The Hand I’ll Never Forget: Mike Matusow’s Disaster with Pocket Kings

  • Sean ChaffinSean Chaffin
The Hand I’ll Never Forget: Mike Matusow’s Disaster with Pocket Kings 0001
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  • Mike Matusow ran KK into AA at the 2005 WSOP Main Event final table. He reflects on this epic hand.

It’s the hand that put you over the top. Or the two cards you held that time you were rivered for a monster pot. Everyone has “the hand,” that one that you remember no matter how many more tournaments or cash games played. PokerNews takes a look at those hands that stick with players and relive the glory, or misery, depending on the results.

For our first edition of this series, we spoke with Mike “The Mouth” Matusow about two memorable hands that will live with him forever.

2005 World Series of Poker Main Event

“Mine’s easy, this is the year after I got out of jail and final tabled the Main Event,” Matusow says. “The only thing I thought about when I was in jail was getting out and winning the World Series. I ended up playing … and took it day by day and hand by hand, and I got to the final table.”

In 2005, 5,619 players showed up to play in the Main Event as the game was right in the middle of the poker boom. First place paid $7.5 million and the coveted bracelet. At the time, Matusow had won two bracelets and had also run deep in the 2001 Main Event (won by Carlos Mortensen), finishing sixth for $239,765.

To have come so close, Matusow craved a Main Event title. After spending six months in jail on a drug conviction, Matusow wrote in his book Check-Raising the Devil that he had put drug usage behind him and looked to re-emerge in the poker world with a win on the game’s biggest stage.

“I said to ESPN and everybody in 2005 that the only way I wouldn’t win is if they gave me kings against aces against one of these idiots,” Matusow says. “And the second hand off the deck at the final table I get kings versus aces. And I still have plenty of chips and I’m all focused – and the king flops and I go crazy. That’s the first time in my life that I thought I was going to win the World Series.”

ESPN’s cameras caught Matusow jumping in jubilation, arms stretched high in the air. The celebration would not last. The turn brought a heart for his opponent, Californian Scott Lazar, and then the river brought another heart giving Lazar a flush.

“What a nightmare beginning to this final table for Mike Matusow,” ESPN’s Lon McEachern noted on the broadcast.

Matusow built his stack back up, but ultimately finished ninth for $1 million. Australia’s Joe Hachem won the title for $7.5 million, and Lazar finished sixth for $1.5 million.

Had those three kings held up, Matusow believes the tournament would have a much different ending with the massive chip stack he would have had.

“I couldn’t have lost,” he says. “That’s the negative hand I’ll never forget.”

2005 WSOP Tournament of Champions

Not to simply dwell on the negative, Matusow offered up one more hand that sticks with him. Down to three at the final table of the WSOP Tournament of Champions, Matusow was up against Phil Hellmuth and Hoyt Corkins.

“I played as good as I can and finally made a mistake after like eight hours,” he says. “Hoyt Corkins had ace-king and I had ace-queen and we got it all in. It came there blanks on the flop, queen on the turn. But the queen on the turn also gave him like a Broadway draw and diamond draw. He bricks the river, and I win the hand and go on to win the Tournament of Champions.”

The win scored Matusow another $1 million and a nice title. Corkins won second for $325,000 and Hellmuth finished third for $250,000. It was a huge run that summer in 2005 for The Mouth, but it could have been so much more. The Tournament of Champions was a bit of redemption after the cooler earlier in the Main Event. While incarcerated for six months prior to that summer’s WSOP, poker was on his mind throughout his time in the Clark County Jail.

“All I thought about was winning the World Series every day,” he says. “When I got out I wanted to destroy the poker world, and I almost did.”

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