Mike The Mouth shook off his troubles to set the World Series alight this year, playing the best poker of his life. Always candid, always funny, always
here's poker's Mr. Misunderstood on partying, prison, winning a million and just about everything else that comes into his mouth. Long live Mike Matusow!
Bluff: What did you do before poker, Mike?
Mike: I was a poker dealer first. I learned how to play poker in 1991 and was a dealer at Sam's Town from 1993-96. I ran my parents' business from the age of 18 to 23, which was a furniture and carpet business.
Bluff: (Taking a look around Mike's house) You've got to be kidding. You've got no furniture and no carpets!
Mike: I do have carpets; there's just a lot of marble. I've been playing poker professionally since 1996. I got into it through video poker, which I used to play a lot when I was, like, 21. This guy who used to sit next to me and play said to me one day, "Do you want me to teach you something so you'll never have to work again?" And I thought he was joking, but he taught me how to play Texas Hold'em. That was in 1991.
Bluff: So you've been around a while
Mike: Yeah, I remember in 1993 I played the same table as Johnny Moss -- $20/$40 at the Horseshoe -- with Minh Ly. Minh and I both started off at the same time, playing against Johnny Moss. He was nice to me, but jeez, was he was a mean bastard to the dealers, and Minh is just nuts.
Bluff: Who's this guy who was your mentor? Does he still play now?
Mike: His name is Phil Samaroff. He plays $20/$40 in town. I haven't seen him for a couple of years, but I assume he's still playing.
Bluff: Were you making any money playing video poker?
Mike: Nah, I was losing money. It's tough to win at video poker.
Bluff: What's your best game?
Mike: I'm considered the best Omaha Hi-Lo player in the world. And I believe I am! But as good as I am at Omaha, most people say that's not my best game; they say I'm better at no-limit hold'em. So I've got real good at a couple of games and, when I'm on my game, there's not many better than me. My biggest problem is -- what makes [Phil] Ivey so good is that his concentration is so good -- whereas I mentally slip a lot. I get in a groove when I look like the best player in the world, and then there's a day when I bust out on a hand that nobody would go broke on and I look like an idiot. A lot of that has to do with the period where I partied a lot, so I struggle to concentrate a lot of times. But I've been drug free for 2½ years now.
Bluff: So it affected your game
Mike: Yeah. It affected my poker game once I started partying a lot. I partied like a rock star; I mean, I was the hardest partier on the planet. I had parties at this house that you wouldn't believe
Bluff: Well that explains the lack of furniture…
Mike: (Laughs) I had DJs, a dance floor, strobe lights and dancing girls. They were wild. I was gonna get the house done after the World Series, but I've blown $700,000 in the last two weeks.
Bluff: So any hobbies apart from poker?
Mike: No hobbies really -- just getting my life together. I don't really miss it at all. I don't miss the going out. I hate drinking. I'm a person who believes that the two biggest downfalls of society are money and alcohol. Money, because if people don't have it, they steal for it, and because the people who have lots of it think they're better than everyone else. They look down on people, and that's why I hate the way people treat money. I hate alcohol because it's the only legal drug that completely destroys people's lives. Where there's drink, there's domestic violence, drunk-driving accidents -- people get killed. People who drink, their lives are a mess -- and that's why I never drank heavily.
Bluff: Do you drink at all now?
Mike: I might have the odd social drink now and again. Alcohol and I were never friends; we were always enemies, because it took two drinks for me to walk around like a [expletive] idiot.
Bluff: Regarding your "party" phase, when did you realize that your life was out of control?
Mike: Well, on July 16 of 2003, I just got back from Paris and realized that I'd been up for seven of the nine days that I was there, and when I got home, I was partying with some stripper and I was up for another two days. I figured out that I'd only slept twice in 11 days. At that point I knew I had to fix something real fast because I didn't want to do that anymore.
Bluff: So how did you go about fixing the problem?
Mike: I went to a psychologist and said, "Listen, whenever I party heavily I'm depressed and I'm sick of being depressed." And that was it. I just quit cold turkey, and he told me the reason I'm always depressed is because I have a chemical imbalance. So he put me on the right medication and I haven't been depressed since.
Bluff: We talked about focus earlier and how there are other players out there who have more focus than you. But you bring a lot of personality to the table, whereas some players have none. Do you think that's an advantage?
Mike: Yeah, it is, and with the medicine I'm on now to help me focus, I'm able to talk a little bit -- but not as much as I used to -- and concentrate better. But to me it's all about wanting to win. When I want to win, I play great. Whenever I need to win I play at an exceptional level, but whenever I have a lot of money I just don't give a [expletive], 'cause I don't give a [expletive] about money. So then I don't try. It's crazy when you hear me talk this way, but it's the sad truth. It'd be nice to keep winning and winning, but I just don't have that hunger to win.
Bluff: You're like Rocky. Every Rocky movie, he gets fat and then comes back again.
Mike: That's what makes Ivey so good, he's always hungry. No matter how much money he has, he always wants to be at the poker table and be the best. Whereas when I'm doing well, I just wanna play poker. I don't give a [expletive] if I do well or not. And that's the difference between great players and Mike Matusow. I have as much talent as anybody in the world, but I don't always bring my A game. I don't believe there are five people who play no-limit hold'em better than I do I'm good, but I haven't been able to win a big tournament because when it comes down to it, I either get cold-decked or [expletive]. You know, kings versus aces like at the WSOP final table -- try getting away from them when you're under the TV cameras late in a tournament you're looking to win.
Bluff: Do you think the TV people show a fair representation of your personality? Or do they build you into a person that you're not?
Mike: Hopefully they'll build me into something that I am, which is a funny guy who likes to have fun at the poker table. Anybody in the poker world who knows me will tell you that I'm just there to have fun. I don't berate anybody; they make it look like I have the worst poker etiquette. I have the best etiquette. I only [expletive] with people I know. If there's an idiot at the table and I don't know him, I don't make fun of him because he plays like an idiot. I don't say a word. [Greg] Raymer, I didn't know, but he started [expletive] with me -- they don't show that part. He consistently [expletive] with me and he persistently came after me, so finally I said, "You better quit [expletive] with me, 'else I'm gonna [expletive] bust you." Then he did it again and I showed him the 5-high bluff and I said, "You got no [expletive] balls [expletive]. I got big balls, you got little balls." Now that was basically a statement to say "stop [expletive] with me," but he kept doing it. I told him I was going to break him and I got him to put all his chips in on a flush draw. Of course, he hit the flush.
Bluff: You caught another bad beat at this year's WSOP main event, but you said that you played your best poker over those six days
Mike: Yeah, I played great this year. I played some amazing poker -- it was a great feeling. I'd never played that good before. I mean, I've played great before, but this was just ridiculous.
Bluff: Did you need this one then? You say you play better when broke.
Mike: Yeah. I didn't have a quarter going into this tournament. I'd just lost $400,000 playing online -- I was depressed. I didn't even want to play the last tournament. I was playing so badly I figured I'd get sucked out on anyway. But I got through the first day; then I got to the second day and I thought I was playing pretty good and I got a little confidence going, and I really got into a great zone in days three to six. Day six in particular was amazing. I played so great. I never got dealt a playable hand and I moved my chip position from $3.8 million to $7.9 million. I hope ESPN shows a lot of that because I never had a playable hand.
Bluff: How disappointed were you to not win?
Mike: I mean, you get to the final table two times in five years; of course it was disappointing. In this day and age, with my personality, me winning that tournament was worth a lot more than $7.5 million. It'd probably be worth $50-100 million.
Bluff: What do you think the biggest misconception about Mike Matusow is?
Mike: That Mike Matusow isn't a nice person, because I am. I joke around, but I'm there to have fun. The Grinder said to me once, "I only play these $1,000 dollar tournaments to ruin people's dreams!" I'm like, "You're sick!"
Bluff: Whose fault do you think it is for positioning you as the bad guy of poker?
Mike: That Norman Chad! He doesn't know anything. Don't get me wrong, if the guy were to sit down and get to know me, that'd be one thing; but to label me as a person who berates people at the felt -- er, wrong answer; as a person who has bad table etiquette -- er, wrong answer. I just have fun with people and tell them how bad they are, but I only do that to my friends. For instance, I love to [mess] with Phil Ivey, because he never says a word. I'm like, "Phil, you're such an overrated piece-of-crap poker player. You're nobody. They've just made you into a superstar. If you played me everyday I'd kill you " and I'd get a smile out of him. And when you get a smile out of Phil Ivey, you know you've done something. But I'd never berate Erick Lindgren, for example, because he gets annoyed with me, so I don't do it.
I love going at it with Phil Hellmuth. It gets to the point where he has to pull me to one side and say, "You better knock it off, you've gone too far!" In the future, I want pay-per-view poker. I want heads-up matches with Phil Hellmuth. I mean, poker's a bit like All-Star Wrestling -- they'd probably cast me as the bad guy. Can you imagine me versus Phil? I would absolutely destroy him. Not only will I beat him because he can't play a lick to me, but after I beat him, I will mentally, physically and emotionally just [expletive] destroy him.
I said to him I thought we could make a couple of million in pay-per-view and you know what his answer to me was? "Well, I'd have to get a 70/30 cut." And I replied, "Are you [expletive] crazy?" I mean who the [expletive] does he think he is? 70/30 cut! He hasn't won a tournament in so [expletive] long. So I said to him, "The only reason you won the National Heads-Up Championship is because I was in jail!"
Bluff: What exactly happened when you got busted?
Mike: I became friends with this undercover cop. Basically, he had me pick up drugs for him twice over a year and a half. I didn't really want to do it, but I felt like he was my friend and I had to do it. It was a total setup -- entrapment, if you like. It was all because of someone I knew, and the police said: "We know you're not a drug dealer Mike, we just want you to wear a wire to get this guy and we'll drop all the charges. So I said: "[expletive]." So you know, it was really sick what they did. It's like a Hollywood movie and it made me totally change my outlook on the police. I used to think they were all good and out there to protect us, but the police don't care about anything.
Bluff: What about the guy you protected, was he thankful?
Mike: Yeah, but I could have ruined the guy's life. He could've done more for me. I didn't ask, but I wouldn't have turned it down. He could have said, "Thanks for doing the time. Can I give you something?" You know, that never happened. I'm still in touch with this person though. The cops were looking for something big. They thought I knew somebody big and I was "Poker Mike," who knew everybody and spent $10,000 a weekend partying. I knew everybody in the club scene, and if you know everybody in the club scene, you can get anything you want. They were looking to nail somebody big through me, so they used me as a guinea pig. They knew because I'm such a nice guy that I'd help anybody out. They just took advantage of me. And it's pretty sad what they did to me. I'll say it again: If I'd never partied and never been around those kinds of people, it would never have happened, so that's why I'm so anti-drugs now. That's why I don't go out to clubs much, because when you're well known, you don't know who's watching you and what they'll do to get to you. I'm afraid to be put in that spot again.
Bluff: How well known are you?
Mike: Well, a lot of people know me now they're showing the World Series. They stop me for autographs and stuff like that. It's gonna be fun when I go to the gym because there are so many hot chicks in there. I'll be honest, I go to the gym, but right now, I'm a fat ass. But I just made $50,000 of weight-loss bets with a bunch of guys, so
Bluff: How much do you have to lose?
Mike: I gotta get down to 180 pounds by the first of January, and I'm like, 220 pounds now. I win the $50,000 if they don't reach their goal and I do, and vice versa.
Bluff: Who would you say are the top poker players right now?
Mike: [John] Juanda's the best, even though he didn't have a great World Series. But if you wanna talk about the best overall poker players, you gotta take into account tournaments, cash games, live games -- everything. So you got Doyle. He's a living legend; he's the best of all time. The guy's won 10 bracelets, he's a phenomenal cash game and tournament player and then you got Ivey. Chip [Reese] might be an amazing cash game player, but he'll never win a tournament in his life because he doesn't understand tournament poker. Daniel [Negreanu] is a great player too. If you're talking all-around -- that means shorthanded, ring game, tournament, cash game, live, everything -- I'd have to go with Doyle [Brunson], Johnny Chan and John Juanda as the top three. If you don't play cash games, you ain't [expletive] as a poker player, I don't care who you are.
It's also about changing gears and it's the people who have the most gears who do the best. You can play fast or pick your spots and chop away. I played two big hands in the WSOP and lost them both. In big tournaments, it's about chopping away to pick up chips because you're never more than 4-to-1 -- and who wants to gamble their tournament on a 4-to-1 shot? But in a cash game, it's like the first two levels in a tournament. You can just sit there and wait for the cards to come your way.
Bluff: Who came up with the name "The Mouth"?
Mike: Well, they originally called me "Loudmouth," which I didn't like, so I said, "You can call me 'The Mouth.'" I think it was Todd Brunson who came up with it.
Bluff: What do you think is the biggest mistake people make in no-limit hold'em?
Mike: It's about picking up on people's mistakes. That's what poker is. The biggest misconception in poker is due to the TV age. TV shows all these bluffs because that attracts people to TV, so everyone thinks that's how you play poker. So now everybody and their mother is trying to outplay you in every hand, which is the greatest thing in the world. But poker has nothing to do with outplaying people; poker is about playing fundamentally solidly and taking advantage of other people's mistakes. So the biggest mistake people make is playing big pots with A-K or coming over the top with two nines or two 10s. They think a pair is the biggest thing in the world.
Bluff: What's the most important thing to you in life?
Mike: Family and respect. Caring about other people. That's probably one of the biggest misconceptions about me. I'm probably the most caring person you'll ever meet. Whenever I have money, I just give it away. After I won the million, there was this one guy who was in jail -- he was just stuck in there and needed to get out -- and I put up his bail and he's out right now. I'm supposed to get the money back, but this was some guy I barely knew and the fact that he hated being in there so much really bothered me. So I wanted to get him out. So I care about people and I help them out. I help a lot of people out who have nothing. That's why I ended up in jail in the first place, because it was about me wanting to help someone out.