Matusow Chapter One

[Content Disclosure: Check-Raising the Devil]
We are just about a week away from the release of Check-Raising the Devil, the Mike Matusow autobiography that I co-wrote with Mike and Amy Calistri. Amy and I thought we would give all of our readers a look at what we had originally submitted as a prologue to the book. As it turns out, this was not used in the final edition, but may be the opening scene in the upcoming movie based on Mike’s life.
This prologue or chapter one was negotiated out in the editing process for a new chapter one, which begins the book in a slightly different place. You can read that opening on May 12th when the book is released. For now here is my version of how the book might have opened. Amy is putting up her own version on her blog: Aimlessly Chasing Amy. I think you will find they are close but not identical, which is how we worked on the book for the last two years: cooperatively separate.
Oh and you can order Check-Raising the Devil from Amazon.com by using that button up there on the top of the right hand column. They will deliver on the 12th if you order now.
It was July 14th and going to be another scorcher in Las Vegas; at noon the radio said it was already 105. I was driving downtown to Binion’s Horseshoe for the next-to-last day of the 2005 main event. For six straight years, I'd made a final table in at least one event at the World Series of Poker. But forty-four tournaments had already been played at the 2005 World Series and I had nothing to show for it except one small cash in the very first event. The only way I was going to keep my streak alive was to fight my way through the field today. But this was the main event. If I was going to make just one final, this was the one. Hell, it was the one final table that every poker player on the planet dreamed of making.
The poker boom was in full swing and the 2005 Championship had drawn more starting players than ever before; over fifty-six hundred players had paid their $10,000 entry into the No Limit Texas Hold’em main event. Harrah’s was claiming that it was the largest sporting event in history. The winner would take home $7.5 million and every one of the final nine players would leave a millionaire. That’s right, ninth place would get one million dollars. Only five years earlier, ninth place had paid less than seventy-five grand; that’s how big and how fast poker had grown.
For five days I'd played the best damn poker of my life. I only needed to maintain my focus for two more days. Today, we'd start with twenty-seven players and play down to the final nine. Eighteen players would hit the rail today, a few cards short of their dream. Only a few big names professionals remained in the field. Phil Ivey, Minh Ly and the reigning 2004 World Series Champion Greg Raymer were all still in the hunt. The four of us would all be starting with above-average chip stacks. Going into the day I had one and only one goal. I was going to be in the final nine, no matter what it took to get there.
As I pulled into the Binion’s valet, I called Michael Craig on my cell phone. Michael had flown into town from Arizona the night before to support me today. He asked me to meet him outside on Fremont Street. I ducked inside Binion’s and snaked my way through the dark casino until I finally stepped back out into daylight onto the Fremont mall. I spotted Michaela about fifty yards away on the other side of First Street.
When I reached him, he said, “I wanted to meet you here today. Do you know where we are?”
”Of course I know where we are. We’re outside in the middle of the desert on the hottest fucking day of the year.”
”No,” he said. “That’s not what I mean. I mean we’re right outside of Binion’s.” He pointed at the big Horseshoe sign.
“Yeah, I know. I was just in there and it was about 50 degrees cooler.”
He laughed, but I knew Michael; he was a really good friend. I knew we must be out here in this blazing oven for a reason.
“Take a look down there” he said, as he turned and pointed down First Street; “We’re also just about two blocks from the Clark County Detention Center.”
I looked to where he was pointing. I could just make out the jail where I had just spent six months of my life.
“Not too many people actually get to see their own crossroads, Mikey. Everything you’ve gone through this year has made you stronger. Think about that today.”
I started thinking about that building down on First Street. I'd been out of jail less than three months and just seeing the Detention Center, even from a distance, started to weigh on me. I didn’t need that distraction right now.
I heard Michael say, “Do you realize that you’re already guaranteed more money from this tournament than you’ve ever made in any single event in your life?”
What Michael said about the money was true. I'd won a quarter of a million dollars in Aruba right before I went to jail. The first player to bust out at Binion’s today was guaranteed over $300,000. What Michael was saying about the money was true, but I couldn’t focus on the money yet.
For me, this wasn't about money or even a crossroads. My job today was to lift chips off of inexperienced players and stay out of the way of the other big stacks. The new players to the main event would be impatient, but I knew there'd be time to pick my spots. I knew, because I'd been here before. I made the 2001 Championship final table – sure I was doing crystal meth at the time, but my drug days were now long behind me. Jail was behind me. The only obstacles that mattered to me now were the eighteen players that needed to bust today so I could make this main event final table.
I turned to Michael and said "Only suckers are thinking about the guaranteed money today. Let’s get the fuck out of this heat."

He smiled, “O.K. Mike.” He nodded and patted me on the back, “O.K.”
As we walked back to Binion’s I stared at the large neon Horseshoe sign. It had always been the heartbeat of downtown Vegas, going back to when Glitter Gulch was in its heyday. I remember thinking that this was the last World Series final table that was ever going to be played at Binion’s. Harrah’s had already moved all the preliminary events to the Rio and in two days the World Series of Poker would leave Binion’s forever. I was pretty sure the once great gambling hall wasn’t going to get a second chance to relive its glory days.
I had a lot of experience with these kinds of things. I had become a fucking expert on second chances.