Never heard of Matt Matros? You soon will. He’s written a book, “The Making of a Poker Player” about his growth into a poker pro, won over $700,000 in the World Poker Tour Championship, and has cashed in four other major “brick and mortar” and several major online tourneys in 2004. PokerLizard.com sat down with Matt to discuss life as a pro and his approach to the game.
PokerLizard: How did you first get interested in poker? How long have you been playing serious poker?
Matt: I started playing poker as a kid. My dad was and is really into the game, and he introduced me to it back in the day. I started playing the game seriously in the fall of 1998, my senior year of college.
PokerLizard: What one thing has helped your poker the most (book/mentor etc…)?
Matt: Discussing the game with my mentor, Russell Rosenblum, has been the single biggest help to my game. But it is important to take in the game from different sources (various books, many other players, your own experiences at the felt) and not rely too heavy on any one opinion. Basically, you need to understand the logic behind what you’re doing, and keep an open mind about reevaluating that logic.
PokerLizard: You have a new book coming out called, “The Making of a Poker Player”, what is the book like? when is itcoming out? and who would most benefit from the book?
Matt: The book is poker strategy told through my experiences learning the game, starting with my kitchen table games in high school, all the way up to the World Poker Tour Championship. The book is written for players of all skill levels. If you’ve never played poker before, you can start from the beginning and learn everything you need to take the game seriously. If you already take the game seriously, there are chapters on game theory, analysis, heads-up strategy, and championship-level play that I hope should be interesting to even the most seasoned professional. The book comes out in April. You can preorder it now on amazon.com.
PokerLizard:You recently finished 3 rd in the WPT championships winning over $700k in the process. What was it like seeing yourself on TV? How did you react to finally getting to see the pocket cards of your competitors? What did you learn from the experience both during and after the tourney?
Matt: I thought I looked OK on TV, at least not significantly worse than I look in real life. Seeing the hole cards was interesting. It turns out that, if you play the results, I made a good fold against Ricky and a bad fold against Martin (each time I had a small pair and wasn’t sure where my opponent was at). But you can’t play results, and it doesn’t really matter that much what my opponents happened to hold during those hands. All that matters is making the right decision given the information you have.
I learned two important things from the tournament. 1) I’m good enough to compete with just about anyone playing tournament poker today. 2) It’s very important to tune out all the hoopla of the final table. If any part of your brain is focused on something other than poker at that last stage, you’re giving up way too much to your opponents.
PokerLizard: Were you more nervous playing that final table since it was under the “bright lights”?
Matt: I was distracted by the “bright lights”—Vince and Mike’s and Shana’s voices in the background, Linda Johnson describing the flops over the microphone, the WPT producers coming out to the table and telling us to talk more and be better TV. But I wasn’t nervous about those things. I was nervous about the 2.5 million dollar difference between sixth and first.
PokerLizard: The viewers at home never get to see the true structure of the WPT tournaments, what are they like?
Matt: The structures are great. The WPT Championship in particular is phenomenal. Players start with 50,000 in chips with blinds of only 50 and 100. This gives a ton of play, and really puts a premium on skill. Most other WPT events don’t give quite as much play, but still, the industry standard for a $10,000 buy-in tournament is becoming 20,000 starting chips with blinds of 50 and 100.
PokerLizard: Do you ever get recognized on the street due to your final table appearance?
Matt: No, but I get recognized by strangers in card rooms all the time.
PokerLizard: Your name has come up on several occasions on Page 2 of ESPN.com in the Jay Lovinger (Jackpot Jay) column as a teacher/mentor to Jay, How did you get involved with Jay’s project? How have you tried to help Jay’s game?
Matt: Jay and I met at Foxwoods, during FARGO 2004 (www.fargopoker.com ), an annual gathering of poker aficionados. My father is also a FARGOer, and it turns out he and Jay went to college together. That got us talking, and Jay decided to take me on as a poker coach. To get Jay going, I gave him a poker quiz, and based on his answers I started working on some of the strategic concepts I felt were lacking in his game. I suggested a pretty different style for Jay than he’d been used to playing, so naturally there have been some growing pains in his evolution to an aggressive player. But I’m confident Jay will get there, he’s a very smart guy who understands the principles behind my suggested approach.
PokerLizard: Is it safe to say your style is more of an analytical approach to the game versus an intuitive approach? If so, can you give an example of your thought process for a typical hand and how it goes beyond the standard “pot odds” calculations? (note: I think this would be good to show the average player how much they should be thinking about in a hand versus only knowing the pot odds etc…)
Matt: Here’s the thing: every approach to the game (or at least, every winning approach to the game) is an analytical one. Even a player who makes a very specific read on his opponent every single hand is analyzing body language, or verbal cues, or maybe even something they can’t describe about the player’s demeanor. The point is, the good player does some analysis of the situation, whatever that analysis may be, and makes his own play accordingly. Now, it’s probably true that I value factors like pot size, and “what range of hands do I play similarly?” more than a typical player. But my intuitive read of my opponent’s holding is certainly a major factor in my decision of how to play a hand.
Example of different poker thinking: In the $10,000 buy-in Harrah’s WSOP Circuit event, a good-solid player opened in early position for 700 (with blinds of 100-200). I called in late position with two sevens. The flop came down 456 and the good player led out for 1300. He had about 6000 left after his bet. I started thinking. I wasn’t thinking about whether I had the best hand. I can’t justify calling a preflop raise with 77, and then not raising on a flop of 456. It’s imperative that one’s strategy is consistent from street to street. So I was only thinking about how much to raise. Now, some players might say I have to move all-in here, because any smaller raise pot-commits me anyway. There’s nothing wrong with this thinking, and moving in is certainly reasonable, and possibly even the best choice. But the question is, will I ever raise with a hand here where I am not pot-committed to a reraise? And that’s what I was thinking about as I sat at the table—not what my opponent had, or how I could best get him to fold. Because if I want to ever bluff in this situation by raising to 3000, giving myself a chance to get away from the hand, then I have to at least sometimes make it 3000 with hands I won’t be folding to a reraise. Otherwise my opponent would know exactly what my raise to 3000 meant. I decided to do the raise to 3000. By making that play, I reserved the right to also do it with something like KQs, and not have my opponent exploit me by “knowing” I would fold to a reraise. My opponent moved in and I called instantly. He had aces. I got lucky and turned an eight, knocking him out. But this example of thinking beyond pot odds would’ve been valid no matter what the result.
PokerLizard: After getting a BS degree in Mathematics from Yale and working a few years in the corporate world, what was the catalyst behind your decision to become a pro poker player and author? What was your family’s reaction to your decision? What do you find attractive in the poker lifestyle?
Matt: It was a very gradual process. I decided to leave my job to pursue a graduate degree in fiction writing. This was a tough decision on me financially, and I pretty much had to play poker regularly while in grad school to do things like pay my credit card bill. After a year of grad school, I decided to play poker full-time during the summer before my second year of grad school. At the same time, I was writing “The Making of a Poker Player.” The summer of 2003 was an all-poker all-the-time experience. I made a lot more than I thought I would that summer, and I continued to run good during my second year of grad school. By February 2004, I had pretty much decided that when I got my degree in May, I would make the bulk of my income by playing poker, and try to supplement that income with my writing. This became a whole lot easier in April when I won $706,903 at the Bellagio.
My parents are very supportive of what I do. They just want me to be happy. Their only concern is that poker is a very emotional game, and it can really get to a player sometimes.
The best part about the poker lifestyle is that I’m my own boss and I make my own hours.
PokerLizard: Do you play online often and if so, does your style change at all from live games?
Matt: Yes, I play online often. Players online tend to be more aggressive than their brick-and-mortar counterparts. Also, the skill level online is generally higher than it would be at a similar limit in a brick-and-mortar game. I take these things into account, and adjust accordingly.
PokerLizard:What is your favorite game/type of poker to play (tournaments vs ring, holdem vs Omaha etc..) and why?
Matt: I’d say my favorite is shorthanded Limit Hold ‘Em ring games, followed closely by No Limit Hold ‘Em tournaments. I love shorthanded Limit because I get to play a ton of hands and play them very aggressively. I have dozens of meaningful decisions to make per hour, and that makes the game a lot of fun. I love NLHE because the thinking at the table usually goes a lot deeper than in Limit, and playing No Limit gives me a much bigger adrenaline rush than any other form of poker by far.
PokerLizard: What are your poker goals for this year?
Matt: I want to earn a decent salary, while continually improving my game.
PokerLizard: If you had advice to give to an aspiring pro, what would it be?
Matt: Don’t jump right into it. Have a “real job” first. Experience a losing streak first. When you finally think you’re ready, wait some more. These days, you have a great chance to make a ton of money even as a recreational player. If and when you decide to become a poker professional, make sure you have some other source of income. You’ll be grateful you do when the losing streaks arrive.
Obligatory PokerLizard Question: 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: About two seconds. That Gretchen Mol character is one of the most unlikable in movie history. But then even after Gretchen leaves him, Matt Damon throws Famke out of his apartment. That makes no sense whatsoever, and even screenwriter Brian Koppelman has since admitted it’s unrealistic.
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