In The Making of a Poker Player: How An Ivy League Math Geek Learned To Play Championship Poker , Matt Matros attempts to combine a poker memoir with poker strategy, and almost fully succeeds. While Matros is able to give a little of both through this expressive, interesting, and well written narrative, his audience will find the work falls just short of being totally compete. Written before Matros took third in the 2004 World Poker Tour Championship Event, Making of a Poker Player chronicles the Yale math major’s development from table home games to Vegas glory. Though divided into chapters like a pure strategy book (i.e. Chapter 9: Playing as a Maniac), the book actually relates the strategy chronologically, so that the reader acquires poker savy in the same order that Matros came by it. This approach prevents both the story line and the advice from sounding tedious and instead provides for quite a page-turner. Before writing the book, Matros also picked up an M.F.A. in creative writing from Sarah Lawrence, which serves him exceedingly well in this superbly written book. Matros’ verbal talents convey his mathematical adeptness to the reader, making his complicated theorizations comprehensible, and, surprisingly, interesting.
As a storyteller, Matros puts the reader at the table with him, relating in detail certain hands (both good and bad), certain players, and certain tournaments with all the excitement and detail necessary to describe those tense moments and events. He chronicles his experiences at every level of the game: home games, online, casinos, small tournaments, televised tournaments. He charmingly reminisces about Texas Hold’em tournaments at the house of his friend Greg “Fossilman” Raymer, who went on to become the 2004 World Series of Poker victor.
A scholar of the game almost obsessively devoted to its study and to self-improvement, Matros writes poker strategy with aplomb and great insight (especially for one so young in the game) and conveys just how much hard work and studying are necessary to create a champion. His chapters on game theory and heads-up theory, though too cursory to be comprehensive, are artfully written and incisive. While Making of a Poker Player is full of poker tips, it is by no means a good choice as a beginning guide. Instead, this book serves well as a supplement for a player with knowledge of basic strategy and simply wants to be engaged by great, passionate writing.