High stakes player Brian Townsend talks to PokerPlayer about his form

The last time we spoke to Brian Townsend he was recovering from a $4 million downswing and looking for a way back to the big time…

Brian Townsend is one player who really understands the swings inherent in poker. He burst onto the high-stakes online scene in 2006 and quickly assumed legendary status. However, this was followed by a rapid fall from grace with a major downswing accompanied by a multi-accounting scandal. But Townsend has recovered to once again be a major winning player at the highest stakes. He tells Paul Cheung of his renewed focus and his zeal for the poker world beyond hold’em and pot-limit Omaha

I read on your blog that in February you had started taping your sessions? Is that still the case?

Yeah, a little bit but not as much now. It’s something I definitely want to get back into. I’m starting to learn some other games so I want to tape those sessions. I find it very effective taping and reviewing sessions.

What form does this reviewing take?

It’s so easy to play without thinking so it helps to go through and analyse everything. When you’re playing it’s easy to skip things or there’s small details you might miss. Say, your opponent folded on the river, in a pot that you weren’t in – that tells you he was maybe bluffing. Or if he raised a river bet then folded to a shove, he’s probably bluffing a lot of the time – especially in Omaha where you can have the nuts or air when you do that.

You also say you verbalise players’ weaknesses?

I still do that and it has helped my game a lot. Just asking, ‘why am I better than this guy?’ A lot of times people just go in and play poker and won’t think ‘why am I winning?’ For me verbalising why I’m winning and when opponents are making mistakes really helps. Especially heads-up it’s really helpful but even six-handed going round the table and saying ‘what does this guy do poorly’. And if you find there’s a lot of opponents that play really well you might want to find another table.

So, is that something you’d recommend for most players to do?

I think it’s a really great strategy – it really helps you understand where your win-rate is coming from – where your earn is coming from. That’ll help you grow as a poker player in general instead of learning a game just by brute force and trial and error. You’ll be thinking, ‘what are they doing wrong. What am I doing better than them that’s letting me win.’ Then when you go to a new game, even though it’s a completely different game you can bring the same idea of ‘what are they doing wrong?’ When I first moved from no-limit hold’em six-max to heads-up I found they were worlds apart. I learnt six-handed no-limit hold’em by trial and error, reading strategy forums and watching videos. When I went to heads-up I took the same strategies I had from six-max and I just got killed at first because I didn’t adjust and didn’t think, ‘what am I doing better than my opponents?’

Did you set goals at the beginning of the year?

I started in October with $100k and I got to $800k in about six and a half months. $800k was my goal so that was really awesome. That was at $25/$50 and $50/$100. Since then things have been going really well. I played a little $500/$1k at this year’s World Series and it didn’t go as well as I’d have liked.

How is your live game shaping up?

I think it’s fine. Poker’s poker. There’s definitely some subtleties. At the main event I was getting very bored especially with this one opponent who was acting incredibly slowly on his hands. I was really unfocused and was on my phone and not paying attention to the table. But I think my live game is good when I’m focused and when I really pay attention to all the details. I know when I play online I sometimes find myself falling into the habits of doing too many things at once, whereas live I think I can be more focused if it’s a really interesting game.

You must be very pleased with how your pot-limit Omaha game has gone recently?

I’ve done really well in pot-limit Omaha this year and I feel I’ve got what I want from it so now I’m trying to learn some of the mixed games because I’m really inexperienced in those. Limit Omaha hi/lo and deuce-to-seven triple-draw are the two I’m really trying to focus on because those are the best for live action games. I’d say it’s much better to know a lot of games and be in the top one-thousand players in the world than know one game and be the absolute best at that game and that’s all you can do. I think there’s a lot more value knowing a lot of different games. I only know no-limit hold’em and pot-limit Omaha so I’m trying to get into the limit games. I’m no superstar at limit hold’em but I’m good enough, whereas with stud and razz I’ve no idea.

Do you have a coach for these new games?

I have a limit Omaha hi/lo coach and I have a deuce-to-seven triple draw coach. They are mid-stakes players – my deuce-to-seven coach plays $5/$10 and makes videos for CardRunners and is just a guy that knows his triple-draw. Sometimes I disagree with him – he’s maybe a bit too tight for my case but it’s good to get the basics and get that groundwork down.

How do those tutoring sessions work?

Usually, I just make a video for him and he does the audio over it and tells me how he would have played. It works really well for me. There’s so much out there about no-limit hold’em and even pot-limit Omaha versus 2-7 triple draw that it’s much easier to get the information without a private coach. I think a private coach can be amazing but you have to have the right coach and there’s so few quality coaches out there that it’s probably not worth most people’s time. The good coaches are making so much money playing those games themselves.

Is your long-term goal to become a really good mixed player?

Yeah, I think from being at the World Series I’ve realised how limiting just knowing no-limit hold’em and pot-limit Omaha is. At the Series the best games were the mixed games. The best game was a pot-limit Omaha $50/$100 deuce-seven triple draw and limit Omaha 8 or better. If I’m good enough at limit Omaha hi/lo and pot-limit Omaha, my 2-7 triple draw just has to be good enough to get by. There’s a lot of value in these mixed games. There’s a reason why they’re played all the time.

You played the $40k event and won your biggest cash to-date but on your blog you said the
standard of play was quite poor.

I should retract that because I played the main event and the $40k was a much tougher field than the main event. I really thought the $40k event would get a hundred people and they’d all be really tough no-limit hold’em tournament players. There was some obviously amazing players in the field but there was also some people who were a lot weaker.

This year you started back on PokerStars again – how do you view online poker these days?

I think the thing that people forget is that there are other games to play beyond no-limit hold’em. Maybe the $10/$20 no-limit hold’em games are way tougher than before but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t amazing games going on elsewhere. I think some people just want to be spoon-fed or something. I think if you’re wise there’s a lot of money to be made from online poker – and poker in general.

How does your love for poker compare from when you started playing.

I’m really lucky in that I still really love playing poker. I’m playing every day and I’m forcing myself. I still love playing – I hope it’s like that in 10 years because I don’t think I’d be a very good player if I didn’t love playing. If you get into poker because you want to get rich then you’re just not going to be successful because there’s way easier ways to make money but if you get in because you love playing poker the money will come.

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