Brandon Shack-Harris: Losing Sleep From Player of the Year Decisions

Brandon Shack-Harris at the 2014 World Series of Poker. (Photo by Drew Amato)

Brandon Shack-Harris at the 2014 World Series of Poker. (Photo by Drew Amato)

Brandon Shack-Harris exploded onto poker’s biggest stage, from a relatively unknown player to one that challenged for the industry’s most elite Player of the Year titles. He entered the 2014 World Series of Poker with $145,555 in lifetime live earnings, but a few months later that number ballooned to $1,596,080 – nearly a 1,000% increase.

But what many don’t know is that Shack-Harris is an accomplished musician who plays a variety of instruments. The past few months he’s lived at the famed Electrical Audio Studios in Chicago, home to Steve Albini‘s music empire. We caught up with Shack-Harris to see what it’s like splitting time between two very different worlds.

BLUFF: You had a couple of significant cashes in the 2012 WSOP and then had almost a two year gap in results, what were you up to?

Brandon Shack-Harris: Aside from the infrequent online MTT, I have been a high volume cash player for about 10 years; online pre Black Friday and predominately live after Full Tilt and Pokerstars pulled out of the United States.

In 2012 I felt I was playing at a good level, and thinking clearly. I was fortunate to fare pretty well overall. In 2013 I wasn’t feeling very confident in my overall game relative to the previous year and I was dealing with a lot of stress outside of poker. Brian Hastings was considering adding me to his roster in that year’s WSOP Fantasy Draft and my advice to him was that he shouldn’t. I just felt very apathetic going into the Series and subsequently I bricked.

This year I felt great going into WSOP, and actually started a goals thread on a poker forum titled “Win a WSOP Bracelet to Sell on Ebay, ” and offered myself up to everyone as a sleeper in the Fantasy Draft.

BLUFF: Chicago has a healthy poker economy spread between private games and a few nearby casinos, how does a mixed game player like yourself gain experience in the Midwest?

BSH: The Horseshoe Casino in Hammond is a short commute from Chicago which has a mixed game that runs every Wednesday and Friday. The people in that game, along with much of the casino’s staff, are family to me. A few games that feature many of the same characters play the same mix outside of the casino a few days a week. I averaged about 60 live hours played each week – there are PLO games all over the place as well, but I always opt for the mix.

BLUFF: How did you become close enough friends with Steve Albini to live at Electrical Audio studio?

BSH: Steve and I had played online against each other some before any sort of communication. We both frequent a Seven Card Stud sub-forum, and he invited me to attend a game he’s a part of. The game is basically a small stakes NL/Dealers Choice mix with a bunch of people who love music, food and will tolerate him farting all the goddamn time.

All of my live poker firsts have been with Steve: first live game ever, first trip to a casino, first poker trip to Vegas, first WSOP. He is one of my absolute best friends and the most honorable and kind hearted man I know.

BLUFF: It’s safe to say that you exploded in 2014 and become one of poker’s most talked about players. Did that affect your game or were you immune to the pressures and chatter?

BSH: I’m so conditioned to play poker as a job that it is all routine, so it definitely didn’t affect me. I never pay attention to money jumps at a final table, where I’m seated or who’s watching. The closest time I was phased were the few times that I took longer to make a decision because I was considering Player of the Year implications and that made me want to puke.

BLUFF: You left Las Vegas leading George Danzer in the WSOP POY race, then you two battled back and forth while in Melbourne for APAC. Ultimately Danzer won the title, looking back would you have done anything differently?

BSH: I’m extremely critical of myself and have had a hard time getting to sleep lately with the flood of hands that won’t leave my head that I wish I had played differently. Some are just tiny adjustments, but I obsess over every stupid little thing that I am aware of; who knows what I’m oblivious to on top of that. If anyone were to enlighten me, I would probably be institutionalized.

For APAC particularly, I wanted to improve my NLHE game since the Australian tournaments were predominately NL and up until this point I had only ever played three live NLHE tournaments lifetime. I hung out in Montreal and grinded WCOOP for a few weeks to prepare. I think there were six NL events for APAC and I wound up cashing three – with one final table. I’m not happy with everything, but I felt I basically did my part from the NL side of things.

It was clutch of Danzer to final table both of the mixed events and win his third bracelet. I do feel I gave myself a solid chance to beat George but he played great and it wasn’t meant to be.

BLUFF: What does poker offer you that music doesn’t and vice-versa?

BSH: Well, I used poker as an escape from music initially, I was never really a big fan of poker to begin with. The main difference is that I am positive that I can travel anywhere and play poker as a source of income. While I feel I could potentially do that with music, I have not yet been so brave.

The coolest thing that poker offers is the opportunity to meet a variety of different and often times amazing personalities who all just want to play a game. Music is something I like to explore alone whether I am creating it or going to a show – it’s a deeply emotionally experience for me. I love the creative aspects of both aesthetics.

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Paul Oresteen

Senior Writer: Paul Oresteen originally joined BLUFF in 2008 as an intern. He covered two World Series of Poker’s before leaving to join After a two year hiatus Oresteen returned to BLUFF in November 2012. Since starting as a poker journalist Oresteen has covered the World Series of Poker, WSOP Circuit, World Poker Tour and European Poker Tour. He graduated from Georgia State University with a B.A. in Communications in 2008.
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