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Mike Matusow

By Paul McGuire

When you hear the name Mike Matusow, you almost always think about his nickname, “The Mouth.” Indeed, there’s not a more fitting description for Mike Matusow who’s been known to talk incessantly at the tables and berate his opponents in a verbal tirade. Aside from being one of the more controversial figures in poker, Matusow has proven that he’s one of the best all-around poker players around with deft skills in both No Limit Hold’em and Omaha Hi/Lo.

The last few years in the life of Mike Matusow has been a wild and rough one with plenty of highs and lows. Most recently, he’s come out on top after he made the final table at the 2005 World Series of Poker. Out of over 5,600 players, he was the last big-time professional still standing and took 9th place winning $1 million. Over his career, Matusow cashed in 15 World Series of Poker events and earned two WSOP bracelets. He also made two final tables at the main event and one TV table on the World Poker Tour. He has won over $3 million playing in tournaments and no one knows for sure how much he’s won in cash games.

Mike Matusow
Mike Matusow - Source: Las Vegas & Poker

Mike Matusow grew up in Las Vegas, NV with his family. The local started dealing poker at The Orleans and at Sam’s Town. After his shifts ended, he spent a lot of time playing cards especially at Sam’s Town. He developed into a savvy Omaha player, both Omaha Hi and Omaha Hi/Lo. He also had a knack for Texas Hold’em. When he dealt cards or played cash games, he always used that time to analyze hands and study the other players. He was a true student of the game. After Matusow gained some confidence at the tables, he realized that he knew enough about poker to play full time and gave it a shot. Matusow decided to quit his job dealing poker and became a professional poker player.

In 1997, Mike Matusow was close to winning his first World Series of Poker bracelet. He took second place in the $2,000 Omaha Hi/Lo event and lost a heads up battle to Scotty Nguyen. His first final table was not an easy one and also included bracelet winners Ted Forrest and Dan Heimiller. Matusow finally broke through in 1999, after he won his first WSOP bracelet in $3,500 NL. He won over $265,000 for his biggest cash of his career and beat out Pascal Perrault, Alex Brenes, and Noel Furlong at the final table to win it. He also made a final table in an Omaha Hi/Lo event in 1999, finishing in fifth place. In 2000, Matusow made another final table in an Omaha Hi/Lo event and he also scored a final table in $2,500 Seven Card Stud Hi/Lo. Later that year, he won an event at the U.S. Poker Championships at the Taj Mahal casino in Atlantic City, NJ. Scotty Nguyen was at his final table, but that time Mike the Mouth ended up victorious.

Mike Matusow caught the attention of the pokerati when he made the final table of the 2001 WSOP main event. Matusow took sixth place in one of the most difficult final tables of all time that included Phil Gordon, Phil Hellmuth, eventual champion Carlos Mortensen, and Dewey Tomko. Matusow took home almost $240,000 for sixth place in one of his best performances of his career. In 2002, Matusow won his second bracelet. His final table at the $5,000 Omaha Hi/Lo was not an easy one. He beat Daniel Negreanu heads up and also outlasted Marcel Luske, Max Stern, and Miami John Cernuto.

In a short time, Matusow proved that he was a competent all-around player making final tables in several different events. He also showed the poker world that he was one of the best No Limit players around. Unfortunately for Mike Matusow, the dark side of Las Vegas took a hold of him. Young, impressionable, and with a lot of money, Matusow quickly succumbed to the pressures of living the fast life in Sin City. He drank, abused drugs, and spent a lot of time in strip clubs. He also gambled on sports betting and at other table games. He ended up losing more than he won and the majority of his poker winnings went to pay for his extravagant lifestyle. During that time, he became infamous for the “Matusow Implosion,” a moment of weakness at the poker tables during a tournament after he built up a big stack and appeared to be in control. Out of nowhere, Matusow went on mega-tilt and made a series of bad moves. In the process he’d lose all his chips and get busted from the tournament.

The Matusow Implosions became more frequent and he started to lose his mind more often than making final tables. He cashed three times at the 2003 WSOP and took third place in a NL event. In early 2004, Matusow was arrested on charges of selling cocaine to an undercover police officer. The news shocked everyone in the poker world. A lot of people close to Matusow insisted that he was set up. He was in the process of cleaning up his life and he thought he was just doing a friend a favor. That friend ended up being an undercover narcotics officer. Matusow would end up being sentenced to six months in prison at the end of 2004.

In 2004, he came in 15th place in the World Poker Tour’s Championship at the Bellagio. Several weeks later he’d make another final table at the WSOP. He came in fifth place at a final table with top names such as Daniel Negreanu, Paul Phillips, Ram Vaswami, and John Juanda. At the main event, he took 87th place and lost on a series of bad beats. He was involved in one of the more controversial and disturbing moments of the 2004 WSOP. He and Greg “Fossilman” Raymer were involved in a hand and Matusow ended up taunting and verbally abusing the eventual World Champion. When Matusow tried to blow it off and half-heartedly apologize, Raymer refused to shake his hand. Some players are ambivalent about Matusow’s behavior. “It’s just Mike being Mike,” insisted more than one pro. “That’s the reason he’s called ‘The Mouth’.”

In 2004, just before he was supposed to enter prison, Matusow took 3rd place at the WPT Aruba. At his final table were Alex Brenes, Layne Flack, and John Juanda. Matusow was trying to win the first place prize of $1 million so he would have some money waiting when he got out of prison. Unfortunately he took third and left Aruba knowing that he was about spend the next six months behind bars.

In 2005, Matusow was released from prison. He struggled in the first five weeks of the WSOP. He only cashed once and played horrible poker. He switched some of his medications before the main event, and that seemed to work. He went on an amazing run and outlasted over 5,600 other players to make the final table. Along the way, he made some amazing calls and even got into a verbal spat with Shawn “The Sheik” Sheikram. Early in the tournament, Matusow was penalized forty minutes by one of the tournament directors for excessive cursing. He had to leave the playing area for forty minutes as he was blinded off. When he returned he went on his run and ended up taking 9th place and winning $1 million. He was the last pro standing (aside from Andy Black) and proved that he could still play poker. “I’m playing the best poker of my life,” Matusow told me the day before the final table.

Matusow was on the verge of a comeback. After he won the 2005 Tournament of Champions, it was official. Mike “The Mouth” Matusow had returned to the poker world as one of the best poker players around. He beat out Hoyt Corkins heads up to win the prestigious Tournament of Champions and quickly regained the respect of all of his peers. 2005 started out with Matusow in prison and ended up with him winning over $2 million. Mike Matusow is back on top of the poker world again. This time, he’s a lot more wiser and is going to make sure he doesn’t fall back into his old habits.

Mike Matusow currently lives in Las Vegas. You can find him playing online at Full Tilt Poker, where he’s a vital member of Team Full Tilt.

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