Matt Matros, 33, is a respected poker pro based out of Brooklyn, New York. He has had a number of significant live tournament finishes, most notably placing third in the 2004 World Poker Tour Championship event for over $700,000, with total live tournament earnings of nearly $1.5 million. His main game of focus is Limit Holdem where he plays extensively online and live since 1999. That Limit experience paid of dividends at this year's World Series of Poker as Matt realized one of his major dreams and took down a WSOP bracelet in a Limit Holdem event #12 for $189,870. Just a few days later, he final tabled another WSOP Limit event! Matt graduated from Yale university with a mathematics degree and has considerable writing aspirations which prompted Poker Curious to pick his brain.
Tell us a little about your background and how you became involved in poker.
I learned to play poker as a kid, in family games. I then played a lot with high school buddies on kitchen tables during the weekends. But I only started taking the game seriously during my senior year of college, after I read my first poker book. I've been studying the game and taking it more and more seriously ever since--going on 11.5 years now.
You are generally known as a Limit Hold'em specialist. Can you tell us why you decided to steer away from no limit and what advantages / disadvantages that allows you?
I wouldn't say I've steered away from NLHE--it's basically impossible to do that in this poker environment. But when I learned to play poker, Limit games were the only cash games around. The same was true of the early days of internet poker. My first big score was in a brick-and-mortar NLHE tournament, but my first steady stream of cash-game success came through grinding out hands of LHE online. I've done well in both disciplines, but I think one thing that distinguishes me is that I actually enjoy playing LHE. The adrenaline rush of NLHE wore off for me a long time ago, and I really enjoy the LHE thought processes of deciding when to value-bet, value-raise, bluff, call down, etc.
While LHE is obviously your main game, you have also had some considerable NLHE success. You final tabled the WPT Championship tournament in season 2 and faced off against some very stiff competition, such as Martin De Knijff (the eventual winner) and Hasan Habib. Can you tell us a little about that experience? How did it feel to play in such a prestigious tournament with so much money on the line?
The experience was basically too big for me at that time in my life. I had a (low) five-figure bankroll, and I stupidly didn't sell off any pieces of myself after I won a seat to the $25,000 buy-in event via a series of satellites (that is, I had to win a smaller satellite just to get to the main satellite). I then found myself in the final three, with a $700,000 pay jump between third and second, cameras and talking heads everywhere, and I was absolutely incapable of properly focusing in those conditions. I won $706,903, which was obviously life-changing for me then, and remains my biggest monetary victory now, but I didn't play anywhere near my best poker at that final table. I thought I played pretty well for the first four days of the tournament, though.
You have also had some fantastic performances at the World Series of Poker. So far this year, you took down your first bracelet and also final tabled another tournament just a few days later! Can you tell us about the series so far? What does the bracelet mean to you? Is there another one on the horizon?
I've had an extremely fortunate start to this year's WSOP--you can't win a LHE tournament, or really any tournament, without having a little luck on your side. But I like to think I've earned this good fortune to some degree by putting in my time in WSOPs past. Coming in to this year I had played 56 career WSOP events with 14 cashes and an ROI of 97%. Obviously that's not a huge sample size. Both the cash rate and ROI are likely unsustainable long-term, which means I've run good in WSOP events overall. Still, I think I've played well enough over the years that I deserved to get lucky and win a bracelet at some point. It had been my dream to win a bracelet for a long time, and I think it makes my playing resume a lot more complete now. As for whether I'll win another one--that's mostly up to the poker gods, but I don't play a ton of events, so the odds are a little stacked against me.
In terms of coming up through the poker ranks is there any advice you could offer to novice players looking to take their games to the next levels?
Take the study of the game seriously. Find poker players whom you respect, or even just other new players who are serious about learning, to discuss the game with. At the same time, don't beat yourself up. It's extremely difficult to play this game well, and it's not going to be an easy ride, especially in 2010. Don't rely on poker for your living expenses until you've gone through at least one significant downswing and then recovered.
How do you handle the inherent adversity anyone faces in poker; such as big downswings?
Downswings can be great opportunities to analyze your game and do minor tweaks, or even a major overhaul if necessary. It's so easy when things are going well to just assume that you're making the right play all the time, when in fact a good run is mostly the result of good luck. A bad run is mostly the result of bad luck, but more players are willing to pick apart their games and find some leaks when things aren't going well. That said, I make a point not to throw out everything I've learned just because I'm running bad. In other words, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. Finally, having a happy and stable personal life can make downswings a million times easier to deal with. I took the red eye home after my last final table to celebrate my one-year anniversary.
You are an instructor at CardRunners.com training community. Do you think it is important to have people you can discuss hands and strategy with on an ongoing basis? Did this type of analysis help you on your poker journey?
Absolutely. Online training sites like CardRunners.com are fantastic tools for the aspiring poker professional. Just to know there is a community of players out there who are also thinking about the game critically, and a community of coaches willing to share their secrets, it's really an incredible opportunity for players of any skill level.
What do you like to do when not playing poker?
Creative writing is my passion. I've published very little of it (just one story in a small college journal you'll never find), but I'm working on it all the time. Right now I'm writing a novel about college students. I think college is rarely portrayed accurately, and I think it's a formative time in people's lives, or at least it can be. I also enjoy sports and film. I even made a short film last summer that I hope to see in a festival somewhere by the end of the year.
How would you describe the differences and nuances of limit poker? What is it that makes the game so different to it's counterpart, no limit holdem. What skills do you think are necessary to be a successful high stakes limit player?
Limit poker is mostly about extracting value. The most common mistakes I see LHE players make is that they check too often when they should be value betting, and they fold too often when they should be calling down. Either of these leaks can lead to major problems in one's LHE results. Bluffing has its place in LHE (to take advantage of the people folding too much, for starters), but it's a much bigger part of NLHE. Naked aggression can be highly valuable in NLHE, whereas in LHE it will get you killed.
Who, in your opinion, are the best limit players in the world? Are there any players in particular that you do not want to see at your cash or tournament tables?
I haven't played with some of the great high stakes players, but two of the best also happen to be friends of mine--Matt Hawrilenko and Terrence Chan. Terrence, of course, was the chip leader for most of the tournament I won. He ended up finishing third, but he caused me major problems the entire time. I'd just as soon avoid him at any future final tables I happen to reach.
We are a big fan of your poker book 'The Making of a Poker Player'. It gave great insight into the world of professional poker back when it was just beginning to become really popular. Do you think you will write another in the future?
I'm glad you liked my book. I'm not sure what the market is for new poker narratives anymore, and I don't think I want to sit down and write a strategy book. I'm really trying to focus on my fiction writing right now. The game has changed a ton in the five years since "The Making of a Poker Player" came out. If it changes as much in the next five years, I can't even imagine what the poker landscape will look like.
In regards to bankroll management is there any advice you would offer to novice players that allows them to grow without risk of ruin but still give themselves opportunities for big scores? Do you think there is a lot of value in thing such as satelliting into larger events etc?
Satellites are a great way to get experience against tough players at a relatively cheap cost. They are not necessarily good investments in the short-term (if you satellite into an event for which you're negative-EV, you haven't really won much), but they can be great long-term investments if they help you improve as a player. The best way to grow bankroll is to be a winning cash game player and grind it out. The best way to do this without losing your mind is, in my opinion, to supplement your cash games with tournament entries that are well within your budget. This approach keeps things fresh, and opens you up to a lot more upside if you ever hit something.
What are you future plans in and outside of poker?
In poker, my goals are to continue to improve as a player, and allow myself to enter more tournaments (PLO, Mixed Games, etc.) and actually be plus-EV in them. Outside of poker, my most immediate goal is to finish my novel, even if it ends up being no good.
Any wild stories to tell of your life in poker?
Oh man, my personal life is pretty boring, my wife and I have been together for almost seven years now.
I guess it's sort of cool that I had $100 on the Tampa Bay Rays at 150-1 to win the World Series back in 2008. They got to the World Series, and even though I had just won six figures in the Niagara WPT event, I was way more excited about sweating the Rays. They ended up losing, but I hedged out a little to turn a small profit. Sweating a long shot sports bet is way more fun than grinding out a poker tournament.
What are the best and worst things about being a professional poker player?
The best thing is making your own hours and setting your own schedule, and that you can (eventually) get away with working fewer hours than a lot of other people and still make a decent living. The worst things are the downswings, and the travel (if you're going to do the circuit).
What one piece of life advice would you offer to others that you think is important to long term success in life?
Do what you love. Do it well, and the money will follow.
What is your favorite fun poker phrase/slang/acronym?
Bet the river.
If the poker industry disappeared completely, what other career would you most like to attempt?
I would probably stay in the business of analyzing risk and reward, and try to make a career in finance.
If you were on death row, what would be your last meal?
A Chipotle burrito.
When your poker career is over, what would you most like to be remembered for?
I would like to be thought of as a very strong player, but an even better poker teacher and communicator, and as a friendly and engaging professional whom my competitors wanted to root for so long as I wasn't going against them.