By a show of hands, how many
readers out there thought you would never use your high school math for any reason (other than perhaps figuring out how much a 20%
discount would save you at Wal-Mart)? Okay, now... How many of you with your hands raised ever won $700,000 in a major poker tournament?
Wish you had paid more attention to your algebra teacher now, eh? Score one for math geek, Matt Matros.
Of course, not every successful poker player has (or needs) an undergraduate mathematics degree from Yale University. However, Matt
certainly put his to good use. Throughout his book, The Making of a Poker Player, Matt Matros establishes a theme of how his
knowledge of numbers helped him make poker decisions that go light years beyond the “I had a hunch” mentality of the average player.
But, worry not – with few exceptions, Matt interjects his math reasoning into his storytelling in a non-threatening (yet very relevant)
way that helps build a logical foundation for how he came to be a very successful poker player in just a few short years.
While Matros’ education might have had a substantial influence on his poker thinking (and results), it is his passionate, unadulterated
love of the game that ultimately drives him to succeed. Matt’s poker itch started at the age of 15, but really began to consume him
during his college years. With the help of his fellow-poker-playing father (in explaining some of the basic strategies of Texas Hold’em
to Matt and his college buddies), Matros found the courage to venture into the world of casino poker. Luckily for him, two casinos in
southeastern Connecticut were only an hour away from his Yale dorm and his trips to The Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods became regular
Matros truly shines in retelling the stories from these earliest ring game and tournament experiences, and these anecdotes are mainly
what make this book so appealing. His storytelling puts you at the table right along side him, and keeps the reader’s interest with
every hand relived with uncanny detail. As a subliminal bonus, into each story Matt somehow sneaks in a math lesson that, instead of
being intimidating to the academically-challenged, actually helps one understand the basis of many decisions on a level rarely
considered by beginning players. Matt’s confidence was in fact built upon his ability to interpret and incorporate statistics and
probability into his decision-making. This was his “safety net”. He knew the numbers wouldn’t “lie”, and that in the long run they would
lead him down the right path. “Let logic, not results, prevail in your conclusions...” is the gospel according to Matt.
In addition to this self-proclaimed “geek” side of poker analysis, Matt Matros quickly became adept at reading people as well. He shares his
own theory on “tells” in the ubiquitous chapter on “Hosting Home Games...”, and has practiced well what he preaches. The social aspect of
poker, and having fun with it, are not dealt with lightly in this book. It has been a very important guiding light in Matt’s young poker
career. To this end, many (if not most) of the narratives are derived from his introduction to, and participation in, the “rec.gambling.poker”
newsgroup. Through this online forum, Matros formed many friendships and became a regular in the “Rec.Gambling Excursions” held throughout
the country (Las Vegas, Atlantic City, Foxwoods, etc.). It was during these convention-like poker outings when Matt had some of his earliest
tournament experiences where winning was not the ultimate objective. It was having fun, mingling with other poker enthusiasts (“RGPers”) and
sharing thoughts, strategy and information about the game that brought them all together that was more important.
It was at another “social” outing (the “Lawyers’ home game” near Washington, D.C., after Matt had graduated from Yale), where he met
Russell Rosenblum (WSOP Main Event Final Table participant in 2002). “Sitting with (Russell) that night in January of 2000 completely
changed the direction of my poker life.” Matros adopted Rosenblum as his mentor. As student and teacher interact and compete over the
next few years, readers get to see what a life-changing impact this relationship had on a 26-year-old Matros in the climactic ending to
this book (which ironically was written as a “Postscript”).
Another major influence in Matt’s accelerated poker progress, and subject of its own chapter, is “Online Poker”. Complete with screen shots
from one of the most popular online poker sites, Matros covers the basics on how to play online, and more importantly elaborates on several
reasons why readers should include this medium in their poker-playing repertoire. It was through an early online poker satellite that Matros
qualified to play in his first major poker tournament (“The Tournament of Champions”), for free! Anyone wishing to take Matt up on his advice,
who hasn’t already done so, can learn much more about choosing an appropriate online poker site from the various reviews and links on this website.
If there is one huge pothole in this otherwise smooth read, it is Matt’s inclusion of the
“Game Theory” chapter. Perhaps his attempt at
curing insomnia, Matros misses his target audience by miles with these 12 pages. If there are indeed 50 million poker players in the
United States (as is widely estimated), 49,999,000 will fall asleep during this Chris Ferguson-ish” material. Granted it may be an “obviously”
important progression to the analytical skills of the math whizzes of the world, but very few beginners (or even intermediate players with
normal IQs) will be ready, willing or able to incorporate “game theory” into their thinking. Hopefully, the intent is not so much to absorb
and utilize the ideas presented, but rather just to show how very complex the game of poker can be! Exercising game theory in poker is
analogous to finding the “truth” in a chess position: A nice idea, but there isn’t usually enough time to figure out the perfect answer.
Matros should not be penalized for delving into this material, but he should have included the warning - “Do not operate heavy machinery
while reading this chapter”.
Game theory aside, Matt Matros gives his readers a clear and helpful insight into the mind of a very intelligent poker player who quickly
grasped a very deep understanding of the game in just a few years. Matt has a gift for writing, and chronicling the stories that
demonstrate his knowledge and skill in the major subjects covered in this book. He doles out the ideas and concepts he shares in
gripping fashion, especially when recounting his tournament experiences. His strength is in teaching while entertaining. He does this
with subtle humor, a concise style and the ability to appeal to a wide range of readers with varying poker experience. For true
beginners, there is a poker glossary at the end of the book with each entry bolded whenever it appears in the text throughout the book.
There is much to be gained by reading The Making of a Poker Player. First and foremost, for novice and intermediate players, is learning
how even a small application of math can take one’s game to the next level. Matros succeeds in encouraging players of all abilities
striving to improve their poker, by sharing and explaining his own approach to a thinking game. Given where it’s gotten him in such a
short period of time, there can be little argument that his modus operandi are a pretty good example to follow.
Matt Matros book at Amazon