Matthew: When I was in school, other people were thinking about how to get into the best college, what was the best program for them, I was thinking about how I could make my first million.
Narrator: 24-year-old Canadian poker pro Matthew Marafioti is one of the most controversial young poker players in the game. He's got fans, entertained by his jet setting extravagance and outspoken persona, but he's got at least as many detractors, the ones who see his antics as immature, egotistical or worse. From the Twitter explosion following his breakup with poker pro Lauren Kling to more recent allegations on poker forum 2+2, Marafioti has become a lighting rod in the poker community. Adding to his visibility, Marafioti has earned a featured spot on this year's World Series of Poker television broadcast on ESPN. He was also singled out as one to watch by the World Poker Tour. But we wanted to get an inside look at Marafioti's life, and in May of this year, we flew to Toronto and went to his house to shoot an episode of our new video series "Easy Game." What we got is a glance at one side of the man known online as ADZ124.
Matthew: When I made my first million, it was obviously a weird feeling. I had my goal... my first year out of high school was to make double my teacher's salary which I thought was totally unrealistic, something like a hundred grand. I just thought that's not realistic at all, obviously I'm going to be in school. I had heard about a few kids that had graduated who were making a hundred thousand their first couple years out of college and thinking "Wow! Those kids must be wizzes or something." I don't think poker is an easy game at all, but I've also in ways conquered it where I'm on a complete free roll in life and poker.
Basically, I went to Turning Stones Syracuse and won my first live tournament for $200,000, and then I became one of the biggest winners on Poker Stars that year at 25/50 no-limit, and I made millions of dollars playing cash games. And now I've been traveling the live tournament circuit more recently with Black Friday happening. I was in school with friends, and we developed this curiosity for poker which developed into all putting in $20 for home games which we could easily, you know, sacrifice whatever, and basically, from there, it went to someone telling me that online poker existed which led to me depositing for the first time, asking my Dad for 50 bucks just to mess around. And then it turned into a total addiction where right from the get go I was playing around the clock and very addicted. I went on to steal people's credit cards to play and lose most of my money playing poker which obviously wasn't a lot at the time. At the time, a lot would be a couple of thousand dollars to me.
Literally, it's just such a huge change from that and having the computers firewalled so you can't even type the word poker in to handing them over seven figures before you even turn 20 years old and just being like, "Look, I told you so." And, of course, from their perspective I understand as good parents they wouldn't want their son to get into gambling. It's a tough lifestyle, and I'm one of the top one percent, or 001 percent of all poker players. It was kind of hard for them to have known that I was going to be this good at it.
Sam: It started as quarter, penny ante stuff in high school as most of the kids were doing at the time. We never imagined it had the potential to go where it was in terms of the joy and some of the challenges of defeat because there is a lot of that as well. It was certainly very, very incredible in terms of massive amounts of funds and transactions that were really happening and we knew little to nothing about this. And it was quite surprising, quite amazing.
Matthew: I took $18 one week after getting the crap knocked out of me at a bar, which maybe for me was an inspirational moment and taught me a lesson, and at that point, I had played a lot of poker and I had taken $500 or $1000 and ran it into $15,000 but I had never cashed out or reaped the rewards from playing. So here I was, this pro college kid playing on a 14-inch monitor in my dorm room, and the fire alarms would go off and I would stay inside because I would be in tournaments and basically by the end of the year I took 800 bucks and turned it into $200,000 because that $18 to $48,000 run I went on earlier in the year after getting the crap knocked out of me led to me going up to the highest limits in gambling until I was broke again.
Before I was even 21, I actually came here to play private games, and Jamie Gold invited me and another player to this game, and I remember just coming here and having 100k swings, and thinking, "Wow, these private games really exist with there's Playboy playmates giving massages and there's catered food with chefs and the best sushi and cut steakhouse delivering." And it was unimaginable, and it's crazy like private games going on in $20 million houses with NBA stars like Paul Pierce, or, whoever, you name it.
Sam: I recognized, and I discussed this with my wife, Matthew just had a natural skill for this, and we know that if you don't kind of apply your skill in a way that's got passion with it and dedication, the skill could be untapped. So I realized very quickly that "Wow this is not about some passing fancy, some luck at one game, one tournament." It definitely appeared that Matthew was good at this. What we did was basically say to Matthew, "If that's the case, then this is something that you've got to take serious in the context of a business opportunity, a professional development, things that we would, as adults, kind of bring to the table."
Matthew: It's funny, like he was very, very by the book, and growing up I was never like that. So, it was just funny because I would frustrate him because I was not by the book. With poker, he has written me out a rule book to follow when I'm on tilt, and it reminds me of all the things to do when I'm losing, or he's kept all my money and he's the one who said cash out a couple of thousand a day. This is what I have for you in the bank and that is how it originally started.
Sam: Looking back at that first year that's really what set the foundation for some of the honest and innocent principles. First and foremost, with me saying to Matthew until this day, "Matthew, at the end of the day, this is always going to be your money, and if it's your money what I'm going to do is help you appreciate some of the business context around how your money will help you achieve some of the things that, hopefully, you want to achieve, whatever they may be, but also help you understand that just like anything else you need to set goals, you need to try and achieve them, whether they are economic, whether they're competitive."
Matthew: This is just one example of having supportive parents who really look out for me, which obviously helps when my head isn't right, my father always helps me refocus. One time when I was on a downswing, and before he gave me my next transfer, my big transfer, whatever, to play with, he wrote me a book. It said business rules. The first rule is never play when you haven't slept. The second is never play when Internet connection isn't reliable. Third is never play on a computer where you are not comfortable. Four is never chase when you are having a bad day or bad luck. Five never play when you have people or things around you that are distractions. Six is never continue playing when you are losing a high percentage of the games you should be winning and that you are not. Always stop at a stop loss amount. Always quit when you have won any amount for the day. I don't know if I agree with that one. He is always on the more conservative side of things. Last but no least always follow the rules and always call for support.
So just right there that alone shows the type of people they are, and that's just one small thing of like between every Sunday they will bring meals over here when I'm playing, and they'll be totally understanding of the facts that tournaments are going on and that I have to be involved with them, and they'll bring food or whatever they can to help.
Making that million I remember my friends coming back from that first year of college that I had not been a part of so - I was with them for the first year so it was there second year of college, and they came back and I was driving like a $300,000 Mercedes. It's just weird because these kids are still in school, and I'm now going to $500 or $600 dinners every night and regular at all the nicest restaurants.
Poker isn't a very glamorous thing and not every thing in poker is about glamor, it's more about winning money and meeting the right people, because you know there is a lot of shady characters in poker who aren't from good families. My parents both work in health care, so what I'm doing is totally different to them, but I remember, I still to this day give my dad all my money. He's my manager.
I look back to when I was younger, if someone told me that I could have 100s of thousands of dollars in jewelry and art work and clothes and a multi-million dollar house and a six-figure car and all of this stuff, and if someone told me at the end of the day I wouldn't be ecstatic and so happy I wouldn't believe them, but at the end of the day it's not like I feel fulfilled. Those extra privileges in life are really nice, and I think from there it just goes to how you chose to lead your life, what type of person you choose to be, what type of friend you choose to be, what kind of son and brother you choose to be.
I just feel very underrated and haven't really had the right run good at the end of the tournament. Hopefully, within the next year or two, people can realize that I am one of the best live tournament players in the world, and hopefully, they realize it through some really big scores and consistent cash-ins. I am thankful, and not only am I thankful that I've gotten into poker, but I'm thankful that online poker exists and that I got into it when I did.
Sam: How long can he sustain this? How long will he be able to do it? So, to date we're talking now almost five years later, so far we've been on on kind of that path.