– My guest is Ian Matakis, who won the Player of the Year race at the last World Series. Hello! We wanted to interview you during the series, but decided to wait for the official results. It's been a few weeks now, have you recovered from the grueling grind?
– Yes, I have already spent enough time at home surrounded by relatives, I am very glad to return to my girlfriend and friends. I even managed to play some poker, but, of course, not as much as in Vegas.
I first heard about you a few years ago at the MSPT series. One Minnesota player urged me to memorize your name. Said you were a future poker star. In Vegas, you fully lived up to his expectations, but the general public still knows almost nothing about you. Tell us a little about your career.
I am 25 years old, born and raised in Minnesota. I have been playing poker since I was eight years old, my sister explained the rules to me, and we constantly played with her and my brothers.
– Ever worked at a regular job or did you immediately become a professional?
I worked before college and during. I studied at the University of Minnesota as an accountant but dropped out in the second semester. Decided to focus on poker.
– When did you start playing seriously?
I have been playing professionally for about 5 years. There are places in Minnesota where you can play from the age of 18, but most are 21. Before 20 I sometimes played daily tournaments for $150 and cash $1/$2 spread limit, but within certain limits, and then began to expand the playing range.
I lost count trying to figure out how many cashes you had this year at the World Series.
– I know for sure – 22, I didn’t count myself, but I am constantly reminded of this. Nine online and 13 live.
– I was just about to ask, did you start your poker journey online and then move to live?
– Yes, before I was 21 I played much more online, but I also always liked live, so I started playing live as soon as possible. I play mostly in series, some big tournaments. Online is still my main occupation, about 70/30.
– You won a bracelet at the very beginning of the World Series, and it was online. Do you remember the details?
– I played from my phone right at the table during some kind of live bracelet tournament. Went through there on the second day and asked a buddy to drive me home so I could keep playing on the road. There was already a very deep stage, it seems, the top 12. By the final table, I was already at home and finished playing it from my laptop. The tournament ended around 4-5 AM, and due to the surge of emotions, I was able to fall asleep at about 7 AM. And by 10 AM I had to return to the casino again, where the second day of the live tournament began.
– After that, you started to get into the money and make final tables almost every day. When did you realize that you have a real chance for "Player of the Year"?
– It was a new experience for me – when every tournament ends with a deep run. Unusual feelings. Last year, I also played almost the entire series, but such results were not even close. I realized that I had a good chance when the series was halfway through, and I continued to lead. I deliberately stopped playing in other casinos, completely focused on the WSOP. I even discussed with a couple of people the possibility of taking lessons in mixed games but decided to postpone it for now. This time I didn’t play any of them, but I will definitely do it next year.
– Before you, many people were sure that without mixed games it was impossible to win the Player of the Year at all. But you still made sacrifices for the leaderboard and played a $50,000 PLO tournament.
– Yes, it was the first tournament in my life with such a buy-in. Moreover, I went deep in the previous tournament, so I registered at the very end when the starting stack was 20 blinds or even less.
– But that didn't stop you from getting into the money, you got $200,000 for 9th place. Two weeks later, you took 3rd place in a $3,000 6-max PLO. At that moment, did you finally understand that you had first place locked up?
– After this tournament, the gap became huge, but the victory was not yet guaranteed. The $10k short deck tournament, which took place at the very end of the series, made me very nervous. Chris Brewer took 7th place in it, and a victory would put him in the lead by a narrow margin. However, a couple of days later I cashed in the penultimate $5k event of the series, which would have been enough for me to regain the top spot. When I busted out of the last tournament, one of the journalists told me that none of the players were in the tournament anymore.
– Before the series, you did not know any of the main competitors. Did you meet Shaun Deeb in Vegas?
– Yes, he himself approached me during one of the tournaments. Mutual respect was there immediately, at each meeting we began to tease each other, to wish for failure in the next tournament. On the $50k PLO bubble, we ended up at the same table, which turned out to be quite an interesting dynamic. We cheered against each other in all-ins, it was fun. We exchanged a couple of messages with Chris Brewer, he congratulated me and said a lot of nice words. Also a great guy.
– You said that next year you will play mixed games, have you already started studying?
– For the time being I'm more of a fish, playing online tournaments for $10-20, and cheap cash games with friends. I watch instructional videos that I found on the Internet. While everyone likes it, I was always interested in learning something new in poker.
– Will this somehow affect your plans, maybe you will move to Vegas, where there is always a lot of action in limit games?
– For the next couple of years, we decided to stay in Minnesota with the girl. I have all my relatives here, nephews were recently born, so now is not the best time to move. I don’t know what will happen in a few years, I don’t like to look so far ahead. But I will travel a lot through the series, so I'm not afraid to stay in one place.