Mike Matusow’s Road to Victory
A personal account of how The Mouth took down the 2013 NBC Heads-Up Championship
Controversial long before Black Friday, and notoriously shipwrecked afterwards, Mike “The Mouth” Matusow has been through it all in poker. The 3-time WSOP bracelet winner, once a famous face of Team Full Tilt, finds himself today unsponsored, and not as rich or as lucky as he used to be.
But despite all these setbacks, Matusow has never given up on poker. And last week, when he bested six consecutive pros in heads-up battle to become the 2013 NBC National Heads-Up Poker champion, poker showed it had not given up on him either.
The following is an abridged account that Mike Matusow gave to the Global Poker Index about his victory, the struggles that came before it, and the ecstasy that came after it.
I was going through what I always go through, kind of a depression, coming after the football season. It happens to me every November-December, towards the end of the year. I lose all my money betting on sports and then I get depressed and I don’t leave bed.
I heard it from Mike Mizrachi that they were having the NBC heads-up, and I hadn’t received an invite yet. I was a little worried, why wouldn’t I get the invite? I’d already been thinking that, you know, they were trying to outcast me from the poker world as it was, because nobody wanted to take me along with any endorsement deals. It’s like they were phasing me out, like I didn’t exist anymore.
So I called Mori and I said, am I gonna be on NBC heads-up? And he said yeah of course you’re gonna be on. Once I realized I was gonna be on it, I was kinda stoked because it was something that was gonna help me get out of that negative frame of mind, so that’s when I started moving forward and preparing myself for the tournament, which I actually started preparing for almost a month before.
So many people think that I’ve disappeared in the poker world and that I’m not relevant anymore. But if you look at the numbers since 2008, I probably have the most cashes, wins, final tables per tournaments played, than anybody in poker! I just haven’t played any tournaments. But everybody for some reason thinks that I can’t win anymore, that I can’t compete anymore.
I had something to prove. This was gonna be a big televised event. It’s gonna be really big in the U.S. market, and even though televised poker in the U.S. is not worth that much money anymore, it’s worth a lot to me to prove to everybody that I still belong and that I can beat anybody. That’s why I was so determined to get where I did.
I hadn’t played any heads-up NLHE in two years, but once I stopped feeling sorry for myself and started getting a positive frame of mind, I started believing that I was gonna win. It was amazing how I just really got in the zone. There wasn’t really a time at any point in the tournament where I didn’t believe I was gonna win, and not just win a match, but win the tournament.
Road to the Championship
Without a doubt Scott Seiver was the toughest challenge. I mean, we played for as long as you can play. It was just an absolute battle of wills. He was so hard to play against, and he was so perfect. He stayed aggressive. I don’t like giving props to many people and building them up, but I give credit where credit is due and he was really, really my toughest opponent by far.
I think Viktor Blom really mentally got me to where I was going. Everybody considers him, like, the best heads-up player around, and when I beat him, some of the things he said to me made me feel really good too. That propelled me. Here’s a young kid that used to look up to me when he was younger, who’s more on top now than I am and gives me a little credit while I’m trying to help propel myself back to the confidence I used to have… That really helped a lot.
Unfortunately for my really good friend Mike Mizrachi, he never had a chance. He kinda just got coolered in the first round. Barry Greenstein, I completely dominated him, he never had a chance. I thought Johnny Hennigan played really well. But he made mistakes, because he’s not a heads-up hold’em player. You know, sometimes when you have the 72 offsuit, you just have to fold it on the button.
The End Game: Phil Hellmuth!
Honestly, I thought I really outclassed Phil. I thought I really dominated him completely in Match 1. In Match 2, he switched gears, and got aggressive on me. But I adjusted to that right after about 4 or 5 hands. I just kept giving him small pot after small pot. When we got into Match 3, it’s like he let his guard down. He really played awful in the first 15 minutes of Match 3. In the end, when he put me all in, I called, with the chance to just win the championship right then and there. Boy that was something, the way I called, I mean just like after 3 minutes, I said “heck with it, I’m going for the win.” And then for the diamond to roll out I mean, this could be the greatest TV of all time! People are gonna truly believe that Caesars set up the whole tournament and put coolers in. Because how can they possibly have predicted me and Phil play each other? I raise, he moves all in with A3, I call, and it comes 33T with 2 diamonds and he has A3 and I have AJ of diamonds, now how the f*** can that flop come down?
We were yapping to each other in the hallways afterwards. It would’ve been great TV. Phil is like, “yeah I played like an idiot, like an Internet donk, I won 85% of the pots, and yet you had the chip lead.” I go, “well no s*** Phil, what do you think I’m a stone f****** idiot?” And that’s how the Internet players do play. They think that they just raise, raise, raise, bet, bet, bet, but a good player will know how to combat that. And that was a great adjustment by me and a bad mistake on Phil’s part.
I honestly think that he was pretty easy to play against. I never thought he had a chance. That’s why I didn’t really panic after Match 2. Of course in the after meetings I said, “yeah well, I thought Phil was a better player, so I had to gamble,” to make him feel good about himself, you know, because that’s what you have to do with Phil. In the back when we were collecting our cash and stuff, he’s like “oh you made a bad call here and you made a bad call there,” and I go “yes Phil, because I thought you were a better player and I had to gamble to beat you.” You gotta build Phil up a little bit, you can’t say “hey Phil, I just f****** crushed you.”
So many poker players have come out of the closet to congratulate me, to text me, to tweet to me. So much love in the poker world. I was blaming everybody and cursing everybody for what I don’t have and how poorly I was treated, and how Full Tilt f***** me over and how I backed their asses and they’re all multi-millionaires and I’m broke, and feeling sorry for myself.
As I was doing that, I started hating the poker world and hating the people in the poker world. I didn’t care about poker anymore. And that was just the wrong attitude to have, and I got to realize after winning this, how much I care about poker again. For years, I cared more about poker than anybody else in poker. And when I thought poker turned its back on me, I was hurt. And then I got to realizing that poker didn’t actually turn its back on me. I just thought it did. To see the overwhelming support after I won and just people there for me, it made me realize that poker didn’t turn its back on me. It feels good to believe in my heart that me beating Phil and playing Phil heads-up might have another positive impact on poker.
A word about Full Tilt Poker
I told the Full Tilt people to put me back on the team, that I’m a walking billboard… I bet they wish that I was wearing their stuff now. I whipped all their boys in the tournament. But you know what? Do I have hatred or hurtful feelings toward them? No.
It feels good though.