Brian Altman found a nice rhythm, hitting the gym, eating the same things at the same time, and getting focused on the task at hand during the short walk from his hotel to the poker room where the World Poker Tour was holding their first-ever Main Tour stop at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Tampa, Florida.
For the better part of two days, Altman was sitting with a below-average stack. But by the end of Day 2, Altman surged in the chip counts and finished the day with a top 10 stack and a notion that, maybe, he was in a position to take down his third WPT title.
“I mean, as soon as I make day three of a tournament, it starts to feel a little bit more real,” Altman said. “I try and not get ahead of myself, though, because I’ve been in every situation where you’re short, and you end up spinning and win to the opposite, where you have a big stack, and then you’re just out in two or three hands. So in terms of the flow of the tournament, I was just kind of taking things one hand at a time. And ultimately, down the road, down the stretch, you have to win some key hands, some key pots. And I was lucky to do that.”
The rhythm Altman was in didn’t just apply to WPT Tampa. Since the beginning of 2019, Altman’s World Poker Tour results have been the talk of the tour. A third-place finish at WPT Maryland for $149,515, a victory in WPT Lucky Hearts Poker Open for $482,636, plus another third-place result in the long-delayed final table of the WPT Borgata Winter Poker Open for $333,012 all added up to Altman taking down the WPT Season 18 Player of the Year title. Now, at the very start of the new WPT season, Altman once again was hitting his stride in a WPT event.
“I think with the WPTs, I have a really good grasp on the player pools. Most of the WPTs happen in the United States. I have played some abroad as well, but it’s a lot of the same faces. I think I have a really good grasp on the player pool, how they play, how they think, from the recreational players to the professionals. I just think I make some good adjustments based on who I’m playing against. I feel really comfortable at the stops on … I know… It’s nice because I have a bunch of friends in poker that I get to see. It’s nice to kind of go on these work trips and get to know that you’re going to see your friends and eat at the restaurants you want to eat at and hang out and play. So I don’t know, it’s a combination of a lot of things”
That combination unlocked yet another title for Altman. He ended up besting the 1165-entry field to win his third WPT title and the $613,225 first-place prize, for his sixth career six-figure WPT score. The victory puts him in the rarified air of champions with three WPT titles that include Gus Hansen and Carlos Mortensen as well as modern-day grinders Chino Rheem, Eric Afrait, and Anthony Zinno. Only Darren Elias has more with four titles.
“Being a three-time champ is… it’s something that…I thought it would happen. I didn’t think it would happen this fast, to be honest,” he said. “But there’s something that feels really nice about having three titles under my belt and being so close, really just one tournament away, from getting number four. That could happen next tournament, it could be years, it could never happen.
“I think I have a good understanding of expectations. My expectations are well-calibrated in regards to tournament poker. I understand the variance and how crazy things are, and I kind of recognize my success and how kind of a lot of things have gone my way in big spots. And I’d like to think I’m pretty well aware of that. Yeah, it would be cool to get number four and more. But I think I just want to just keep playing and show up and try and play well, and then a byproduct of that over time will be winning money and winning more titles.”
Originally from Massachusetts, Altman has had a storied career in the game. His results date back just over 10 years and, according to the Hendon Mob, to date he’s accumulated more than $5.3 million in live tournament earnings. He first really got into poker while in pharmacy school where he had early success playing online, and from that pictured a life for himself different from the path he was going down.
“What drew me to poker was I saw the potential to have this freedom, this really cool lifestyle where you are your own boss, and you make your own decisions, and you kind of get to have this full autonomy. So I think what drew me to poker initially was the allure of having this freedom.”
“I wasn’t really sure what route I would go after I graduated from pharmacy school, and I had the opportunity to take the safe route and work in a pharmacy setting, good pay, stable job. But I was at this inflection point where I wanted to pursue poker and pursue my dream because I could always go back and do the pharmacy route if it didn’t pan out. But yeah, it’s crazy to look back and to think about all the places I’ve got to see in the world and the events that I’ve played, and the awesome people that I’ve met. So it’s pretty cool.”
That freedom has taken Altman all across North America, Europe, Asia, and Australia. He’s found success just about everywhere he’s gone with a resume that includes his three WPT titles, two WSOP circuit rings, and a number of wins in tour stop side events. Over the last decade, he’s refined his schedule to playing tournaments with massive upside with a moderate buy-in. Included in those tournaments are World Series of Poker events, tournaments he’s fired in for the better part of his career. Although he’s not yet added a WSOP bracelet to his resume, it’s not an accolade that he feels defines his career to this point.
“It would be nice to win a WSOP bracelet, but it’s not something that I’ve put on the front burner. I’ve been coming out to Vegas the last decade. During that time, the WSOP is competing with a bunch of different other venues. And I’ve hopped around and played at a bunch of different venues, and it’s not just based on the prestige of winning a bracelet. I have other factors that influence my decision about where I want to play and what events I want to play. Things like the price point, things like my expectations of certain tournaments, things like the playing environment. I mean, I’ve played a lot at WSOP events, but it’s not like I’m going to prioritize a bracelet event over an event at another venue if those factors come into play. I’d like to win a bracelet. Maybe it’ll happen. We’ll see. It just depends. I don’t know.”
Additionally, for Altman, the allure of jumping up in stakes isn’t something he’s terribly concerned about. For Altman, his recipe for success is continuing to play in the highest value tournaments that he can find. He’s known to fire in $10K Main Events with plenty of success, but for him, his sustained career in poker has only benefitted by picking his spots and performing well. So, while there is plenty of the poker spotlight focused on the high rollers, don’t expect to see Altman abandon the World Poker Tour to chase the spotlight of a series of big buy-in tournaments anytime soon.
“I’ve played a lot of bigger buy-ins. I mean, I guess the upper range is a $25,000 price point is the highest that I’ve played. But I just like to be selective about what events I play,” he said. “I am a poker professional, I’m doing this to make a living. And I think, for me, I like to find some type of happy medium between playing games where I can make money, where I think I have a good edge, and also play against competition that is tough, and games that are intellectually stimulating for me. So I think the tournaments that I play in kind of factor in all those things. And I still get to kind of play my game. And I think the results of tournament poker are such that like, even if you’re really good, you’re still going to lose so often that the competitive aspect doesn’t fade because you’re always losing.”
“Most of the time you enter a tournament, you end up with zero dollars. So the kind of drive to get back and get more reps in and play that next event is still there. So I see myself playing some of and getting in the mix in some of the bigger buy-in events. A lot of it has been scheduling wise too. Just I work in bursts and breaks. Sometimes I’ll just take a week or two off. And yeah, certain events just kind of conflict when I want to take a break, or when I had just previously played a long series.”
But just because Altman may have found what works best for him that doesn’t mean he’s become complacent. He continues to work on his game both live and online. “If you want to be a poker professional for the long haul, you have to continually work on your game…it’s an ongoing battle just to stay sharp.”
In 2020, Altman played nearly every WSOP Online event, securing 11 cashes including a third-place finish worth more than $53,000. But with the return of live poker and his affection for the social interaction, Altman’s summer plans have become more wide open in 2021. Perhaps a prolonged stay in Las Vegas, perhaps a trip back to his home in Boston before, a couple of WPT tour stops, and the fall WSOP series. But with his early lead in this year’s WPT POY, and plenty of WSOP events on the horizon, Altman plans on keeping up with his current tempo.
“[There’s going to be] a lot more poker. Going to try and play the rest of the WPT events and play the bulk of the World Series of Poker in the fall. And probably some events, whatever else kind of fits. But yeah, I’m motivated. I’m hungry. I’m just looking forward to being in the mix and just showing up and playing a bunch of different events.”
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