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Poker Blog established in 2003 as the first stop for poker news, poker stories, and bad poker advice.

September 1, 2004

On capital "K" Karma

by Otis


No one who has ever played No-Limit Hold'em at a level that could threaten their poker playing career will deny it takes conjones--big, rock-solid, kind you'd find at the base of Mt. Rushmore cojones--to play the game. To play at a level where you push your paycheck across the felt takes having the fortitude to keep the cojones from pulling up and away from the cold, bitch-slapping world that is No-Limit poker. It takes keeping them from seeking solitude in the gradual trek from their own boxer-shorts home, though your insides, and into your throat.

So, when Crying Mike Matusow looked across the felt into the hologrammed eyes of Greg Raymer and declared he, Matusow, had "Big cojones," it seemed a little more than redundant. It seemed a little more than friendly coffee-housing.

It seemed, in short, to be a giant middle finger in the face of capital "K" Karma.

Perhaps, it was selective editing on the part of ESPN's World Series of Poker producers. Perhaps, Matusow is an affable fellow with whom I'd like to share a beer or eight. From my sideline seat at the table, I've decided I can't judge a man based on one clip from television. What's more, judge not lest ye open yourself up to a giant beatdown from Karma central.

Still, as I've discussed ad nasuem in past Up For Poker posts, I'm loathe to defend people who use trash talk as the sharpest arrow in their quiver. I despise myself when I let something slip.

For instance, two nights ago I was on a bit of a run at a $200PL table on Empire. A loose player took about half my stack early on in my sit when I slowed-played top two pair and let him catch a set on the river with his 37offsuit. I re-bought to the maximum and lay in wait. I vowed privately not to leave until I took back all of my chips and then all of his. I didn't indicate this in the chat bar. I just waited. Sure enough, two hours later he played his pair of queens too slow on the flop and let me catch my straight on the turn. I doubled up.

After I took the hand, he steamed quietly for an orbit, then offered a "nh" to me. I accepted and we commiserated about our two slow-plays and how they had killed us. It was gut-wrenching, bankroll-threatening poker. But it was good.

The hand began a bit of a rush in which I sextupled up. I felt cockiness seeping into my psyche, but did all I could to remain humble. Then I caught aces in the small blind. I played the hand well, drawing the BB into a nice-sized pot. I made my set on the flop, and put in a smallish bet, hoping he'd read it as a post oak bluff. He bought it and pushed in with his 77. The board paired on the river giving me the boat and all of 77's chips.

Before I knew what I was doing, I typed, "Perhaps a bit of overkill on my part, eh?"

Sure, I didn't accuse the guy of having "small cojones" or anything, but it was an unnecessary jab at a guy who had just lost his entire buy-in.

Another player at the table suggested I shouldn't get too cocky or my luck would turn. It was then I realized that I should've just kept quiet. I wanted to apologize to the guy, but he'd already left the table.

Good players, like Josh Arieh, know this is a moral leak that all poker players have to control. In a recent Card Player article, Arieh lamented that he he's been trying to control this part of his personality for a while and during one hand of the WSOP, he let it get the best of him. After making quite a move and winning, he slapped his cards on the table and chided his opponent, "Whatta ya think this is? Tiddly winks?"

He hated that he said it, and sure enough, ESPN has played the clip at least twice in its coverage.

Many writers and bloggers have talked about the different personalities of poker players. I tend to view modern players like a high school classroom:

The Athlete--This is the player who plays the game with hard-knock aggression and believes attitude and unrelating powerplay will ultimately succeed. This player tends to make him/herself stand out in a room and tends to garner the most attention of fans and television cameras. They win big, they lose big and it's always a show.

The Math-Geek-- This is the player who is painfully boring for television producers and believes that--in the end--the averages and probabilities will prevail. Often tight-playing and soft-spoken, these players win quietly and lose quietly. They tend to be winners over time, but rarely make monumental splashes in the game of celebrity-era poker.

The Artist-- This player holds no small amount of disdain for the flashiness of the athlete and the attention he craves, but is also terminally bored with the Math-Geek. This player tends to play the probabilities but loves how subtle the real game can be. This player makes moves based on the feel of the flow, the literary nuance of the game. While this kind of player rarely grabs the attenton of the athlete or the probabilty wins of the Math-Geek, he makes poker an artform and writes poetry when he pushes in his chips.

Matusow is The Athlete through and through. He points, he pokes, he jukes, he slams. What's more, he almost prides himself on what people have termed the "Mike Matusow Blow Up." (Note: I have a little defense mechanism I call the Otis Choke, so I guess I'm not one to talk).

His lack of discipline made for a good storyline on ESPN. Under the soft television lights, he lamented his lack of discipline after becoming a millionaire. He blew it all gambling, partying, buying strippers, etc. But as he made it to the top level of the 2004 WSOP final event, he declared he was "back." Presumably, that meant he had regained his discipline and was a contender again.

Which brings us to the feature hand against Raymer, in which Matusow called an all-in bet with second pair, little kicker, and a flush draw on the board. One could argue he made a good read, because he was ahead on the flop. However, one could also question what he was doing in the hand in the first place and whether hubris (and moreover, a lack of discipline) was the primary factor in making a call that eventually sent him down the road to his destruction.

One could read this screed as a the exact kind of behavior I preach against, namely, kicking a man when he is down. However, in this case, I think Matusow begs for this kind of dialogue. He wants it. He wants to be known as the guy who walks a fine line between recklessness and genius.

On his final hand of the tournament, Matusow went all-in with big slick. He was covered by a player who called with Mrs. Slick (AQ). Matusow stood, beseeching the table, "One time! Let me get lucky one time!"

It almost seemed fitting that the queen fell on the river and sent Matusow crying (seemingly, literally) to the rail. Capital "K" Karma doesn't hold much affection for people who flout moral sensibilities then ask for help from the poker gods.

Earlier in the tournament, Matusow had spent an inordinate amount of time berating future champion Greg Raymer. "Don't mess with me, buddy. I'll bust you. I have big cojones. You have small cojones."

Matusow then offered an after-thought apology, a lot like saying "You're mother's a offense or anything." Raymer, at the time, refused to shake his hand.

Later, Matusow apologized again, and Raymer conceded a handshake. Classy eventually equalled champion.

If I should ever be so fortunate as to find myself across the felt from Matusow or anyone who aspires to be like him, I hope they offer me the same cojones talk, then offer to shake my hand.

I'll shake it and say, "I'm Otis. Who are you again?"

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