Australia’s Brendon Rubie discusses health, poker after testing positive for coronavirus

With a poker résumé that includes two Aussie Millions championship rings, the 2012 Melbourne Poker Championships main event, the $5K Challenge at WSOP Sydney in 2017 and two final table finishes in WSOP gold bracelet events – including runner-up in a US$2,500 4-handed event in Las Vegas in 2012 – Brendon Rubie has established himself as one of Australia’s most prominent tournament poker exponents.

It was therefore a huge shock when he revealed recently that he had tested positive to COVID-19.

With the Australian poker scene now shut down indefinitely as the nation battles a growing health crisis, PokerMedia Australia spoke with Rubie to find out about his coronavirus experience and thoughts on the plight of poker in general.

Ben Blaschke: First of all, how are you feeling?

Brendon Rubie: It’s day 10 since I first started showing symptoms and I think 18 days since contracting it. I’m feeling pretty good today, just a bit of a light head today, but the last four days have been quite rough. 

The main part of it has been lower back aches and headaches, and so my thesis on what I believe has happened is that it seems to be a disease that attacks pre-existing conditions because it seems to crash your immune system, and all the pain that your body does a great job of fighting every single day to protect, it seems to crash that. My back pain has been aches like I’ve ever experienced before and that has gone through into my legs which has kept me awake at night.

So that’s one aspect, the other is because I’ve been hammering my body with all these really good foods and vitamin c and some potions that Jonno Pittock (former Crown Poker tournament director), it has given me withdrawals because I haven’t had any coffee or sugar. I usually have a coffee every day, so I think I’ve been getting a light head from that which then gets exacerbated by the lack of an immune system. Those are the main two things.

BB: It does seem that the symptoms people show can be vastly different from person to person.

BR: I wonder about that because yes, people are passing away but I’ve been doing a bit of research in my time in isolation and doctors are not sure what to put on people’s death certificates. Let’s say someone gets admitted to hospital for a pre-existing cardio-vascular problem but then they also have coronavirus, or perhaps they pick up the coronavirus while in the hospital, and then they pass away – what is the cause of death? They may have already died because of the other disease but coronavirus was the added thing. 

It’s sort of difficult when you look at all these statistics to know the answer because some countries seem to be dealing with it and others not at all.

BB: How did you end up contracting COVID-19?

BR: I turned 30 about two-and-a-half weeks ago and I also graduated on that same day, so it was a pretty exciting time for me and I decided like anyone would to take some time to party. This was before any of the lockout restrictions so I went to a party in Bondi. There were about 200 or 300 people there, mostly backpackers because I have a few friends who are backpackers, and as we now know Bondi seems to be a cluster area.

Anyway, I went to that event and I found out about a week later from an article someone sent me that backpackers who were at that event had tested positive. That’s when I started panicking, so I called the hotline and they told me I’d had known contact because I was at the party for more than two hours and that I needed to self-isolate. I asked if I needed to be tested and they said no, not unless you actually show symptoms. The testing system seems to be using a lot of resources so they were discouraging people from getting tested.

Literally the next day I started feeling a bit of a light head and a bit of congestion in my nose. At that point I thought, “Maybe I’m just making it up in my head because I’m panicking.” But then following day I started getting body aches and I was like, “Okay I think this is real.” 

So, I called the hotline again, they said I qualify to go and get a test, I ran up to RPA, (Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Camperdown, Sydney) got the test done and from there it came back positive. At that point I was told to strictly self-isolate to my bedroom, not just my house, because I live with two people, so that’s how it all happened.

BB: Can you run us through the process of testing?

BR: I live only about a kilometer away from RPA so I just darted up there and went to the testing area which is just near the ER. They seemed to be ready for an onslaught of people, but there were only 600 or 700 cases in Australia at that point so when I went in there was only me and one other person.

You go in there, they mask you up and sanitize you, they are all wearing protective gear as well. You sit down and they ask you a whole list of questions about your general health, where you think you contracted it, then you go into another room where someone has to completely change their whole outfit to test you – different gloves, different mask – and they get a swab stick which they shove up your nose and then shove down your throat. It’s pretty uncomfortable for 10 seconds, and then they put it in a bag and send it off to be tested, then send you home. I got my result back within about 24 hours when they told me it was positive. 

The nurses have been fantastic throughout, although they don’t seem to know a whole lot about the virus at this stage. Even one nurse who was in there, I asked her how everything as going and she said, “I have no idea, I just started here today. I hear that you lose your taste, is that true?”

So, she was asking me questions because the health care workers are quite lost in all of this and are figuring it out as they go because it’s so new.

BB: What was your reaction when they confirmed you were positive?

BR: Well I suppose I had a few days to prepare myself because I had some close friends at that party that I had been in close proximity with and I knew they had tested positive, so I knew there was a very high chance I had coronavirus, so I wasn’t too shocked when that happened.

The biggest fear for me was that I had no idea about this and I was with my parents and my brothers that week. If I had passed it onto my parents, that was the biggest fear because I know I’m pretty young and healthy so I know the risks to me, but if my parents got sick I would be absolutely distraught.

It was strange though because I was in this house with my brothers for eight or nine day and I went to my parents’ house for a whole day, I made guacamole and shared it with my brother, we played PlayStation with the same controllers and all four of them tested negative.

It ishighly contagious but in terms of taking precautions, if you follow social distancing and don’t touch our face and make sure you wash your hands, it should be pretty easy to contain it.

BB: It’s quite ironic that the poker community has stood up to help with Jonno Pittock, the former Tournament Director at Crown Poker, being one of the people to have helped out the most.

BR: I guess the fact that I was able to put my story up online gave him the alert to reach out. It’s been a bit of a blast from the past because I haven’t even spoken to him for the best part of six years, since he left Crown.

Jonno’s personal journey of having to go through his own health issues got him into doing herbal medicine and he has an awesome practice in Melbourne, so he reached out and we did a Skype call. I’m really into lots of natural things and trying to avoid taking pharmaceuticals as much as I can. Jonno and I went through a who heap of things – first of all he looked at my tongue and was staring at it for the best part of a minute and making an assessment based on I don’t know what! Then he went through some different remedies that I could do.

He actually ran around at 4.30pm on a Friday afternoon and put a whole bunch of herbs and whatnot into a box and sent it to me via express post. Then when it arrived he jumped on a Skype call with my brother, who has been doing all the cooking here for me, and basically talked him through this whole process with the herbs with how to cook it, strain it out, then cook it again which creates this really dark potion – I call it a potion, it’s not a potion – and I’ve been having that. He’s sent another package with Epsom salts and these candles, so it’s all very gypsy stuff!

But ever since taking the first instalment of the herbs – I’ve been taking them three times a day alongside lots of healthy food – within a day-and-a-half I feel like I’ve really tackled it and hit it straight on the head. I only started taking the herbs three days ago and now I feel pretty good.

BB: Let’s talk a bit of poker. How much have you been playing recently and what was your plan for 2020 before this global pandemic changed everything?

BR: That’s a good question. The last two years I’ve really dedicated a lot of time to doing my counselling and coaching degree. I’ve been a full-time student for two years, actually. I have still played the Aussie Millions, WSOP Sydney and WSOP Las Vegas – they’ve been the three main ones I’ve played – and then some of the other Sydney events that have come up, but I haven’t even played all the Melbourne interim series that I used to, so I really haven’t played much at all.

In terms of my plan for 2020, now that I’ve finished my degree, I’ve really been looking for work outside of poker. Poker to me is going to be around 20% to 30% of my life whereas it used to be 80% to 90%. I love doing poker coaching and I will continue to play similar series – Aussie Millions, WSOP Sydney and WSOP Las Vegas – obviously not this year- but I would love to continue doing work as a coach., That’s not so much as a poker trainer when it comes to content but more so as a mindset and peak performance coach.

BB: It seems to me that a lot of your poker training courses that you hold here in Sydney do seem to focus on the mental approach as opposed to pure game theory?

BR: Yep and there are so many online training courses you can sign up to now that are just so in-depth with knowledge and I would almost recommend that people do those first, then when they are ready to implement come and talk to me. 

Knowledge is only 50% of the battle, being able to perform it is the other 50% because I believe poker is a performance game that takes so much stamina and endurance and strength to be able to withstand the ups and the downs and the mistakes. There is so much to it on the psychological side and that’s been one of my biggest strengths over the years in my game. 

I would admit that I would be one of the lowest in terms of knowing all the GTO (Game Theory Optimal poker) stuff and all the deep theory but I believe I have overcome that with my performance side of things, my competitiveness and creativity.

BB: You mentioned earlier that you had planned to play WSOP in Las Vegas again this year, but that seems unlikely now.

BR: The WSOP is no chance of happening.

BB: What’s your reaction to that and seeing the live poker industry both here and around the world basically shut down?

BR: Well I wasn’t planning on going to Melbourne anyway but I was planning on WSOP. It was actually a bit 50/50 because I’m looking for work as a counsellor and I was worried that if I got a good job I wouldn’t be able to go to WSOP. Now I don’t have that predicament.

BB: I notice you’ve been doing some podcasts too in recent months offering all sorts of general life advice and insights. What prompted those?

BR: Yeah, the last six months I’ve dedicated a lot of time and energy into that. Everything I’ve learnt in my studies and my personal growth journey, I really value it so much and I think if more people could have the knowledge that I seem to be accumulating and if I can fast-track that out into my own community it will help more people achieve the most out of their lives. 

I’m not really doing the podcasts to make money, I’m just doing it as part of my process of what I feel my purpose is at this point in my life. If it turns into people reaching out and wanting coaching that’s great, but in terms of the content I’m producing I just like sharing what I’m learning as I go. It really helps me too because if you learn something and are then able to teach it, it’s another step in solidifying those ideas in my mind.

BB: It’s interesting to see the contrast between some players who are still all about poker after more than a decade on the Australian circuit and yourself who seems to have stepped away somewhat in order to find more balance. Why is that?

BR: I like to think of myself as a pretty transparent person and I’ll be honest in saying the thing that really jolted me to step outside of poker and pursue something with – I won’t say more meaning, I’ll say a different meaning because poker has a lot of meaning for a lot of people – but for me, five or six years ago I crashed hard. 

I was on a huge downswing and was severely depressed from it. It caused a lot of issues with the relationship I was in and I experienced a lot of pain and heartache from that really bad part of my career. But it’s when you’re in that hole that you really reflect the hardest because you have to make change right? Because if you don’t things are only going to get worse. 

So that’s where I really stepped away and assessed my life. And it wasn’t easy, it was really hard during that time and I lost a lot of things – not just money but my relationship and time and all sorts of different things.

It was from there that I decided to do a diploma of counselling because I’m really close with my father and he has been a pastor and a counsellor his whole life. It’s pretty clichéd but just wanting to do the work that he does really inspired me. That’s when I started doing some study and since then coaching and poker have been my two main railroads.

BB: Lastly Brendon, do you feel that you’ve learnt and grown from this whole coronavirus experience?

BR: Yeah, I have. Even before this happened I believed that one of the best things to pull you through dark times is gratitude. It seems so clichéd but when you go through an experience where you lose your job or your health or money or whatever it might be, if you start looking at it from a point of gratitude – and there are a lot of empirical studies that prove this – when you’re grateful for what you do have and not what you don’t have it opens you up to the potential that you have in yourself. 

For me, maybe I don’t have a partner or a job or I can’t play poker or go to the beach or the movies, but what I do have is a roof over my head and some fantastic family members and friends who out of nowhere have dropped off food or reached out with a message. I have so much when I look at it from that point of view and that makes me feel really good. It makes me feel really motivated to give back the love and support that I have received. 

Coming out of this is actually quite interesting because I think in a year’s time people will have a week off work and say, “Oh yeah I was really sick with COVID-19 but I’m fine now, how are you guys going?”

It will be like having a cold or the flu. The reason there is so much attention around it right now is because of what it’s doing to the economy and we don’t know much about it. But I don’t think even my dad got this much support when he went through chemotherapy, so I am very grateful.

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