You’re going to be seeing a lot of that face in the near future, that is, if you watch the World Series of Poker (WSOP) on ESPN. So, Who is Matt Dean?
Matt Dean is the guy all of us aspiring poker pros want to be. He parlayed $32 in an online satellite tourney into $675,000 by getting to the final table of the $10,000 WSOP main event. He also recently competed in the World Poker Championships in Ireland, finishing 13th among the world’s toughest players (Paul Phillips, Jeff Shulman, Phil Hellmuth, Erick Lindgren, Chris Moneymaker, “Devilfish” Ulliot etc…) which garnered a $15,000 payday. So how does a 25 year old substitute teacher from Houston, Texas reach the upper echelon of the Poker world?
PokerLizard: I’m sure ESPN will play up the fact that it cost you $32 to get into the tourney and you ended up winning $675,000 (sweet!). Did you just try and qualify that one time or had you tried several times in the past? in other words how difficult was it to qualify via the online tourneys?
Matt: I had only been on PokerStars.com for two days. The first day I spent $60 trying to qualify and finished about 40th. The second day I was on the site I ended up winning my seat online. The competition wasn’t too bad at the early stages because it was a re-buy tournament and everyone was playing loose. So, I accumulated a lot of chips early. Then it got tough but I seemed to pick up amazing hands every time I felt like I was getting short-stacked. I played about 7 hours the time I qualified and 4th place got nothing so it would have been terrible to finish 4th but the luck ran my way. You risk losing nothing for 7 hours of your time but if you’re a dreamer like me then I say go for it.
PokerLizard: What was it like playing that final table, You’ve got spectator’s all over the place, cameras in your face, how difficult was it to keep your focus?
Matt: It’s kind of like the old story about the frog in the hot water. If you toss the frog into the boiling water he jumps out and hops away; however, If you slowly heat up the water the frog just sits there and gets burned. I was more nervous the first day when the tourney was getting started. Slowly, as the days went on the media coverage increased but you start getting used to it. The hardest part for me with regards to keeping my focus was playing 12 hours a day, not the fans and the cameras.
PokerLizard: What were the most memorable hands you played during the WSOP?
Matt: The first and most famous player I knocked out was Olaf Thorsen who got 15th in the main event last year. I had QQ and he had JJ near the end of day one and when I re-raised him he moved in on me. That was a tough call but when I won that hand I had a lot of confidence. I had my tournament life on the line twice with JJ against AK and both times managed to stay alive even with an ace falling both times. I was all in once with A6 against AK when I thought the button was trying to steal and got super lucky when a 6 came on the flop. So, there were lots of close calls. My favorite hand was when Dan Harrington (back to back WSOP main event final tables) had a set of 4’s against me with a board of 43K8J. I had K8 and was tempted to raise Dan but I got a really weird feeling he had me beat. It wasn’t really a tell but I knew he was tight and when he bet into me on the river I only called. He later told me he was shocked I didn’t lose more on that hand and to hear that from a player like Harrington had me beaming from ear to ear.
PokerLizard: Do you recommend any books or training materials (software) to become a successful player?
Matt: There are tons of books I would recommend reading. But the most important way to learn is to play. If you want to go to the World Series next year then play tourneys, if you want to clean up in the side games then play side games a lot. Of all the books I’ve read two immediately come to mind. Cloutier and McEvoy’s Championship Pot-Limit and No-Limit Hold ’em book is great if you want to play big-time poker. Zen and the Art of poker by Larry Phillips is great too for different reasons. It really helped me not lose my cool every time I got outdrawn. I can’t emphasize enough how much those two books mean to me.
PokerLizard: What influenced you to start playing poker? Where/how did you hone your skills?
Matt: I got invited to a little home game when I was at school at Southwestern University. A couple of my fraternity brothers had started a $.05/$.10 no limit hold ’em game and that’s how I got hooked. I was always drawn to the World Series and at that time I had been watching Robert Varkoni win it all. It seemed easy so I thought I’d give it a shot. Pretty soon we started getting really competitive and bumping the stakes a bit. There are tons of young players who started out just like me who are going to be a force to be reckoned with in the poker world.
PokerLizard: Since we’re both from Houston, I’ve noticed you are still playing in some of the local games? Do you just love poker or is it like shooting fish in a barrel after the WSOP?
Matt: I like to play so it’s neat to go back to the local games and have people congratulate me. It is hard to take some of the smaller games as serious as I used to but I can be a little more agressive now .
PokerLizard: You also recently competed in the World Poker Championships Pot Limit event in Dublin courtesy of Pokerstars.com where you finished in the money again against an unbelievably difficult field of high profile players. What were your impressions of Europe? What are the differences between playing World Class Pot Limit vs No Limit? Any interesting hands you care to comment about?
Matt: That was a great experience for me. The casino was about the size of my townhouse which is quite a shock right after coming home from Vegas. But there were less players and a cozy feel. The format of the event was very different – you only play one of the first four days of the tournament but it allowed me to meet a lot more people. It was great to see some big name Americans as well as big-name Europeans. I absolutely loved it. Pot limit is interesting because you can call with suited connectors a bit more. It’s slightly harder to drive people out of a pot. In fact the last hand I played I raised with KK and got called by 97 suited. I checked the 579 flop and was pleased when my opponent bet the pot. My pot-raise put me all in and he happily called. No help came and I finished 13th.
PokerLizard: If you were Matt Damon in “Rounders” how long would it have taken you to kick your girlfriend to the curb and get with Famke Janssen?
Matt: Great question! My friends and I don’t understand why Damon doesn’t try to work it with Famke Janssen when she’s all over him. Maybe they’ll discuss that in detail when the Special Edition DVD comes out. This question hits a little too close to home though because my ex-girlfriend was not a big fan of poker. We broke up for unrelated reasons though. Also, I went to law school for a semester and dropped out and ended up in the World Series. Not exactly Mike McD but it’s kind of scary. (PokerLizard note: That is kind of scary)
PokerLizard: Any plans to turn pro?
Matt: I hope to play some more tournaments this year but I don’t know if it’s going to happen for sure. I’m pretty happy with my finish in the World Series and I’m not eager to run though my $675K. I am going to substitute teach this year so my schedule will be flexible if anything comes up.
PokerLizard: How often do you play? What % live vs online?
Matt: Just like everyone else probably, I get frustrated and take breaks, then the next week I play 80 hours. But I honestly don’t play that much anymore. I probably play 60% of the time online because it’s so much easier chilling in your boxers with a pizza pocket.
PokerLizard: Do you have any style differences when playing online vs live?
Matt: I end up calling more online because the players are crazy. Live I think I play better because I take a lot longer with my decisions. Online I’m usually playing 4 tables at a time and not really thinking all that much.
PokerLizard: Are you playing in any upcoming tourneys?
Matt: Not that I know of. Hopefully, I’ll get to play some more this year but for right now I’m happy just to take it easy for a while.
PokerLizard: Any tips for players just starting out?
Matt: Play as much as you can. Last summer I played online about 10 hours a day. When I wasn’t playing poker I was watching and when I wasn’t watching I was talking about it. I lived with a buddy of mine who loves poker as much as I do and that really helps. Talking about different strategies and how to play different hands improved both of our games dramatically.
PokerLizard: Thanks for the interview. Congratulations on your
Matt: Thanks to you. I hope to see you at the tables!
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