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Chip Leadah! Matt Graham Crackers the Competition at Foxwoods
Chances are good you have no idea just who in the world Matt Graham is. If you do, you probably know him from his online play, where as mattg1983 he has made his name on the high-stakes MTT leaderboards, taking down the PokerStars.com $109+R NLHE tournament for $34,210 in August, 2007 and earning the coveted PocketFives Triple Crown after winning three high-stakes MTTs within a week's time in October of 2006.
Over the past year or so, PokerListings.com has noticed Graham's name and hockey-themed tattoo turning up at more and more live events as the New Orleans native builds up a solid resume of cashes on the professional circuit. The 23-year-old has held the chip lead since Day 2 at the World Poker Finals in Foxwoods, Connecticut, and with a top-dog stack of $1,161,000 after Day 3 of play is primed to make his first serious run at a big score.
PokerListings.com talked to Graham shortly after the conclusion of play on Day 3.
So how did your day go today?
It went really, really well. I got off to a rocky start: I started with $590,000 and after the first level I had $450,000, and with the blinds only $1,000/$2,000 that's a lot of chips to lose, so I was pretty upset. I lost a big race to Ted Lawson and things just weren't going my way. Every time I tried to continuation bet a flop, people were waking up with hands - I think. I don't think they were making moves; it wouldn't make sense because I had a lot of chips. I don't have reason to think otherwise, but I think I was running into a lot of big hands.
But you were able to turn things around?
Yeah, I won a big hand with ace-king against pocket jacks. We went into a re-raised flop and I turned a king and was called when I bet. We went check-check on the river but it was still a really big pot because it was re-raised pre-flop and then I continuation bet, so that was a big pot.
And then I pulled a couple of really big bluffs. I bet and check-raised the turn and then shoved the river on one hand on a bluff and that was a huge pot because the pot developed so quickly. The guy folded top pair - he had ace-queen on an ace-high board - and if he'd called there I would have been totally tilted and on my way out the door, probably. But he folded, so that was a huge turning point.
Where you able to use your big stack to abuse the bubble at the end of the day?
Yeah. During the bubble I was pretty much raising four or five hands an orbit and occasionally getting called. A couple times when I got called I knew they had big hands so I didn't even continuation bet; I just check-folded. It's good for my image if people see me check-folding; I'm not just always betting whenever I have the opportunity.
How were your tables today?
My tables were pretty good. I never had a really aggressive player on my left who really challenged me or who would play back.
What's your assessment of the overall level of skill at this event?
My tables have been pretty decent. They've been better than some of the other tables I've been at; not the toughest. There are a good amount of satellite players in the event, so it's been kind of mixed and matched. I'd say it's about an average field for a WPT tournament.
We've seen you at a few tournaments on the circuit over the past year but I understand you're more of an online player.
Yeah, I play under the handle "mattg1983" online. I've been playing high-stakes tournaments for about two-and-a-half years now and I just started playing WPT events this year. So far I haven't had any big successes; I've built a lot of stacks and cashed a few times and had a lot of chips going deep into tournaments. I've been [in the] top five in chips on Day 2's and 3's a few times now but things just haven't gone my way deep, so hopefully it will be different this time.
We watched you go deep at the Gold Strike in Tunica this year and you were busted in kind of an interesting hand with Daniel Negreanu. Can you talk about what happened there?
With about 20 people left in the tournament Daniel had just won a big pot - he hit a flush on the river while he was all-in - so all of a sudden he's got a big pile of chips and he's stacking them up and the next hand, he was still stacking his chips, I was in the big blind and I had about 18 big blinds and he was on the button.
I told myself "He's probably going to raise with any two cards if it folds to them here," and when it folded to him he raised to $15,000 [the blinds were $3,000/$6,000] as expected. I decided to go all-in with anything. I didn't even look, I just shoved, and he woke up with jacks. And I turned over my first card and it was a three and my second was a jack, so I got in about as bad as I could get in pre-flop.
He commented on the hand later with an unflattering judgment of your play.
I don't know if he just doesn't understand the math behind the play or whatever, but he made some comment about me playing "kamikaze poker," which is just ridiculous. I play a pretty tight game but there's a lot of solid math behind that play, and for him to criticize it I guess says that it's not really a play that he's accustomed to in the live circuit, whereas online it's a pretty common play.
So you wouldn't describe yourself as a kamikaze player?
No, not at all. I'm a pretty tight player overall. I get called a nit all the time.
That hand kind of speaks to some of the differences between online and live play. Do you approach these tournaments with a different strategy than in online games?
Well, I do play a little bit looser live, because overall the skill level is not as high as the tournaments that I play online. So I'm able to play more hands and play them profitably, whereas online I have to play them a little bit tighter. Basically I play my table, and overall my live tables are a lot weaker and tighter so I'm able to loosen up more. That's the main difference, and then being deep-stacked so you can maneuver any way you want to.
Do people know who you are when you play them live?
Some people do. Online players do and several live players do, but overall I'm kind of a nobody in the field, I'd say.
Do you have a strategy going into tomorrow?
Not really. I'll have to see my table and the players and their stacks and then I'll figure out what I'm going to do. I don't usually have a game plan; I'll just see what happens and figure out what the best way to approach it is.
Well, you've certainly got the chips to back up any strategy you might come up with. Good luck tomorrow.
Despite Daniel Negreanu's less-than-glowing assessment of his playing style, it's plain to see that Matt Graham is a rising star, whose impressive online resume speaks volumes about the depth of his strength as a poker strategist and his immense supply of raw talent. With his dominant chip stack and substantial online experience, Graham is in great position to go deep at Foxwoods and break away from his relative anonymity in the live arena.