement), and gave Hastings three WSOP bracelets overall, including his initial triumph in 2012 in a $10,000 “heads-up” no-limit event.

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