Mike the Mouth

Last week I heard a sad story about David Saab, a South Korean professional poker player who was jailed for a minimum of 10 years for attempting to import 14.6 kilos of cocaine into Australia.

Saab’s biggest success as a player came in 2008 when he won an Asian Poker Tour event in Manila for $230k.  Presumably his bankroll had taken a hit since then for him to resort to this.

Two accomplices, recruited by Saab after meeting them through poker, were each given a 5 year minimum sentence for their role. The judge described Saab as the ringleader, but he clearly wasn’t the top man in the operation because he only stood to make $110k (apparently the drugs had a street value in the millions because of the high cocaine price in Australia). The really pathetic thing is that his two accomplices only stood to make $10k each for their involvement.

You don’t need me to tell you that $2000 per year of freedom is not a good risk/reward ratio. Imagine what a player like Saab could make in 10 years?

Saab is an extremely good player because he took 46th place in the 2008 World Series Main Event for $135k.  And that means I’ve been in the same room as him.

I was in Las Vegas for the 2008 Main Event and I dropped in to the Rioto take a look when they were down to about the last ten tables. I’d never heard of Saab then but another fellow there caught my eye – someone who had already served a prison term for supplying cocaine!

When I first saw him I couldn’t believe it was actually him because he only weighed 13 stone.

Of course I’m talking about Mike Matusow.

Matusow had just won a prop bet with Ted Forrest that he could get from 241 pounds to 181 pounds. With a superhuman effort, including starving himself completely for the last 5 days, he had won the bet. And there he was looking not “as large as life” but positively scrawny!

I’ve been reading Mike Matusow’s autobiography this week and I like it.

The first I ever heard of Mike Matusow was during the 2005 main event. There was an “F-bomb” rule then which meant you got a 10 minute sitting out penalty for the F-word (ridiculously, other swear words were not punished – just the F-word). Anyway, a really bitter and twisted dealer heard Matusow say it while talking to an opponent.  The jobsworth couldn’t wait to grass on him and Matusow got a 10 minute penalty. Matusow’s response was to say to the floorman:

“F this place”

The flooorman responded “That’s 20 minutes”

“F this again”

“30 minutes”


So he got a 40 minute penalty.

I liked him for that! But I suppose a lot of people’s impression of him would be a rude, obnoxious, big mouth – someone who acted like a bloke who grew up in a trailer off the Boulder Highway in Las Vegas, which he did.

(When I was in Vegas I used to ask people what was down this long road on the map – the Boulder Highway. “Oh don’t bother going down there. It’s shit – nothing worth seeing down there.” Matusow confirms this is indeed the case in his book).

But there’s a lot in there that surprised me about him.

For instance, he’s bipolar.  He also suffers from ADHD and needs to carefully balance his prescription drugs so he can focus properly in big tournaments.  Also, he used to play huge sessions under the influence of crystal meth!! (He attributes his ADHD to the junk in the street meth.)  He did that for months and amazingly, won huge amounts at first, until it started to damage him (definitely don’t try this at home). And he was fleeced online by that ultimate piece of human excrement Russ Hamilton for $1.2 million.

But the worst thing is the story about his drug conviction. I’d heard he’d served a 6 month term for supplying cocaine. What I didn’t know was that it was a complete set up.

Now Matusow would be the first to admit that acted foolishly when he was coining it in from poker: partying every night – drinking too much, going to the strip clubs and all the drugs.  But that was all self abuse (something bipolar disorder sufferers tend to do is self medicate with street drugs). He absolutely did not deserve what happened to him next.

His meth use finally caught up with him and he tried to go clean.  He hit rock bottom and sought help.  Of course all his party friends and the go-go girls deserted him after that. But he did have this one friend – a bloke called Mike Vento who used to look out for him. He’d drop by his house from time to time check in on him and see how he was.  A good man.

Weirdly, out of the blue this guy asked Matusow if he could get him a load of coke because he had a bunch of mates coming into town for a  big party. Matusow was surprised and offended and said no at first but this Mike Vento guy really pushed him and put him under tremendous pressure. And of course you guessed it, his one “real friend” was actually an undercover copper setting him up. Cheers!

Anyway, he did his time and he got out just before the 2005 WSOP, where he had his aforementioned F-bomb run in and 40 minute penalty.  Well Matusow made the Main Event final table that year and came 9th.  Happily, he’s been drug free since July 2003. And I suspect we have not heard the last of him.

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