Childhood and early years
Michael has always been interested in various things since he has been small: the more competition and the more rivalry he could find in a thing, the more he fell for it. Regardless of whether he was constructing racing cars, playing pool or going out for a bowl, Mike Matusow was always longing for competition.
At first Mike tried to work as a car mechanic, but soon quit the job in order to work in his family’s furniture business. He never attended college.
Mike made his first experiences with poker as a teenager, after a friend had told him about video poker. He won $ 85 on his first night. From then on he played until he got repetitive strain injury in his arms and shoulders. With this new addiction of his, he often ran out of money and had no scruples to pinch some out of his mum’s purse if necessary. When he reached the point of no return and realized he could not live without poker anymore, he turned to Gamblers Anonymous. This was a one-time occasion, though.
A poker natural
At the age of 18 Mike Matusow began to work as a dealer at “Sam’s Town Hotel and Gambling Hall” in Las Vegas. In the year 1989 Steve Samaroff, who was one of his dealing colleagues and a more experienced poker player, showed him how to play Texas Hold’em. Steve constantly supported him and even paid Mike’s entrance fees for tournaments, even after Mike had lost all his winnings on sports bets and in the casino. Mike believes this is the reason why he himself now would financially help out other colleagues at any time. He knows he would never have had a chance to continue as a professional player, if his friend had not supported him.
In the evenings, after finishing work at Sam’s, he started to take part in poker tournaments, which were carried out in that same hotel. At this point he was already determined he would become a poker professional. Even though he loved the game, he never really won much. As he started to get better, he eventually realized that he could earn more money playing poker than at his regular job. He quit the job and started to seriously optimize his poker skills.
Looking back, Mike recalls: “When I was about 21, I was pretty much a lost soul without knowing what I wanted to do. I wasn’t much good at anything till I got into poker. I was an absolute genius at it and maybe one of the only things at which I’m really good at in life. I tell people all the time, I’m not really the smartest guy around but I’ve got a great mind for poker and I’m very happy with the gift that god has given me, the gift for playing poker. I’m the type of guy who struggled with self confidence growing up. A lot of times I felt my esteem level was real low and poker brought me to a higher self esteem level because I was so good at it. It made me a better person.”
In the early 1990s Mike started to observe other poker players and their techniques. Soon his game got better and he joined a small, local poker tournament, which he won. Flattered by this victory, he began to attend small tournaments on a regular basis and won enough money to fill up his bank account and gain some self esteem. Mike decided to take the next step and used his savings to enter cash-games all around Las Vegas. He specialized on Omaha Hi Lo, at which he excelled very quickly. Up until today Mike Matusow is said to be one of the best Omaha Hi Lo players in the world.
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In the year 1997 Mike Matusow took part in the World Series of Poker for the first time. He came second behind Scotty Nguyen in Omaha 8/b.
At the World Series of Poker in 1998 Mike paid one-third of Scotty Nguyen’s entrance fee in the $ 10,000 no-limit Texas Hold’em main event. Because Nguyen won the tournament, he gave $ 333,333 to Matusow in return.
One year later, Mike won his first WSOP Bracelet playing the $ 3,500 buy in no-limit Hold’em tournament.
At the 2001 WSOP he managed to reach the final table in the main event for the first time and finally finished in sixth place at the $ 1,000 no-limit Texas Hold’em tournament.
Another year later he won his second Golden Bracelet at the WSOP $ 5,000 buy in Omaha 8/b tournament.
Because Mike Matusow is never satisfied with his game, he constantly tries to improve his skills and therefore always turns out to be one of the best players on the table – no matter where he plays. He is considered to be one of the best Omaha players in the world.
Mike's private life started to change in the year 2000, when he felt more and more depressed even though he was one of the most successful players around. Encouraged by his girlfriend at the time, a Puerto Rican strip dancer, he tried drugs at a party in the “Club Rio” nightclub in Las Vegas. His ecstasy intake became regular in no time, which kept him from playing poker for months. No matter whose party, Mike was always welcome – primarily because he was generous enough to supply most of the other guests with drugs as well. Later he also started using cocaine and, at the same time, he returned to the poker table. It did not take long until he had a fixed schedule throughout the week: partying from Friday to Monday and playing poker Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays...
After only one year of this very “intense” life, he began to notice the consequences. Mike was unable to read his opponents anymore and was unable to concentrate on anything. Today he says:
“Drugs ate away my brain and I couldn’t play. Try being a poker player, going to the table and having your talent gone.”
At the 2001 WSOP Matusow managed to reach the final table in the main event and came sixth in the end, which was still worth $ 239,765. Nevertheless he gradually started to worry about his poker career.
It was at this point that his girlfriend suggested trying some speed, because it would not have any effects on his game and it is said that it keeps poker players awake and concentrated. So from then on it became his favourite drug and he was so happy with the change, that in an interview he once claimed that it was only thanks to speed he had reached the final table at the WSOP 2001.
In September 2002 Mike invited about 30 of his best friends to a party at Palms Casino. Because he was giving out drugs for free, he defrayed the expense by charging $ 250 per person. One of his guests was a man called Mike Fento, who of course was given ecstasy pills as well. Fento soon left the party again, but from then on he was a permanent presence in Mike’s life: He treated him to dinners, went out to the cinema with him and listened when Mike “the Mouth” got upset about something. Fento also seemed to open up towards Mike and told him he was involved in organized crime and was going to move to Las Vegas to open a strip club. He also mentioned that the criminal organization was looking for ways to launder money and offered Matusow $ 6,000 for every $ 10,000 he could launder. At first Mike refused because he had never been involved in money laundering before.
After a while, Fento asked Mike to organize drugs for his friends and Mike agreed and did his best to keep his promise.
Mike Matusow was clean between May and September 2003, because once again he felt unable to play poker. Fento helped his “protégée” to get off drugs and Mike felt a changed man.
While Mike was playing a tournament in Borgata in Atlantic City, he got a phone call from a Las Vegas dealer, who shouted at him: “You introduced me to a f...ing DEA agent. Mike Fento’s a narc. Don’t ever call me again.”
Matusow could not believe what he was hearing and called a supposed friend of Fento’s, who denied all accusations. Mike then got back on the phone to his dealer again, who further told him that two DEA agents had searched his house after they had received information from Fento. Mike completely underestimated the situation and did not really bother - believing Fento knew he was not a drug dealer.
Jail term and comeback
On September 25, 2003 at about half past nine in the morning, Mike Matusow was taken into custody and was charged with selling and trafficking controlled substances like cocaine and ecstasy. Even as he was being arrested, he still believed it was just a terrible misunderstanding.
The police offered Matusow to carry a wire to get into the possession of solid evidence against another poker player and night club owner who was accused of being involved in drug business. Mike refused to cooperate with the police because he was too scared of the night club owner’s friends, who were part of the local organized crime scene. With the help of Mike’s attorney, David Chesnoff, Matusow was only charged with assault and managed to get away with 6 months in county jail.
While David Chesnoff was working on Mike’s case, he once described his client the following way: “Mike is naive for a guy who’s as smart as he is, [...] Mike’s got a big heart, and it’s what gets him in trouble.”
From September 2004 until April 2005 Mike did his time in the Clark County Jail in Las Vegas. While serving his sentence, his interest for sports bets arose again and he nearly lost all the prize money ($ 250,000) he had won at the World Poker Tour final table. Mike promised himself he would play poker even better after his release. When “The Mouth” finally left jail it was Phil Hellmuth who gave him the opportunity to start a new poker career by lending him $ 5,000. With this money Mike took part in a couple of tournaments in online pokercasinos such as Full Tilt Poker and won $ 750,000 in next to no time.
He lost most of the money again, so friends were now trying to keep him from playing online poker by taking away his keyboard and mouse.
In the 2005 World Series of Poker 5,619 players participated in the main event and Mike finished in ninth place.
Controversial behaviour at the poker table
Mike Matusow is famous in the poker scene for his bad judgement. His unfortunate habit of misinterpreting the situation just when he is about to win is commonly known as “Mike Matusow Blow-up” or “Mike Matusow Meltdown”. In a 2005 interview with “Card Player Magazine” he said that he was seeing a therapist now, who he hoped could help him avoid these “blackouts”. In the same interview he also mentioned that he was suffering from attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and was taking medication to keep it under control.
At the 2005 WSOP Mike Matusow gave the audience the opportunity to watch one of his famous “meltdowns”. He was accused of bad behaviour at the table by the dealer and the tournament director had to come and decide who was in the right. Because his opponents agreed with Mike that he had not done anything wrong, the tournament director only gave him a warning. Just a couple of seconds later Mike could not pull himself together anymore and – still angry about the accusation – used the F-word, which resulted in a ten minute penalty. Mike’s response to this was a solid “F... that” The tournament director added another ten minute penalty for the response and Mike replied: “F...ing great!” To cut a long story short: all in all his penalties summed up to forty minutes. The audience applauded as he left.
Mike himself does not believe he is unpopular at all: “I don’t really have a bad reputation; I just like to have fun. I’m here to make the sport, or whatever you want to call it, more enjoyable for people who watch it. People aren’t going to watch poker if eight people sit around the table absolutely quiet. People are looking for entertainment. [...] And I am just the way I am – I don’t change because of the cameras, like some people do. I just act like the idiot that I am, and say whatever I want, because I don’t give a shit what people think about me.”
Success in the "real" as well as the virtual poker world
Mike was invited to take part in the WSOP Tournament of Champions in November 2005 because of his fabulous achievement at the WSOP final table. The tournament he was invited to was a freeroll, which basically is a – usually promotional – tournament for which participants do not have to buy in and pay entrance fees for.
In this tournament, 114 of the world’s best poker players were fighting for $ 2,000,000 prize money. In this tournament, Mike probably played his best poker ever and became the first player up until this day to win $ 1,000,000 twice in one year. Besides many other players he beat Phil Hellmuth and Hoyt Corkins and earned himself the Tournament of Champions title.
A year later he returned to the final table of the Tournament of Champions and came third after winner Mike Sexton and runner-up Daniel Negreanu.
Mike does not appear to be a big fan of online poker players: “Online poker players are the worst poker players in the history of mankind. I play against really bad players who just give their money away. Guys put in $ 13,000, $ 14,000 when they can’t beat anything. Only online do you see that. That can never happen in a live game. I crush the no-limit online.”
Additionally he also has a part in the second season of High Stakes Poker and often appears in other broadcast poker events. In 2004 he entered the “Aruba Poker Classic” (part of the World Poker Tour) and special events like Bad Boys of Poker and Poker Superstars.
Mike Matusow can also get very emotional at times. This he proved at the WSOP 2004 when he started to cry after he had been eliminated. During the main event at the WSOP 2004 “The Mouth” was the most popular subject in ESPN’s sports broadcast. In his duel with Greg Raymer, who was to win the event, Mike verbally abused Greg so much that Raymer did not even want to shake hands after he had won. In an interview Mike then said, that it had all just been for the sake of the cameras:
“I did it for the cameras. I was having fun. He’s the only guy who was coming after me. So, I was talking a lot of s... to him.”
Mike just cannot shut up, hence the nickname The Mouth. He is famous for his trash-talk at the poker table and a lot of fans love him for it. Others – and his opponents – on the other hand think it is rather distracting. Mike believes his “verbal activity” helps him to stay mentally aware at the table. It also hides the fact that he is a very skilled player, who also plays risky hands and is able to eliminate his opponents if he is holding a reasonable hand.
Mike Matusow’s outbursts are legendary in the poker scene, so this could not be a proper article about Mike Matusow without one or two quotes:
“I think I’m probably the most well-liked person on the tour, I think most people love me, I mean I have a lot of fun with people. I needle them, but I needle them in a nice way.”
“There’s over 2,000 donkeys in this tournament and I had to be at the table with none of them.”
“I believe in my heart I’m one of the top five no-limit Hold’em players in the World. It’s the only thing I do good. I’m an idiot when it comes to anything else.”
Mike Matusow private
Today Mike lives in the Las Vegas suburb of Henderson. He owns a 350 m² house with a cathedral ceiling.
Since he has been to jail, Mike Matusow has changed a lot. He leads a much calmer life without drugs and believes that his prison sentence has changed his view on things completely. Now he says he knows how lucky he is.
On his MySpace profile Mike notes that – apart from playing poker – his hobbies are travelling and skiing. In an interview he also once mentioned that one of his (rather unusual?) hobbies is taking lots of hot tub spa baths. He seems a very curious kind of person: “I’ll pretty much try anything!”
Mike hates country music and his favourite films are “Shawshank Redemption”, “Rounders” and “Titanic”. He enjoys books by Dan Brown such as “Angels and Demon” and “The Da Vinci Code”. His heroes are the soldiers in Iraq, who he thinks are “extremely underpaid”.
Mike Matusow always wears a golden pendant on a necklace, which consists of two Hebrew letters spelling the word “chai” which means “living”.
There are many players on the poker scene who achieve a great reputation and also manage to win the audience’s favour. Some of them are successful due to their magnificent skills, others have had incredible victories. Even certain strange habits can make players unique and, therefore, well known. But there is only one man, who combines all of these features in one: Mike Matusow.
Mike has made more mistakes in his life than most other poker players, but for his fans he still is one of the leading personalities in any kind of tournament. He is a good poker player but also a terrific entertainer. He probably is one of the best players in the world and even when he is not right at the top he can make the quiet, serious world of poker more fun.
There is no doubt that Mike Matusow has truly established his alter ego “The Mouth” as a force to be reckoned with in the crazy world of poker.