Matt Ashton Interview

Matt Ashton Interview

Monday, 12 August 2013

Meet Britain's new mixed-game king.

Although the Main Event still rages at press time, Liverpool’s Matt Ashton is mathematically very likely to be the WSOP Player of the Year, thanks to four final tables and a Players Championship bracelet. We chat to the mixed-game master and new hero of British poker.

Congratulations, it seems like you came out of nowhere, but you must have come from somewhere! This success must be the product of a lot of hard work.

Well, if you’re going to report about how hard I work, that’s fine by me. I started playing when I was quite young and I just kept playing really, because I enjoyed it. I just tried to watch players who were better than me and learn from them. I moved from hold’em to PLO to all the mixed games.

A lot of people expect an older, more “experienced” player to win the Players Championship.

Experience means something different now. Even though I’m younger than most, I’ve still been playing for nine years and I’ve been playing mixed games for maybe four years online, and four years online is worth a lot. I don’t know how many years live that’s worth, because live is different – you learn more in between hands when you play live – but I’m certainly more experienced than people would expect in these games.

So do you just get bored of a certain game and move on? Is that how it works?

Yeah, I just like games, full stop. I think people who like to play chess and backgammon take to the mixed games well, because they just enjoy playing the games, rather than being motivated by money or competition. I started off with hold’em tournaments, like a lot of people, and then Omaha, and I probably had a bad Omaha session, so I moved to the mixed games, playing low-stakes for fun. Then PokerStars brought in 8-game in 2009 and I started playing it straight away. I really enjoyed it and just played it all the time.

What were the big moments for you in the Players Championship?

I had one really crucial hand on day 3 in PLO when I had top set against Todd Brunson’s wrap – a 17-card straight draw – and Brandon Cantu’s nut-flush draw and straight draw. I think I was something like 50%, so I get knocked out of the tournament half the time there. But apart from that there weren’t many crucial pots – if I made a big bluff it worked out and so on. And then at the final table I ran really well in the PLO and Omaha 8b rounds and just won the crucial pots.

This is your fourth time at the WSOP. How do you keep focused in Vegas for so long? We hear there are many distractions for young people there.

I think starting the Series so well helped me focus. It gave me the confidence to carry through to the other tournaments. So even when I busted eight tournaments in a row, which happens pretty easily, I still had the confidence in my game and was confident coming into the Players Championship. Sorry, I've forgotten the question…

How do you stay focused?

Oh yeah (laughs). The first couple of times I came I definitely went out more and enjoyed the Vegas lifestyle a lot more, but this time I actually had a house with five other poker players, and being away from the Strip is a lot different. Sharing a house, you feel much more settled and it’s much less tempting to just go and gamble or drink.

You don’t seem to be part of the “Brit Pack” of young British players – Jake Cody, Matt Perrins, Sam Trickett et al. Do you know those guys?

I don’t really have any British poker friends. Most of my poker friends I played online with first and then met them in Vegas – they’re mostly American. So I don’t really know those guys well. I think people like Jake Cody and Sam Trickett are just so good at NLH, and they just stuck with that instead of playing the mixed games.

Of all the mixed games, which is your best game?

I’d say Omaha hi-lo is my best game. I think the fact that it’s a split pot game makes it more mathematical and grounded in game theory and I think you need to be a little bit more creative.

What’s your grounding in maths and game theory?

Well, I did manage to finish a maths degree so I have a good grounding in numbers, and then I read The Mathematics of Poker by Bill Chen, which I think is the best poker book out there. I just started trying to apply that to all the different games and just think really hard about different ranges and different situations. That’s pretty much it really, put in its simplest form. It can get pretty complicated and there are lots of strategies to consider. You have to consider every option in a poker hand. Never close your mind to just one way.

Did you go straight into poker after your degree? Did you ever have to get a job?

I had enough money by the time I got to university to pay for university. That obviously made my parents happy. I’ve never had an actual job, no.

How life-changing is money you’ve won this summer?

The money itself isn’t too life-changing – in the sense that it’s not going to change what I do at all. I just want to go away and play online poker and keep trying to improve. Most of the big live tournaments are high roller NLH events and I just don’t enjoy NLH enough to play a lot of those. I still enjoy them – I just don’t want to play them all the time. Occasionally, yes, but if I went to every single EPT I don’t think I could play my best because I wouldn’t be that into it.

Did you play the Main Event?

I did, but I don’t think I played my best. I hadn’t quite settled down after the Players Championship. My head was still spinning…

Does the bracelet mean a lot or is it all about the money?

Yeah, it means a lot to me, especially as a mixed player to win that event. It’s probably the event that gets the most recognition. Going into the event I still really, really wanted to win the bracelet and I believed that I could. I was still really confident in my game because of the previous performances. It was the thing I wanted most this summer. I just really, really wanted to win.

Did you run good?

I think I was incredibly lucky to make even one final table, never mind four final tables and a bracelet. It takes a lot of luck to do that, no matter who you are or how good you are. But I’d like to think I played my A-game a lot this year and I’d like to think that I played the cards better than most people.

Tags: Matt Ashton, WSOP, interviews