Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Check-Raising the Devil by Mike Matusow, with Amy Calistri and Tim Lavalli

'Check-Raising the Devil' by Mike Matusow, with Tim Lavalli and Amy CalistriThis week Mike Matusow’s autobiography, titled Check-Raising the Devil, finally hits the shelves -- both virtual and actual. If you didn’t know it already, two of our friends, Amy Calistri and Tim Lavalli, helped Matusow write the book, which tells the story of his rise and fall. And rise and fall and rise and fall. And rise.

Starts in the early 1990s with Matusow in his early twenties playing video poker and living in a trailer, then eventually moves through his becoming a poker pro and winning three WSOP bracelets and over $7 million in tourney earnings. Along the way, Matusow describes in detail his period of drug use and self-destructive behavior during the early part of this decade, his getting clean and properly diagnosed as suffering from both bipolar disorder and ADHD, his arrest for drug trafficking and six-month jail term, and his triumphant return to poker as well as to a more balanced existence.

I’ve had the chance to read Check-Raising the Devil and can say without hesitation that it is a compelling story, very well presented. It most certainly does not lionize Matusow, and in fact most often brings him down to our level (or below) in its bald confessions of the author’s many limitiations -- some involuntarily imposed on Matusow (e.g., his disorders, other psychological issues), others brought on himself (e.g., the drug use, his ruinous sports betting). Actually, it isn’t always simple to sort through where Matusow’s culpability begins and ends, but on the whole the book doesn’t do too much passing of the buck. This is a man owning up to everything -- the good and the bad.

So Check-Raising is a very interesting character study, and since he’s a character most of us already know at least a little bit about (probably more than a little), the book is all the more intriguing.

The book also provides a nifty overview of the last ten years or so of poker from the point of view of a professional player who was there for just about every major happening -- both live and online. There’s much about the WSOP in there, as well as other major tourneys. There’s some chronicling of the online scene, too, including Matusow’s getting cheated by Russ Hamilton over at UltimateBet. (No punches pulled there.)

All of which is to say, there’s a lot to recommend here for both casual fans and hardcore players. Matusow’s life to this point has been full of extremes, although there’s a lot in his story to which most of us can relate, including the highs and lows caused by poker itself. Even if we haven’t experienced the euphoric triumphs and soul-crushing defeats to the degree Matusow has, we all know what he’s talking about.

I also want particularly to recommend what I perceive to be the contribution of our friends, Amy and Tim. This is an especially well written and well presented book (better than yr average poker text, and I’ve read a bunch), and we’ve got to believe Amy and Tim had a lot to do with that being the case.

When you start a blog, then keep at it for a while, it doesn’t take too long to become aware of this here nifty community of blogs, forums, podcasts, and other interwebby connections via which people with similar interests interact. And while there are tons of poker blogs, forums, podcasts, and now Twitter pages and so forth, the community is nevertheless still relatively small, especially compared to some other ones out there. So if you keep writing -- and, importantly, keep reading -- you are gonna find these folks eventually, I’d think.

Amy CalistriIt was probably just a few months after I began writing Hard-Boiled Poker that I became aware of Amy Calistri’s blog, Aimlessly Chasing Amy. I’m pretty sure it was via Iggy that I did. There was a good long stretch there during which we all routinely found each other through Iggy’s “uberposts.” Soon after that I was listening to Amy when she co-hosted Keep Flopping Aces with Lou Krieger. She gave that gig up about a year ago, I believe, somewhere around the time she also went back into the “real” world of business and scaled back her work with poker media.

Tim LavalliFound Tim Lavalli not too longer after that, if I remember correctly. Probably was those series of investigative articles he wrote with Calistri about the extra two million chips that mysteriously showed up during the latter stages of the 2006 World Series of Poker Main Event, titled “Two Million Questions: Will Poker Answer?” That series began in September 2006 (if yr interested, click here for part one). Somewhere around there I started reading Lavalli’s “Poker Shrink” articles (which he began in 2006) as well as his personal blog.

Ended up meeting Tim last summer near the end of the WSOP. Didn’t get the chance to meet Amy, who after several years in a row at the WSOP didn’t make the 2008 one. Am hopeful to see both this time around to congratulate them on having made it through the several-years-long journey that got them to the book’s publication this week.

I’ll also thank them, because while Matusow’s story is itself somewhat inspiring, as a writer I’m also inspired by seeing Tim and Amy -- two of “us” -- realize this terrific achievement and get themselves “into print.” Am looking forward to seeing others in the blogging community make that move as well one day. And those that do, I assume, probably will have been inspired somewhat by Tim and Amy, too.

(By the way, if you are interested in hearing more about the book and how it was written, tune into to Keep Flopping Aces this Thursday [5/14] where Matusow, Lavalli, and possibly Calistri will be Lou Krieger’s guests.)

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Blogger For End Times Network said...

Tore through my pre-ordered hardcover the same day I got it. I agree it was great for its brute honesty and Tim was able to add some great psychological insight. It was a fun read on a vicarious level, but not a particularly well-told story. For the most part it read like an interview transcript, I would have liked to see them weave the story a bit better. One minute he's winning $400K the next he's depressed and there's not much in the way of narrative scaffolding to hold it together. Of course, Mike's story, just like variance, its one swing after another, so the OK writing/editing doesn't distract form the conveyance of that bipolar feeling. You can't put it up against Fifth Street and it's maybe a rung below The Professor the Banker, etc. I'd put it in the pulp category (which may be why you enjoyed it so much) like Gus Hansen's book, which can be read in an instant but doesn't really tell a story so much as recount events. I do appreciate Amy & Tim's hard work and Matusow's willingness to share the story of his amazing life. Good call Shamus!

5/13/2009 7:38 PM  

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