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.
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PokerLizard: How did you first get interested
in poker? How long have you been playing serious
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
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
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
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
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
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
PokerLizard: What are your poker goals for this
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
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.
You can read more about Matt and see an excerpt
from his book at www.MattMatros.com
Update: Matt is now a contributing writer for
the magazine CardPlayer.
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