The Brian Hastings Scandal: A View the Poker World Doesn’t Want to Hear by James Obst

The Brian Hastings Scandal: A View the Poker World Doesn't Want to Hear by James Obst

Lee Davy sits down with the Australian James Obst to seek his opinion on the Brian Hastings scandal, and what it means the game of poker.

The Brian Hastings Scandal: A View the Poker World Doesn't Want to Hear by James ObstFuck the path of least resistance.

It’s boring safe and unsatisfying. People follow it because they are scared of the alternative. It’s fear that pushes people down that road, fear and laziness.

It’s not often that you come across someone in the poker industry who has chosen a different path. It takes balls. This is a tribe, and people will do anything to remain a part of it. There are things that should be said, and a way to say them; there are images to present, ways to stand, and smiles sent to savage soliloquy.

And so we turn the pages of our magazine, move the cursor to depress the arrow facing right. Like mindless machines, we disgorge the same regurgitated drivel, it goes in, but it never stays in – it doesn’t have to, we remember every word.

When the man steps forward, quivers are loaded. He doesn’t care. He knows he is a target, but he places the apple onto his head anyway.

Here is James Obst.

Archers at the ready…

What’s your view on players using a VPN to play online poker from a country like USA, and do you think this is cheating?

“I want to use this question as an opportunity for me to express an important disclaimer: I’m not a saint; I haven’t gotten everything right in my life. Those who have been around long enough would remember my breaking the terms of service before I was of legal age. Whilst some of my answers to these questions may appear to come from a moral high ground, I promise they don’t. I am legitimately remorseful about the fact that my playing, when I ought not to, have, as an underage player, may have negatively impacted others.

“To answer your question, cheating to me is maliciously gaining an unfair advantage on the competition. I greatly sympathize with, and admire, those that relocated from the USA to continue playing. It’s for these people that we can’t be too soft on those who chose the easy route by not complying with the rules and staying put. That said, everyone’s circumstances are different and provided these players are playing on their own name I don’t feel they are gaining an unfair advantage over me.”

What’s your view on Brian Hastings using someone else’s account, and deceiving people, is that cheating?

“I’m not sure if you’d call it cheating or just pure scum. I played a number of hands with him in the SCOOP and, yeah, you feel cheated finding out later you were actually playing at a disadvantage against someone who is already one of the top players in the game. If that wasn’t enough, the prop bet situation that combined his need for attention with monetary greed should leave people (particularly those that bet against) rightly angry, I would have thought, given the non-disclosure of this playing history on Stars and his subsequent lack of contrition.

“Offering to reimburse select players arbitrary amounts of money after failing in attempts to cover it up, and having possibly won seven figures in that timeframe, is not contrition, nor deserving of kudos. Ironically a lot of such scandals over my time in the game played out similarly – the player involved goes into damage control (because they actually care what people think while saying they don’t), but doesn’t show any genuine remorse because they did what they did as a result of some rationalization of why it wasn’t that bad in the first place – that belief is unlikely to change. The ‘others are doing it’ justification is all some people see.”

What do you think the consequences should be for both Brian and Noel Hayes?

“My thoughts here don’t really matter, and anything I say won’t come off well – added to that I have no idea what ‘fair’ consequences would be.”

Do you think David Baker is out of line by posting a PM from Brian on 2+2, and going public with this, or do we need more people to speak out?

“David Baker is a true hero here. I mean, it sounds ridiculously dramatic to say that, but this industry has had such a stench that almost no one has gone near where it’s coming from for years for fear of having to smell it. I admire and support anyone who puts their nose as close as they have. I think David deserves some support on this – personally it’s tough putting my anxiety issues aside to speak out, but he managed to do it so anyone who feels similarly, now is probably the time to follow his lead in pushing for change.”

What do you think PokerStars should do now?

“Something. Whatever it is, for the love of god, make it something, and make it transparent. Players have been losing faith in the game, and in PokerStars, for a long time now and this really feels like a tipping point where we will find out whose side they are truly on?”

What do you think of Hastings’ responses on 2+2?

“The risk of airing purely your own opinion on things is that you can be clouded by bias and not realize it, therefore you can say things you shouldn’t. On this subject I had two of my friends hit me up and ask if I’ve been following what happened, and his replies, and both of them have suggested that they are still laughing over it days later. That tells me two things:

1). They’ve been around poker long enough to know a lot of shady stuff happens (so that’s not the shocking part).
2). His replies were just something else entirely.

To quickly summarize what I took from them:

– He claims he doesn’t care what “strangers on the internet” think despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

– He suggests that those who express dissension toward his replies are displaying sociopathic tendencies.

– He credits himself with being a ‘giver’ in the 2+2 community and threatens to stop ‘giving’.

– He thinks it’s “****ed up that any of this should have become public”.

– He suggests the majority of posters “just don’t get it” and takes the opportunity to shed wisdom on how things work in the ‘adult world’.

– He doesn’t think his motives were particularly selfish given (he claims) he wasn’t going to continue post-WSOP.

– He thinks people coming after him for this are the ones doing the real harm to the game.

It’s probably not too hard to see why some (non-sociopathic) people I know are still laughing quite hard over this.

What does this scandal say about poker in general?

“From my personal point of view, I find it almost equally ludicrous that Brian, a successful high-stakes pro, is not only posting bad beats of how he busted tournaments on Twitter, for “strangers on the internet” to read, but in the process, criticizing his peers in no uncertain terms as though he’s never made a bad play.

“Now it’s clearly not just Brian doing this sort of thing, so the next step is to figure out why so many feel the need to act this way? There seems to be a pathological need for most poker players to receive attention, validation etc. now and I’ll admit that it peeves me to be a part of an industry where the majority are so self-serving. It’s rare to meet a poker player that doesn’t tweet stack updates, tell social media when they might be getting TV time, explain how unlucky they are when things aren’t going well, shine the light on themselves when variance was kind, etc.

“It’s rare to meet a pretty female poker player who doesn’t feel the need to make and post selfie after selfie across social media, do photo shoots etc. whether the motives are sponsorship related, to befriend top players, or just to enjoy an attention bath (how do you think this impacts the females who may be interested in poker who weren’t as naturally blessed with beauty?). I actually find it quite special when I get to meet someone who doesn’t fall in with any of the aforementioned traits.

“I’d like to reference the disclaimer again that I’m no saint. I understand that when expressing opinions like this that that’s how it will come across (that I think I am) to those who choose to read it that way. I could write a piece much longer than this on the characteristics of myself that I dislike, so it’s not my intention.

“I believe the problem starts at the top. The highest profile players (think Daniel Negreanu, Phil Hellmuth – I’ll leave out Dan Bilzerian) receive so much attention that they are essentially the role models for the industry. I also believe in the phrase ‘monkey see, monkey do’. We’ve all seen Hellmuth incarnations at the tables, and we are generally aware that, although a well-intentioned person whom I am friendly with, Hellmuth is too self-serving to care about the detrimental effects of his behavior on the game at large.

“Negreanu on the other hand is often outspoken about trying to help players and help the game improve, so this is one reason why people look up to him. I’m loathed to criticize him in this instance because I like him and only stand to lose by doing it; but whilst in some ways he’s been a fantastic role model for poker, in other ways he’s been terrible. During this WSOP he has been tweeting out to his many hundred thousand followers things like: “Calling my shot on this one”, “A guy made a really horrendous call”, and just generally a constant barrage of self-indulgent poker updates. The second quote is akin to Tiger Woods, in his prime, publicly belittling a pro-am player he was paired with. Who would do that?

“I have a couple of friends at home who work in more mainstream business industries – they are doing great things, not only for themselves but also for others – they are much more brilliant people than I am in every way, that’s for sure. I can’t say I’ve ever once seen them, or even someone in the same line of work, posting on social media about how they: “helped the company close this awesome deal today, and that I really nailed the paperwork”, etc. Jordan Spieth doesn’t need to tweet out that he found the fairway on the 3rd hole; those that care can easily find out. And if you’re not well known enough to be covered often and someone you know really has to know how many chips you have before the end of the day…well you can text them. The general defenses people have for constantly updating on themselves are almost all hollow, especially in the current environment of sponsorship being an unrealistic possibility for all but a few.

What happens, is this filters down. It’s a shame that in life it seems to require a shocking tragedy for people to gain perspective and stop focusing on themselves for just a moment. The unfortunate reality is that in the poker world there are a LOT of people at the bottom, struggling for money, health, you name it. Seriously, all of the people Brian Hastings casts aside as ‘sociopathic strangers on the internet’ are likely people who have been dealt a worse hand than him in life, are trying desperately to get out but are having difficulty. There are a lot more people doing it hard in this game than there are people at the top with thousands of twitter followers. Many of them emulate the big names – airing their lives and frustrations over social media; others stay quiet and internalize. These are the people that need the attention of the community, not those that are enjoying recent positive variance.

“I don’t doubt for a moment that the behavior of those who are at the top of an industry directly correlates with the hardship felt by those below. For example, somehow the PGA tour has managed to stay, by most interpretations, a game played with fine sportsmanship – most players will call penalties on themselves for barely breaking rules that could be argued as ridiculous in the first place – even when winning is on the line. Do you think there are many golfers out there on the lower tours, doing it tough financially, who are begrudging Jordan Spieth his recent success? No, because he acts with class and is humble in victory.

“Compare this to poker. The amount of vitriol that has been directed at Phil Hellmuth over my career has been quite astounding. The driving force behind it is his entitled, superior attitude and the frustrated belief of those not achieving the same success that they play better than he does, as judged by a few carefully selected hands from televised poker. Do you think the club golfer sees Jordan Spieth hit his one shank for the year on TV, assumes he must be better than him and starts dwelling day after day about how lucky Spieth is, and beats himself to a pulp questioning when he will ever get a fraction of the luck Spieth gets that is surely his by right?

“The point I’m slowly getting at is that these feelings in the less successful, derived from the behavior of the most successful, are absolutely toxic to health. It translates as chronic mental stress. I shudder to guess what the percentage of long-term poker players who have at some stage experienced clinical depression would be – 40%? It could be a lot higher. I would be amazed if another industry had a higher percentage. This is a huge amount of players and unfortunately the culture that has been created by those at the top, of self-adulation and egocentricity is what is destroying poker more than anything else. There’s a reason that good people turn to shady acts like multi-accounting over time – they lose perspective of their values because it seems like no one around them gives a flog about anyone but themselves.

“In nearly all-professional sport, players compete hard, leave it all on the field and shake hands with the opposition after the game as a show of respect. In poker, players compete hard, and after the game, beeline it to social media to cuss out the opposition and get some ego soothing from friends and strangers who share the same practice. Something needs to change and it starts at the top.”