Poker Pro Mike Matusow Deals With Mental Illness

Written by:
C Costigan
Published on:

By Steve DiMeglio, USA TODAY

June 8, 2009

Behind the glamour and glory of poker star Mike "The Mouth" Matusow's high-stakes world was depression and despair. The often contentious and trash-talking Matusow, who exploded across TV screens during poker's boom earlier this decade with his great play at the tables and even more spectacular meltdowns, shows all his cards in Check-Raising the Devil, a candid, often harrowing and always riveting autobiography. While Matusow details poker strategy in reciting key hands in his life, the book deals more with how he lived his life on tilt in a world of drugs, clubs, strippers, huge bankrolls and huge bust-outs.

Matusow also holds nothing back in talking about his daily struggles to combat addiction, bipolar disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), which he would self medicate with drugs like Ecstasy and methamphetamine. This eventually led to his arrest for drug trafficking and a six-month prison term.

Matusow now helps people with encouraging words and support. He is healthy - physically and mentally - and ready to take on all comers in this month's World Series of Poker. Before heading off to one of about 30 tournaments he will play this year, Matusow spoke with USA TODAY's Steve DiMeglio.

Q: Why did you write the book?

"I spent two years working on it and I wanted to make sure that it reaches people and I hope people can learn from it and enjoy it. I wrote it to help people and help younger poker players so they don't go through the same problems and situations that I went through. And I didn't like being described in a certain way and being described as a certain person that I wasn't. I wanted to write the book and set the record straight and show people what I go through when I play poker and how hard it is to play poker. And that I'm a nice guy, too."

Q: Was it painful to recall, and then put into words, some of the more difficult times in your past?

"It wasn't painful to write. I wanted to get a lot of stuff off my chest, things that I went through and things that happened to me so people can understand more or less that I'm a different person than they see on TV. Things can happen to people - you have to watch who you hang around with. But it was what it was."

Q: Were some of your meltdowns or outbursts at the poker tables caused by keeping things to yourself?

"Not being able to get things off my chest led to most of my outbursts, I would say. That was one of the main reasons I wrote the book. I had to unload, get things off my chest. There were times when I was playing and I knew I had to go off to jail and I just couldn't tell anyone. It wasn't easy."

Q: As you looked back on everything, did you sometimes wonder if you're lucky to be alive?

"I sometimes had a hard time when I was putting the book together going through what I went through. I try not to think about it too much. It was amazing what I went through. A lot of times I can't believe that it was me who went through all those things, that it was me who did all those things. But on a second note, I know it was me. I just have to try and laugh it off. I went through what I went through and I survived it. I'll get through whatever happens to me next."

Q: How are you feeling these days?

"I feel great. I just slept a long, long time. I was just thinking I have to get out of bed. I feel good, I weigh about 198. I've been sleeping a lot. My sleeping schedule is all screwed up. I'm trying to get my body to wake up at noon. It's kind of weird with the WSOP tournaments. They have one tournament that starts at noon and one at 5 p.m. If you get up too early, then you're burned out at the end of the day in the 5 p.m. tournament. You want to wake up around noon so you can get to the 12 o'clock tournament by 2 because you can put your chips down as late as two hours late. So it's kind of weird."

Q: How are you playing these days?

"I'm playing so good right now, so good. It's scary how good I'm playing. In the first tournament, the $40,000 buy-in, I got real unlucky and I was 20 from cashing in the tournament. It bothered me for a little bit but that's in the past now. I can't wait to start playing the next tournament and then the one after that and so on. Basically every single day for the next five weeks I'll be playing in the World Series. And that makes life great."

Q: In the book, there are scores of poker hands that you detailed. Did you have to resort to videos of those tournaments to recall exactly what happened?

"Every hand that pretty much played an important role in my life, the ones that I wrote about in the book, I was able to just talk into the tape recorder. I have a photographic memory when it comes to poker. I remembered everything. I remember everything."

Q: Do you like the book?

"I love the book. It gets everything out there in the open. It shows people I am a good person. I do deserve what I went through but things are looking up in the future."

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