Thursday, June 14, 2012

Matros Exceeds Expectations

Matros Exceeds ExpectationsWas listening yesterday to this week’s Two Plus Two Pokercast with Mike Johnson and Adam Schwartz, on which poker pro and author Matt Matros was one of the guests.

Matros recently won his third WSOP bracelet in three years in Event No. 16, the $1,500 short-handed no-limit hold’em event. He won his first in 2010 in a $1,500 NLHE event, then his second last year in the $2,500 mixed hold’em event.

I remember meeting Matros last summer and chatting with him briefly. He’s been one of those pros I’d felt like I knew even before meeting him, thanks both to his Card Player columns and his 2005 book The Making of a Poker Player.

It was right around the start of the Main Event -- just a couple of days after he’d won his second bracelet, I believe -- when we met. I jokingly said something to him about his WSOP “going okay” so far and I remember sharing a laugh over the understatement.

I also recall telling him I appreciated the column he had written just after Black Friday for The Washington Post, “After the Dept. of Justice shuts down online poker, a poker pro defends his game.” I wrote a little about that piece at the time in a post titled “Moving Forward (Not Starting Over).”

There Matros thoughtfully discussed the huge change in his life the sudden shutdown of the online game was going to mean for him. He also took the opportunity in the column to provide a argument in favor of poker as a pursuit that “teaches life skills.”

“The best players use logic, discipline, psychology, mathematics and personality to turn themselves into professionals,” Matros explained. He concluded the piece talking about a desire to work on a novel, something he thought may perhaps have more time to work on with online poker no longer available.

“I don’t know that what I’m writing is any good,” writes Matros. “But thanks to poker, I’m doing what I want to be doing. Isn’t that the American dream?”

It’s a persuasive column, perhaps made more so by that note of humility Matros includes with regard to himself and his own abilities as a writer and a poker player -- a couple of areas where he’s clearly gifted.

Matt Matros after winning his third WSOP bracelet in three yearsMatros was also humble after winning that third bracelet last week. On the podcast, Johnson brought up how Matros is now 50% as far as final tables go at the WSOP, having made six of them and won bracelets three times. Johnson also noted how Matros had been quoted saying he actually felt guilty about winning a third one in three years. “You didn’t feel guilty, come on,” chided Johnson with a chuckle.

“You don’t have to believe it if you don’t want,” responded Matros, who said he really did feel “a little bit guilty.” He then explained.

“I mean, you’re running so many sigmas [standard deviations] outside of what you would expect in terms of your normal course of results,” he said. “I think a really good player would win, I don’t know, a half or 0.6 or 0.7 bracelets if they are playing the kind of schedule that I play. And I’ve been lucky enough to win three in three years.”

What he’s saying makes perfect sense. One only has to look at the conspicuous example of Phil Ivey, who this summer has made three final tables already without yet grabbing for himself another bracelet.

“I don’t feel like what I have done is deserving of the financial rewards that have come with it,” said Matros. “So in that sense I do feel guilty.” He then went on to joke about unscrupulous, incompetent Wall Street hedge fund managers making millions and how thinking of them makes him feel less guilty about the rewards he’s earned.

You might say Matros’ attitude and understanding of his own abilities and the reality of tournament poker demonstrates a lot about his own “logic, discipline, psychology, mathematics and personality” -- those areas he identified as significant to the game itself.

And you gotta like his modesty, too. You might say such an attitude (and perspective) probably places him a few sigmas outside what you expect to find in poker.

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