Matt Matros MFA '04
If anyone knows how stressful it can be sitting in close quarters with peers at round tables, it’s Matt Matros MFA ’04. At Sarah Lawrence, said tables were in writing workshops, where students sweated the ritual criticism and judgment of teachers and classmates. But these days, the little tables are presided over by a card dealer, and bathed in TV lights—and Matros and his counterparts are engaged in trying to take each other’s money. Lots of money. He’s a professional poker player.
Literature and poker are not such strange bedfellows. “At the heart of literature is understanding people and characters, and what makes them tick,” Matros says. “Same as poker.” (Which, if you think about it, is why many players wear sunglasses: The last thing they want is to be “understood.”)
Matros graduated from Yale with a degree in math, something that figures powerfully into his strategies “on the felt” (at the table, in poker lingo). Three years later, he entered the Sarah Lawrence graduate writing program, studying with Joshua Henkin, Joanne Beard, Joan Silber ’67 and Carolyn Ferrell ’84. Between his first and second years at SLC, during a “very poker-intensive summer,” Matros won enough money at the Foxwoods casino in Connecticut to pay for the rest of graduate school.
The novel he started is on hold, but the rest of his writing career isn’t. Matros is ghosting a book for a fellow player that is due out for the winter holidays. His own book, The Making of a Poker Player, published in April 2005, covers poker strategy through a narrative of his own experiences as a player. “It’s designed so that anyone at any level can read it and get something out of it,” says Matros. His website includes book excerpts, as well as a poker journal, essays for beginners and poker-related math.
Math’s role in poker is difficult to define for the lay person, but it might come down to a Matros aphorism that’s as readily applicable to daily life as to competitive cards: “You’re a small favorite a lot more often than you’re a big underdog.”
He recently bought a condo in Brooklyn with some of his winnings from a surprise third-place finish last year at one of the most prestigious tournaments on the circuit, at the Bellagio in Las Vegas. At press time, he was on his way to Reno for another big match. “I don’t see myself playing poker forever,” he says, “but right now it’s what I do for a living. In ten years, I doubt I’ll be playing full time. In five years, I don’t know; if things are like they are now, it’ll be tough to stop.”