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Mike Matusow: Exhibit #1 for State Theory
Okay, so I've become an official reviewer of poker books (so long as they have interesting psychological elements) - and, man does Mike Matusow's Check-Raising the Devil ever.
The title of his new book is absolutely inspired, and Satan is played by none other than Mr. Matusow, who has now spent four decades channeling Beelzebub.
It's a fascinating read.
Mike's not exactly in line for a Pulitzer Prize, but the prose is straightforward (with help from co-authors Amy Calistri and Dr. Tim Lavalli) and he communicates his passion, his fears, desires, terrors, depressions, addictions, overarching successes, cataclysmic collapses and desperate needs with a refreshing, if brutal, honesty.
Matusow is a crazy mix of an almost occult ability to read people at a poker table whipped up with an equally unlikely self-destructive streak that makes the reader cringe and think, "oh shit, not again, Mikey, don't do it ..." knowing that he will indeed pick up that metaphoric gun and look around for his allegorical foot!
From my psychological point of view he is a signature case in a classic debate between what we call "Trait Theory" and "State Theory."
Trait theorists argue that people are collections of particular traits, or characteristic ways of behaving.
They are "strong" or "smart;" they can be characterized as "resilient" or "vulnerable," they exhibit "insightfulness" or are "dense as a post."
No matter what collection of adjectives is used, the point is that individuals can be described by a list of characteristics that capture who they "are."
State theorists maintain that these ways of behaving have more to do with the context, the circumstances of the moment; that people can be resilient in one setting and truly pathetic and weak in another; that they can be insightful and clever under one set of conditions and utterly thickheaded under others.
Most people side with Trait theory. They believe we have particular characteristics or traits that define who we are and we expect people to be consistent.
The intelligent will make smart decisions in all contexts, the brave will be stalwart and fearless under all circumstances. It's one reason why people are totally shocked and disbelieving when a local "good kid" picks up a gun and cuts down a half dozen innocents.
However, the data side with State theory. People are consistent, but not as much as once thought. The current state, the momentary circumstances play a very significant role.
Mr. Matusow is Exhibit #1 for State Theory.
Here's a guy who has this extraordinary ability to read people, to sense their intentions, to anticipate their actions, to divine their plans, to uncover subterfuge, detect dissembling, spot strength, whatever ... he's got it all.
But, alas, only at the poker tables.
Away from the green felt he is a babe in the woods, a naïf, a mere child in a world of grown ups.
It is sad, it is almost pathetic and it is nearly incomprehensible ... even to a psychologist.
This guy can look across a poker table and read "bluff" with astonishing accuracy. But he can be enticed to try a really ugly drug by a "new best friend" he just met at a strip club who, he thinks, really likes him.
He can get emotionally involved with women who are manifestly psychotic, spend endless hours (and dollars) with hookers who he feels really care for him and his wants, he throws parties for hangers-on and bloodsucking "friends" whom he treats as though they were honorable comrades-in-arms.
He can become best buds with a guy whom his "personal physician" introduces him to and, over a several-month period, not have a clue that this guy is a narc and an FBI informant.
The result: a six-month prison stint after a blatant entrapment scam that, despite its marginal legality and suspect ethics, completely envelops him to the point where he is forced into a guilty plea.
How, I said to myself over and over, can this be?
How can this guy have such sophisticated abilities to read people's intentions, hopes and desires at a poker table and be such a total dunce in the real world?
Frankly, I do not have an answer. Neither does Mike.
But the book is a hoot. And, you know, you come out at the end really liking the guy. I sure as hell did.
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