Sunday, April 12, 2009

Check-Raising the Devil: The Mike Matusow Autobiography

By Pauly
Hollyweird, CA

In America, we're suckers for a rags-to-riches-to-rags-to-rehab-to-riches stories.

Mike Matusow epitomized the American Dream and an E! True Hollywood Story all rolled up into one... white trash roots, lived a wild yet misunderstood childhood, harnessed an innate genius to become famous and rich, partied to excess, got in trouble with the law, went to rehab, and bounced back into the spotlight as one of the most noticeable pros in the game.

One month from today, on May 12th, the highly anticipated Mike Matusow autobiography will be released... Mike Matusow: Check-Raising the Devil written by Amy Calistri and Dr. Tim Lavalli (aka the Poker Shrink).

Check-Raising the Devil was not the first attempt at extracting an autobiography from The Mouth. Michael Craig was originally attached to the project circa 2006 and spent the better part of the Christmas holiday in 2006 interviewing Matusow in Las Vegas. Within a couple of weeks, Craig left the project due to creative differences with Matusow's agent, and that's when Amy and the Shrink got a crack at the book. They officially jumped on board after the 2007 WSOP and they have been attached to the project ever since. Craig even offered up all his notes and interview tapes that were approximately fours hours in length. It total, the Shrink accumulated over 70+ hours of audio interviews with Matusow which were the genesis of the book.

I'm friends with both authors and obtained first-hand knowledge regarding the trials and tribulations of the entire process. From the get-go, Amy and the Shrink had major obstacles to overcome beginning with hold-ups and delays in securing the contract to write the book. There were plenty of challenges dealing with a volatile personality such as Mike Matusow and keeping him focused enough to talk about specific and difficult points in his life.

The book was not an easy birth. Amy and the Shrink were bogged down in hellacious struggles between themselves and the publishers during the editing process. The original first chapter was cut and hopefully Amy and Shrink will share that will us someday. I'd actually love to read the original "authors'" cut before the publishing company hacked up and re-organized their manuscript.

Amy wrote on her blog...
"Getting a book out is like having a baby. At first, you're all starry eyed with the romantic notion. By the end of it, you're calling everyone in the delivery room a cocksucker.

The only difference is that just as you're ready to push out your book, the doctor starts saying things like, "Are you married to the name? Let's change the name" or "It would be a lot easier to deliver if we could lose a few appendages. Look, it's never gonna be a Major League pitcher. We can lose a few fingers and the kid won’t even miss them." In the end, you hope that what comes out resembles the vision you had going into the project.
Yet despite all the behind-the-scenes bullshit, Amy and the Shrink pieced together an entertaining autobiography that depicted Matusow's rise from humble beginnings in a Nevada trailer park to achieving rock-and-roll status after winning millions of dollars on the poker circuit. The dark side of Las Vegas, morbid addiction, and fame preyed on Matusow and he quickly fell from grace. And when you fall in Vegas... you fall hard and fast. After time in rehab and a stint in prison, Matusow eventually sought salvation and with the proper guidance he's headed towards redemption.

According to the Poker Shrink....
"I am glad that poker fans will finally get the opportunity to hear Mike's side of the story. I can only promise that some of the tales will seem like Mike is covering up his guilt or blame, others will surely seem like way more of a confession than you ever would have expected but finally, there are stories in the book that no one has ever heard before and Mike was honest enough to tell them like they happened and never once asked us to tone them down or clean them up."
Check-Raising the Devil was written in the first person. The editors obviously cleaned up a lot of Matusow-speak, which is sort of like watching The Breakfast Club on TNT in a edited-for-TV sort of way. That's not to say that they censored all the partying and drug scenes. All of the mischievous hijinks were included (although some of the names were changed) and and if anything, they held back on a few scenes.

It's been widely known in poker circles that Matusow had a penchant for street drugs for many years for both recreational and self-medicating purposes. His struggles with drugs affected his poker play in both positive and negative ways. The book discusses that aspect in great detail... how meth was initially a wonder drug for Matusow and he went on a million-dollar rush tweaking his ass off... but in the end, the addiction and reliance upon speed led to his downfall at the tables.

Thee heart of the book included chapters discussing the recovery > sting > arrest > trail > prison. After realizing the partying and meth was rotting his brain and destroying his future as a professional poker player, Matusow had cleaned up his act and was trying to turn his life around when he got set up doing a coke deal for a couple of friends who turned out to be a DEA agent and an FBI informant.

The prison chapter stood out from the rest of the book. Matusow painted us a word picture of what it was like being in jail from the different jobs he had (kitchen detail, laundry, and landscaping) to his multiple experiences with getting thrown in the hole. Supposedly, someone from the inside kept messing with Matusow's status and he was constantly moved around from the mellower parts of the prison to the dreaded North Tower where the hardened criminals were quartered. On Matusow's first night in the North Tower, his cellmate threatened to kick his ass if he snored. That instantly scared the fuck out of Matusow and he did everything possible to stay awake. He eventually dozed off and he woke up with his cellmate choking him. A scuffle ensued and Matusow quickly asked to be transferred. The guards gave him two choices... stay in the cell with the psychopath... or get thrown into the hole. Matusow chose the hole.

Hard core poker fans will love the detailed hand analysis from different highlights in Matusow's tournament career (first bracelet win, the 2005 Main Event final table, and the TOC victory), however, those were some of my least favorite parts. The specifics slowed down the pacing of the book and after a while, I skimmed those sections and feasted on the juiciest parts such as the prison chapter.

As a known drug fiend, I was intrigued with the self-medication vs. doctor-prescribed pharmies battle. That's one of the most intriguing parts of the book even though Matusow's mental stability was just a back-story. Obviously, the strengths of the Poker Shrink where shining through on those sections.

Several poker biographies/autobiographies were released over the last few years and Matusow's story is by far one of the most fascinating stories that I read in recent memory. You can pre-order the Matusow book today via Amazon. The book will be released in stores on May 12.

Original content written and provided by Pauly from Tao of Poker at All rights reserved. RSS feeds are for non-commercial use only.

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