Why Mike Matusow Should Be Teaching High School Math

Tuesday, December 7th, 2004, 9:27 am

In the post below I mentioned the poker shows featuring Mike Matusow, Todd Brunson, and David Sklansky, and called them a waste because the quality of play was Celebrity Poker Showdown quality. I take it back. The shows have do have some value in that you get to see, from a good player’s perspective, why a moron’s horrible play is so horrible. While it’s not going to make a good player into a great player, a terrible player watching these shows might at least gain some awareness that there’s more to poker than hitting the odd miracle flop.

One hand was hilarious. I forget the exact circumstances, but here’s an approximate recreation. A player with a shortstack goes all in with Q-7, and it’s an OK play because she has so few chips left and the blinds are so high she has to go for it. The little blind calls with K-9 offsuit, the big blind calls with 8s-7s. The flop comes Qd-4s-2s. So the all-in player has top pair, the little blind nothing, the big blind blind a flush draw. I should mention that the big blind person is the only one with a spade.

So what does the guy in the little blind do? He makes a huge bet. He has nothing but a single overcard, he’s up against a player already all-in, and he about bets the pot. The player with the flush draw thinks it over, realizes he’d be risking a big part of his stack, and mucks. The remaining players turn over their cards, and the dealer burns and turns the ace of spades. Meaning, the player who was just forced out after the flop would’ve won the hand, and the all-in player would’ve been eliminated. Instead she triples up.

“That,” Todd Brunson said, “was about the worst play you can make in poker. That was horrible.”

“It was,” Matusow agreed, and it seemed that he was looking for the words to express himself when he settled on the tried and true: “Horrible.”

Sklansky succinctly summed up why the play was so horrible, and then he said, “That’s called ‘bluffing into a dry side pot’, and it’s a cardinal sin in poker” Basically, you’re putting chips at risk without a reasonable expectation of any kind of positive return. I’d never heard that expression before, maybe because I’d never seen anyone make such a boneheaded play. Brunson said a situation like this is one of the few times there’s anything approaching collusion at the table, and that’s simply because the two players who still have chips have their interests perfectly aligned. They both want to knock a player out and move up, and there’s no reason, short of holding the nuts, to reduce those chances by pushing each other out.

These shows raise an interesting question about the educational process–we when learn we’re almost always taught the right way to do things. How about teaching a student the WRONG way to do something, make the pupil stand at the edge of the abyss and look at what happens when math, English, history, go horribly, horribly wrong.

You don’t like algebra? Fine, we’ll just take away all those computers and calculators and make you use that old standby, the abacus. Having fun computing the sales tax on that copy of “Grand Theft Auto” using your toes? “Moby Dick” is too hard a slog? So sorry, here’s a copy of “The Bridges of Madison County”, and please, no barfing on your essay questions. Don’t thinking learning about the Framers of the Constitution is worth your time? OK, how about we study the legal structure set up after the Bolshevik Revolution–and, by the way, we’ve arrested your dog Scooter for being an Enemy of the People. We’ll give him a handful of kibble once you inform on your parents, your grandparents, your brother, your best friends, and your best friend’s parents.

This radical idea could have implications even for those no longer in school. For example, I would be the last person on earth who should be teaching a class at Home Depot called “How to Resurface Your Asphalt Driveway”. But I would be a natural for an offering titled “How NOT to Resurface Your Asphalt Driveway”. Watching me flail around like a seagull caught in an oil spill could save homeowners countless hours in the shower trying to scrub that shit off their sensitive skin. Not to mention skipping all that time spent in Purgatory for taking the Lord’s name in vain over and over and over again.

Of course this idea is hardly new. When adults wanted to show troubled kids what might happen if they kept it up, they brought in hardened criminals from prison in the hopes that the kids would be “Scared Straight”. In the same vein, the HBO show “Oz” probably did more to reduce crime (especially among white-collar pussy-ass suburban chowderheads) than every incarnation of “Law & Order” and “CSI” and “NYPD Blue”. You see some of this on the Food Network show “Good Eats” (in a much, MUCH lighter vein) when you see Alton Brown making cheesecake and he shows what horrors occur if you don’t blend the wet ingredients in GRADUALLY.

When teaching someone by this method the choice of instructor is important. Alton Brown seems a topper of a chap, a guy who would gleefully strip the skin off a fried turkey. He’s no snob–when he tells you about something that could possibly go horribly wrong, he’s probably speaking from experience. Can you imagine Martha Stewart confessing that she’s overcooked her share of scrambled eggs? Me neither.

That’s why I think Matusow is so good at dissecting horrible poker play. First of all, he’s a different person on camera. He came across as a consummate narcissistic ass during this year’s WSOP coverage, but during these shows he’s relaxed, he’s quiet, and he makes points without sounding like a know-it-all. I watched the WPT Poker Corner, where Daniel Negreanu, Phil Hellmuth, and Annie Duke dissected the WPT Championship final table, and all three were rather irritating with their omniscient hindsight. It wasn’t so much what they said as how they said it. A bit lacking in empathy, I thought (and, surprisingly, I thought Duke was worse than Hellmuth. Negreanu wasn’t too bad, though he called one play by Matt Matros “Donkeyfied”, which I thought a bit harsh).

If Matusow isn’t in Negreanu and Hellmuth’s class (I don’t know enough to compare him to Duke), he’s still a pretty good player, even if he’s better known for his antics than his play. But it was Mike himself coined the phrase “Matusow Melt-Down”, which describes what he seems to do when he gets deep into a tournament–he makes a play that almost beggars belief. He did that in one of the prelim No-Limit WSOP tournaments this year, and after he got knocked out Paul Phillips and Negreanu were talking back and forth like, “I can’t believe he made that call. Me neither”.

So Mike, while certainly not an existentially horrible player like those featured on these shows, has made a few howlers himself over the years. Who better to teach the young people than someone who has climbed to the heights and tumbled into the ditch? Mike could also teach the kids a few life lessons. Like, if you make a million dollars, don’t blow it all on strippers and partying. Put half of it into a Vanguard mutual fund…and blow the REST on strippers and partying, leaving yourself a nice nest egg. Also, if a friend asks you to buy him 3oz of cocaine, don’t do it, because he’s probably not a real friend. In fact, he’s probably an undercover police officer, and they don’t value loyalty and friendship too much. Just say no, kids.

These shows have rather changed my mind about Mike the Mouth. I of course don’t know him personally, so I don’t know if he’s a total asshole or just takes on that persona when he goes to work. But maybe I’ve been a bit hasty in thinking him a total jackass. There are a few people out there who think I’m a complete jackass. If they’re all wrong, maybe I am too.

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5 Responses to “Why Mike Matusow Should Be Teaching High School Math”

  1. StudioGlyphic Says:

    Yep. I can admit I was wrong about you. J/K. Good post.

  2. JohnnyHarp Says:

    Nice to see you back posting, good stuff as always.

  3. Sultan Says:

    It will be interesting to see what the effect of Mike M’s recent incarceration will be on his personality. Also, it will probably interfere with his abilty to get color commentary jobs once he is released from prison as the taint of a drug conviction is difficult to overcome in our society. That being said, I agree with you that people are complex and not always as they seem and that the smartest people are not always the best teachers.

  4. mortal_one Says:

    Alton Brown rules. Best cooking show on TV. (Unless you count WSOP TOC’s Steamed Hellmuth episode.)

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