Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Tao of Five: Matt Savage

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

Matt Savage during the 2004 WSOP at Binion's Horseshoe
(Photo by Flipchip)

The next installment of Tao of Five features tournament director extraordinaire Matt Savage.

If you don't know, over the last two decades Matt Savage has diligently worked his way up the ladder and has become one of the world's most sought after tournament directors. He's one of the founders of the Tournament Director's Association (TDA) which pushed for uniform rules in poker tournaments. He also made a cameo in Curtis Hanson's film Lucky You (and has the imdb profile to prove it in case you didn't see that poker flick starring Drew Barrymore).

Savage is one of the familiar faces I'll come across in casinos in some of the most exotic places such as Australia and Budapest (I think, my memory is fuzzy -- but it was somewhere in Eastern Europe). He's directed tournaments in so many countries we lost count. He's definitely come a long way from his days growing up in San Jose, CA.

As the story goes, Savage worked in a bowling alley as a teenager and had lofty aspirations about becoming a professional bowler a la Ernie 'Big Ern' McCracken and Pete 'PDW' Weber. Bowling did not have as lucrative career as poker, so Savage soon found himself spending more time in poker rooms than bowling alleys.

In his 20s, Savage worked many different jobs within the poker industry -- which is how he was learned almost every aspect of the business side of poker. He paid his dues as a dealer, moving up to floorman and eventually got a shot at being a tournament director. He finally found a role that he felt most comfortable doing. The rest is history.

Savage witnessed the first ripples of poker boom as the WSOP TD from 2002 to 2004. He was at the helm during the last three years that the WSOP was held downtown at Binion's. He's also served as the TD at Bay 101 and he's currently the TD at the Commerce Casino in LA.

Last year, Savage established an Iron Man tournament at Commerce -- an outrageous event without any breaks in a grueling test of stamina. You could leave the table, but if you left... you were dealt out. Meals were served at the tables and the tournament did not end until the last player was left standing. The Iron Man returns at this year's LA Poker Classic (which begins tomorrow at Commerce... here's the 2010 LAPC schedule).

So, let's get to it. Introducing the Tao of Five with Matt Savage...

Pauly: There are a lot of ghosts wandering around Benny's Bullpen and downtown Las Vegas. Do you have any weird or far out stories from your Horseshoe days?

Matt Savage: Well, there is the famous Hellmuth-Grizzle fight and the time when a drinking Daniel Negreanu harassed Brian Nadell. He ended up getting chased around the cash game section. No punches were thrown, however.

Then there was the time we all watched (from the window) as someone jumped off from the top of the parking garage.

The dealers walked out on me before the start of the 2003 WSOP Main Event, but we were able to talk them into coming back.

Working with Nick, Becky, and Benny meant there was never a dull moment, but I wouldn't trade my time there for anything. I often think the traditions of Binion's Horseshoe will never be replaced.

Pauly: What is your favorite Chainsaw Kessler story?

Matt: For the record... I like Allen Kessler... but he has to be the most confused (and) obsessed individual in the game of poker today. He went from complaining about a $200 limit hold'em tournament structure to (going) completely off the wall when I disputed his claim.

I liked the recent story when (Kessler) busted out of a recent Bellagio tournament before the dinner break and still tried to get the free buffet usually reserved for the players that make the dinner break. As it turns out, they went on break 30 minutes early. Eric "Basebaldy" Baldwin let him know... and he went running towards the buffet crazy eyed!

In the recent New Orleans tournament, he commented early on how much he loved the structure early on, but when he reached the final table the tweets and compliments stopped when the structure turned into a shove fest. Of course, he won (in a 4 way chop) so we knew he could not complain about it.

Pauly: Are you an operative with the CIA conducting renditions? Because only a sadist or someone well-versed in interrogation techniques would come up with the concept of an Iron Man tournament. So what are the true origins of the Iron Man event at Commerce?

Matt: I got tired of players always asking for breaks. The 20 min, 30 min, and dinner breaks on the late starting tournament are ridiculous in my humble opinion. Players need to know that they can miss a hand at anytime during a tournament and probably should walk it off from time to time. It is great to see grown men run back and forth the bathroom after folding their hands. A guard is posted at the bathroom to make sure hands are washed. The test of the human condition is fun to watch.

Pauly: The Day 1D debacle with the 2009 WSOP Main Event (where players were shut out) was a definitely blemish on what was otherwise a smooth WSOP. What would you have done differently?

Matt: Turning players away from the world's largest open event is a bad idea. I would have done whatever it took to get players in -- 10-handed plus alternates if necessary. If they had done that, players would have understood, and those unhappy about it would have forgotten about it by the end of the day. As it is happened, it will be a long time (before it ever gets) forgotten. They had 36 hours to figure out what to do if they had too many players going into day 2b.

At the 2004 WSOP Main Event, we had 10 and even a few 11-handed tables strewn from end to end of Binion's between slot machines and to Fremont street. When players busted, 9-handed tables were restored.

Pauly: Are you ever interested in returning to the WSOP as the TD? Would you consider a position as the next WSOP Commissioner?

Matt: Of course, I loved being at the helm of the WSOP but the position has changed now. Jack Effel is more of an administrator than a traditional Tournament Director. I prefer to be on the floor making decisions with the players. There used to be a Tournament Coordinator position that actually shared the top job with the TD at the WSOP. If they ever brought it back some day, I would be happy to work with Jack Effel.

Knowing that I could handle the job as Commissioner (controlling the WSOP spin) is different than (actually) wanting the job. I fear that (aspect of the job) would take me away from what I like to do and what I am best at... on the floor making decisions.

I am pretty sure the WSOP Commissioner position will be dissolved. Mitch Garber, Jack Effel, and Ty Stewart will do a great job and hopefully stay true to the media.

Thanks to Matt Savage for taking the time out to be a part of the Tao of Five. You can (and should) follow him on Twitter.

Stay tuned for the next installment.

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

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