Poker Mind In Depth Part I: Mike Matusow

[Content Disclosure: In Depth Series: Poker & Psychology]

As I begin this series of articles I would like to mention how each of the interviews began. I told Mike, Phil and Daniel that there was no reason for me to pull any punches in our conversations. I would ask any question that seem relevant to their life and poker. They, of course, could pass on any question and if after answering they felt we should not use the information for any reason then it was out. I am not doing an attack piece for 60 Minutes. An open, honest wide ranging discussion was my goal. We then did an opening interview in which each of the players was very open and spoke in great detail about the issues they would face during the World Series.

I should also mention for new readers that I do hold a doctorate in psychology and the basis of these interviews was and will be the mix of psychology and poker. What we are seeking to reveal to the poker fans is just how a player of the stature of Mike Matusow, Phil Hellmuth or Daniel Negreanu deals with the demands of the six weeks of the World Series of Poker. Their coping strategies are different and the demands on their time and energy are also different. Today we begin the exploration with my first "In Depth" look at Mike "The Mouth" Matusow.

A bit more disclosure for new readers, I co-wrote the newly released autobiography of Mike along with Amy Calistri. So I have a fairly unique insider perspective on the life of Mike Matusow. I actually wondered whether there would enough to say about Mike that was not already in the book. About a minute into our first interview any concerns I had about Mike's mind being less than fertile ground for new material were gone. Mike is such a one-of-a-kind personality and he faces such unique challenges that his life is always full of surprises and insights.

For the 2009 World Series of Poker, Mike will be doing a few of the things he has done for the past several years. On the top of the list in Mike's approach to the Series is the number of events he plays. Unlike many players who are in the Amazon room every day and sometimes even playing multiple events in the same day, Mike likes a much less hectic WSOP schedule. He fully expects to play no more than 21 events and that number will go down as he makes a day two or a final table of an earlier event. For instance, as I write this, today at 2 PM Mike will be playing in the day two restart of the $40,000 Anniversary NLHE event #2, which means he will not be playing his favorite game Omaha 8 or better at noon in event #3. Already one event that Mike will pass on because of success in another. *** 

Another move Mike will make again this year is putting away his laptop. Mike does not play any online poker during the run of the World Series. In our book, Check-Raising the Devil, Mike repeatedly dealt with the distraction that online play can be to live events and several years ago Mike swore off online play during the World Series of Poker. Focus is a key part of Mike's overall approach to the Series. Focus and Patience, both of which can be affected by a bad or even a good run in the online games. There aren't any online bracelets being handed out this summer, so Mike concentrates his poker mind in the Amazon room.

The biggest new element in Mike's game this summer will be his new medication. If you have not read our book (you really should), you may not know that Mike has bi-polar disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. He takes a pharmacopeia of prescription medications to stabilize these two disorders. But one of the problems is that these prescribed chemicals do not always interact in ways that are advantageous to Mike's mental sharpness. Within the last five weeks, Mike has been prescribed another medication that seems, for the first time, to balance out the push-pull of the other prescription drugs. Literally, this may be the first World Series of Poker where Mike will not have to worry about disorienting bad med days. This might be the first WSOP where Mike Matusow can show up every day focused and patient. What that could mean for his performance this year will be just one of the areas where I will focus my Poker Mind In Depth articles with Mike Matusow.

***And then there are those times when plans change, as with any poker player. I showed up at the Rio today and found Mike playing in the $1500 Omaha 8 event. He took some early hits but told me that could only mean good things would come his way in the restart of the $40K and sure enough he more than tripled up to over 300,000 in the first two rounds today.

Next: Phil Hellmuth--new rules with your name on them.