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Interview: Mike Matusow Implodes After "Excessive Celebration" Penalty at WSOP

  • Jonathan ZaunJonathan Zaun
Mike Matusow

Mike Matusow has earned his moniker the hard way. The man known as "The Mouth" became an infamous figure on the World Series of Poker scene during the heyday of ESPN's post-boom broadcasts — heckling Greg Raymer during the champ's 2004 Main Event run while questioning the size of his, well... you get the idea. Since then, Matusow has evolved into beloved favorite of fans and fellow players who prefer their poker to be brash and boisterous rather than boring and bland, and his continual cycle of triumph and trouble has become the stuff of legend.

After a recent incident involving Matusow and WSOP Floorman Dave Lamb resulted in "The Mouth" being muzzled, the poker world quickly rallied around their comrade in arms, proving that despite his foibles and flaws, Matusow has forged genuine friendships throughout a career that has been defined more by controversy than camaraderie on and off the felt.

During the latter stages of Day 2 in Event #25: $2,500 Omaha/Seven-Card Stud Hi-Low Matusow was assessed a one-round penalty for excessive celebration, with the alleged transgression coming after he scored a huge triple up by scooping a three-way pot in stud hi-low. The tournament began with a stacked field of 470 entrants, and after the hand in question took place Matusow found himself in contention for his fifth gold bracelet with just 22 opponents standing between him and the title. The huge scoop put Matusow right around the average stack late on Day 2, and he celebrated the only way he knows how: screaming in joy while circling the table and proclaiming the tournament all but over.

However, before Matusow could capitalize on the momentum and continue making moves, Lamb ruled that his outburst constituted an "excessive celebration" and assessed a one-round penalty. Despite Joe Tehan, Owais Ahmed, and other players in the tournament immediately interjecting and offering their view that Matusow's behavior had not bothered anybody, Lamb insisted that WSOP rules had been violated and the punishment was upheld.

After sitting out for an orbit Matusow returned to the game as a different man, his mindset irrevocably altered and his momentum lost. Within an hour of receiving the penalty his average stack had disappeared, distributed to several opponents in a meltdown reminiscent of Matusow's namesake blowups. Despite declaring earlier that "If I win this pot, everybody will be playing for second," Matusow was ousted in 19th place — with the $7,784 prize he received paling in comparison to the $267,327 payday he had positioned himself for just sixty minutes prior.

Matusow vented through a series of stream-of-consciousness tweets immediately following his elimination, offering the following take:

I tried to comprise myself and me being so emotional of a person I was not able to and I imploded. This was worst ruling in poker history. When you fight for 24 hours of poker play on a nub and win a 200K pot and scream that right yes yes and am forced to miss a round this is unjust. Something really needs to be done by disgusting floor decisions that can change the out come of someone playing for $250K. Again no excuses I played poorly after this unjust ruling but as can emotional person I am it just wasn't right. GL to everyone left in the tournament, (but) if it was Hellmuth or Negreanu or Ivey there's no way they make this disgusting ruling.

Other players in the field who witnessed the incident firsthand also took to Twitter to dispute the ruling:

Owais AhmedAs a frequent @wsop player, it's ridiculous when you have a rogue floor who gives unfair penalties just to prove he's in charge @WSOPTD

JosephWorst penalty I've ever seen was given tonight to @themouthmatusow. So unfair, especially when we're playing for so much $$.

Thomas Keller@oerockets @themouthmatusow I thought the one round penalty on matusow was just terrible. Way over reactive and a terrible precedent.

Finally, one of the most influential voices in the poker community offered a strong rebuttal against the ruling, as Daniel Negreanu authored a blog post to address the issue while making the following statements:

I need to speak up, and speak out against a decision made by a floorman at the WSOP named Dave Lamb ... For the sake of argument, let's just say that Mike was guilty of excessive celebration according to the TDA rules. How in the world can you justify such a harsh penalty without issuing a simple warning prior to that decision? A simple, 'Hey Mike, you have been warned. If you do that again you will get a one round penalty for excessive celebration.' ... This is consistent with a major problem I have with quite a few of the TDA rules that go straight to a penalty without giving the players the benefit of the doubt, and the courtesy of a warning.

The full content of Negreanu's blog post on the matter can be found here.

Matusow was able to regain his composure by the next day and his focus returned to the bracelet chase, so PokerNews caught up with "The Mouth" during a break in the action of Event #28: $10,000 Pot-Limit Hold'em Championship, where he built and bagged a big stack after the first day of play.

PokerNews: Mike, you were involved in a disputed ruling last night during the latter stages of Event #25: $2,500 Omaha/Seven-Card Stud Hi-Low tournament, where you ultimately registered a 19th place finish. Tell us about the incident from your perspective.

Mike Matusow: The ruling cost me the tournament. OK, I have mental issues I’ve been struggling with the whole World Series trying to play well. I’ve been taking a supplement that has affected me a lot, and actually Jack knew about that, we’ve been talking about it because he’s trying to help me. Me and Jack are good friends.

So, it’s been really hard to focus and get in the zone, and when I get a lot of ups and downs, with the medication I’m on, I get really good, or I get suicidal when I’m playing. It’s been like a nightmare. So during this tournament I’m playing the nub forever, and just fighting through, and focusing and focusing and focusing. And playing really well. I’m playing on three and half big blinds for four levels, and I mean, nobody plays on three and half big blinds for four levels.

And then I grinded until I had like 50,000 in front of me, so I’m texting the guy that backs me, “I got fifty, I got three big blinds again.” I’m like “don’t worry, we’re into a nine-handed table now, I’m gonna get it all-in in a three-way action pot, and average is one-seventy, and we’re home free.” And he goes “bro, I have faith in you.” Because I was down to 8,000 playing six and twelve. So now, well, I should’ve had 133,000 the hand before, I had aces up and a six-low versus one pair of jacks, and he ends up running out low-low for an eight-seven low to chop the pot, which was like a 133,000 pot. So I was like, oh man, I got sixty starting the hand, God that was my chance. Then came the next hand where I get three-way action, you know, capped, and I get it all in three-way action where it was a 185,000 pot. And I make a straight, and I go “Yes!” I was like, “Yes!” I said “That’s right, that’s right!” I said “I earned this! For four and a half hours I grinded this nub, I earned this, yes, yes, yes!” I was walking around like “Yes!” That’s all I did. That’s all I did.

PokerNews: No expletives, no negativity, just expressing your excitement?

Nothing, no negativity. And I’m like “How are they going to beat me now?,” and I go back and they say “You’ve got a one-round penalty for excessive celebration.” I said “What?! Are you crazy?” And he said “Don’t tell me anything, this is it.” I told him “I didn’t do anything, I didn’t do anything! This is bullshit, call somebody else. I’m not putting up with this.”

He goes “Don’t argue with me or I’ll have you removed from the tournament.”

PokerNews: Have you had any prior history with Mr. Lamb?

Well, two hours before, me and Matt Glantz, Robert [Mizrachi] and Thomas [Keller], all my friends, we’re talking and telling stories, and I’m saying the F-word. He said “Watch the F-word, I don’t want to hear it.” First of all, you’re allowed to say the F-word, you’re just not allowed to say the F-word towards somebody. That rule was changed six years ago too. So, he warns me on this, which listen, I’ll try and watch my mouth, but there’s nothing against it, right? Then comes this penalty for something that didn’t exist — there’s no such thing as an excessive celebration penalty, OK.

PokerNews: How did the penalty affect your play going forward? You went from an average stack after the triple-up to out of the tournament in right around an hour.

I don’t know if you saw me, but I was crying. I was mentally distraught. I went from up here, to in tears. Now I come back, OK, the very first hand, I misplay. Which is my own fault, I’m not blaming nobody for that. And the next hand, I get unlucky, and then I look down, I have 105,000… and I’m like, I can’t do this anymore, this is so unfair what just happened to me, and I just broke into hysteria. I start grasping to get it back, and I played awful. Just gave my chips away, and just, my mental frame was like the world was coming to an end. I don’t know how to explain it, people that know me understand what I go through a lot of times. I just didn’t care, I was a mess, and I just gave away all my chips.

The point is, when you’re playing for 12 hours in the zone, and you’ve finally gotten to that emotional high. Believe me when I say, nobody was going to beat me once I got there, I was so in the zone. And to take my momentum? First of all, cards run in streaks too, I mean, those eight hands I missed, I could’ve won four or five of them. And those free hands are worth a lot of money at 8,000/16,000 limit. To take that away when we’re playing for a quarter of a million dollars, on a rule that doesn’t exist, was plain out against the law. What they did to me was criminal, and I’m going to see what they make up to me for it, because this cost me the tournament. Now, would I have won the tournament? I don’t know, but a hundred percent guarantee I would’ve made the final table, and that’s the bottom line OK.

What happened to me because I broke down and blew up, happened because of my mental situation, and anybody who talks to my doctors knows what I go through. Because I had to ride that super high and super low at the same time, then when I lost a pot I became unravelled. Everything, all the negative thoughts went through my mind about how they did this to me. And hey, I blame nobody but myself, I blew up, whatever. But no possible way what happened to me last night, and how I went broke, could’ve happened if what they did to me didn’t happen first. That’s the bottom line.

PokerNews: What have you learned about the “excessive celebration” penalty since this incident occurred?

I had no… I still thought there was an excessive celebration penalty because I had heard something about that, even though I didn’t excessively celebrate, OK, but when Jack Effel called me this morning and said “Mike, well we don’t even have that penalty anymore, we got rid of that two years ago,” now I’m thinking to myself wow. Not only did this guy fuck me and steal my tournament, he fucking gave me a penalty that doesn’t exist. So, this was hard to handle.

With the incident creating an uproar among the professional poker community, WSOP Executive Director Ty Stewart addressed player concerns regarding overzealous enforcement of rules regarding conduct by making the following statement on Twitter:

Don't want to judge what I didn't see but want every player to know all WSOP staff will have reinforced (that) we are in customer service business. Our job to run a fair game and create positive experience for all customers, period. Not make people act how we think they should. Poker needs to be fun. There will be no mall cops on the WSOP staff and the words 'excessive celebration' should never be spoken by a TD.

Matusow, for his part, was able to center himself the following day and he appeared to have moved on without letting the episode disrupt his ongoing pursuit of a fifth WSOP bracelet win.

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