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Matt Salsberg: On the WSOP Grind, New Poker Show in Development
Poker, Weeds and Entourage.
Those three things often coincide, but only Matt Salsberg makes the latter two proper nouns.
Salsberg has a résumé enviable to anyone in either the poker or entertainment industry.
Aside from being writer and co-producer for Weeds and all types of a producer for Entourage, Salsberg won the WPT Player of the Year in 2012 and has more than $1.4 million in live tournament earnings.
Now Salsberg’s looking to combine the two and stream the gritty poker world to viewers across the world.
Whales Reborn as Loose, Autobiographical Show
“There’s a poker show that I’m developing right now for Amazon, you know, direct streaming, competing with Netflix. So I sort of have a new version of an old show that was in development at Showtime,” Salsberg said on a break last night from the $5k Six-Max event at the 2014 WSOP.
“[I’m] kind of turning it into a loose, autobiographical type show about life on the road as a professional poker player.”
Salsberg, who’s been cashing in live events since 2004, wants to avoid Casino Royale-esque straight-flush-over-two-full-houses-over-flush situations and bring more realism to how Hollywood portrays poker.
“My goal for [the show] is actually to really make it as authentic as possible,” Salsberg said.
“There’s always a balance about making something too inside versus, you know, accesible to the mainstream.”
In this case, Salsberg says, that means hooking poker players while introducing the rest of the world to the poker circuit, lingo and lifestyle.
While he’ll be trying to cast as wide a net as possible, he knows it’s impossible to please everyone.
“Anytime you present a world there’s always going to be some people will say ‘Oh, that’s so dead on and so realistic’. Other people will think that it’s satirical,” Salsberg said.
“So many times life is more unbelievable than art. You know you can come up with a storyline that seems preposterous, but it really happened.
“The thing I’ve learned is that you can’t please everyone when you’re doing the show, especially a comedy.
"Like, one person’s joke is another person’s groaner and while one person gets captivated by a storyline, other people don’t always get on board.”
70th-Place Run at WSOP New Launch Point
The aim for the show is realism and the first place viewers will encounter it is a very real Rio All-Suites Hotel and Casino.
“Originally the pilot was going to be set at the PCA. Now, in the new version I’m doing, it’s set in the [WSOP].
"Just, sort of, because my entree into poker -- into high-stakes poker -- happened in 2011 during the World Series.”
Before the 2011 WSOP Salsberg’s biggest cash was a 3rd-place finish in a $545 NLHE event at the 2011 L.A. Poker Classic for $13,000. Then Salsberg took his first shot at the WSOP Main Event.
He went deep. Double-digits deep.
That year’s Main Event drew 6,865 players and Salsberg finished 70th. The run earned Salsberg his first six-figure score and a launching point for his new show.
“That was my first big score in poker. Because it’s sort of an autobiographical thing here, I figured I should start there.”
Characters a Mashup of Poker Archetypes
From there viewers are thrust into the world Salsberg’s been living on the circuit for the past few years.
“The premise of the show is like a 40-year-old guy that’s like hanging out with guys in their 20s,” Salsberg said. “And he sort of takes on a fatherly role to them.”
His fictional poker children aren’t based on any individual players, Salsberg said, but a mashup of the different archetypes he’s encountered over the years.
“You’ve got some jocks and you’ve got some nerds and you’ve got all sorts of different ethnic clicks and some people are good with girls and like to party and some people are socially awkward,” Salsberg said.
“Other people are honest and have a lot of integrity and a lot of people are scumbags. So, it goes right across the board you know.
“So that’s what I’ve been working to develop on the show, to kind of have the different representations of the type of people that I know.”
"I Wouldn't Cast Somebody to Play a Real Poker Player"
That doesn’t mean we won’t see any well-known players transitioning from the felt to the streamed screen.
“Like Entourage we’re going to do some cameos and stuff,” Salsberg said. “You know, I wouldn’t cast somebody to play a real poker player I would just have some poker players in the show when there’s scenes that warrant it.”
The future poker show has a name but Salsberg prefers not to disclose it because it might change before release. In the meantime he's trying to make it through the summer with his sanity and bankroll intact.
“Fuck, make money,” Salsberg said when asked what his goal for the summer was. “I’ve been on a downswing since last year.
"I’ve gotten so many deep runs and then every time I’m getting close to a decent payday I have not gotten many breaks at all.
“So I’m just hoping to hit something good, keep my bankroll, my poker bankroll healthy.”
"It's Hard to Play Every Day and Stay Focused"
Salsberg said he wouldn’t mind winning a bracelet either and feels that he’s been playing very well. Except for yesterday’s $5K 6-Max.
“[Yesterday] I was actually playing absolutely terrible, but up until [yesterday] I think I’ve been playing good,” Salsberg said. "I butchered a couple of hands where I’m just mad at myself, but it’s hard to play every day and stay focused.”
Despite Salsberg’s self-described terrible play he survived Day 1 of the $5K 6-Max but will start Day 2 as one of the shorter stacks with 28,000.
Regardless of how the tournament ends he’ll be heading back to Los Angeles for a week to recharge. The former WPT Player of the Year is no stranger to the summer grind and wants to avoid an early burnout.
“I kind of notice myself, yesterday, today, in a couple of spots where maybe if I was fresher I wouldn’t have played a hand a certain way and I’m conscious of that,” Salsberg said.
“Last year was my first full WSOP ever and by the last two weeks I kind of just really burned myself out. So, you know, I’m trying to exercise a lot and stay sharp that way.
“It’s a grind. You have to balance yourself. You have to work out, you have to go outside. Go to the pool and go shopping and do whatever you gotta do to have a balanced life.”
Check out our short documentary we shot with Salsberg in LA last year right here.