Matt Marafioti has proven himself to be a very successful poker player but he's also drawn criticism from many in the poker world.
Now playing at the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas, Marafioti says he doesn't understand why people have such a negative opinion of him.
In this candid interview Marafioti concedes that while there are things about himself he wants to change, he feels people have gotten the wrong idea about who he really is.
Loyalty is Priceless
PokerListings: It seems like you're a bit of a target in the poker world. Do you feel like when you walk into a room here people take notice, and maybe not in a good way?
Matt Marafioti: I hope that people can see the good in me because a lot of the stuff that gets written about me on the internet isn't true. To be honest I don't really know what I did to deserve any of this.
All I really wanted was to become a PokerStars pro when I was doing really well playing cash on the site. So I made that reality TV show pilot and I did what they told me, and they ended up just stealing all the money from me even though they come from extremely wealthy families.
A younger Matt Marafioti.
We signed a contract and everything and they were supposed to pay me back $70,000 over the next five years.
They beat me out of it instead and now they just play me off as a crazy person, like most people, because I'll just say, 'You fucking asshole, you have my money.'
I guess there's a right way and a wrong way to say something and I guess being positive is a big part of it.
If you're negative and you let negativity breed then it will infest your life. I think that's been one of my problems lately is I let that negativity into my life.
I embraced it. Not in the sense that I tried to be a negative person but more just I was depressed and it allowed other people to tap into that and now's a good time to kick me when I was down. They saw it as weakness.
I look at myself and wonder how I have the reputation I do. I honestly wake up every day feeling like god's watching down on me and protecting me and making sure that one day I will succeed because of all this.
Do you feel like people don't get you?
I think I have a good sense of humour and people can spin that in any way they want. But apart from that I've obviously been heavily taken advantage of and it's caused me a lot of pain.
I know I come across a lot of the time as really cocky but that's partially because of insecurity. I have some confidence but the truth is it's because I get bullied. I don't have a lot of true friends.
I've been trying to focus on poker but even like during SCOOPs I couldn't even have a full week of focus.
"I think there are a lot of misconceptions about me."
So I'm just going to change my numbers and move on with my life.
I don't want to use the word paranoid but it sounds like you feel people are out to get you.
No, not in that sense. It's just that I think there are a lot of misconceptions about me out there which makes it easier for people to attack me if that's what they want to do.
I wouldn't say everyone's out to get me but I'm an outgoing guy. Like if I get into a cab I'm going to talk to the cab driver.
When I'm leaving the hotel the doorman knows I'm a good guy to be nice to, to get that tip. It doesn't take much to butter me up so I guess I've been way too naive over these past few years playing poker.
So one piece of advice I want to give to all the youngsters coming up, especially the good ones, is to watch out because you are targets, believe it or not. You'll meet people that seem like the most innocent people ever who will turn on you faster than you can snap your fingers.
They'll destroy you in any way they can, make up lies about you or whatever the case may be. When you give people a chance to take advantage of you, they will.
So I've learned that you have to be a person who empowers yourself. You can be told that over and over again but until you decide to take a stand and stop being taken advantage of anymore, it'll keep happening.
You mentioned that some of the way you act comes from being insecure. Do you think that's what's happening?
Listen I'm a confident guy but there are times when I wish I had gone up to that girl or whatever.
I think confidence comes in spurts. I don't think it's ever constant in anybody's life but confidence is a great thing to have.
I need to be confident in myself. I've realized that if you're not confident in yourself, you're not giving yourself the chance to get what you fully deserve.
In the sense that, if I don't go up to a girl and ask for her phone number and project that confidence, I don't even have a chance. It's like, you miss 100 per cent of the shots you don't take.
I don't want to offend you but some people describe you as arrogant.
It's crazy because when I say thank you to someone, they give me a sarcastic, arrogant response as if I was trying to be arrogant but I'm just trying to be polite.
So it's weird how you can go out of your way to be polite but they give you sarcasm. I think of sarcasm as weakness. I'm not sarcastic.
I guess sometimes it's better to come in here just casual and sometimes I come in here a little dressier. I don't know.
Are people totally off-base in your mind or would you concede that there are situations where you've acted arrogant?
No, the arrogance is definitely something I have to work on. I think I've worked on it quite a bit and become a lot better with it.
But I think that arrogance is a mask for something else. I think people just look at me and see I'm wearing Louis Vuitton and call me arrogant.
I don't look at someone and judge them by what they're wearing or anything like that. I talk to people and judge them for who they are but I don't think anyone every gives me that chance.
They judge me for the TV clips I did, that people asked me to do. I wanted to do them for poker, to be entertaining, and they love them and they think they're funny but they don't like me anymore so I guess I sacrificed myself for the game.
I wanted to be a personality.
I think you're right about people drawing their own conclusions based on things like clothing, but you said something before that, about the arrogance being a mask for something else.
Marafioti at a WSOP final table.
Is that something you're aware of about yourself?
I think I need to redefine who my friends are and sort of start over. Luckily I have a strong group of ten or fifteen people that I know I can rely on but I just think I use the word friend too loosely.
I also have a lot of things myself I need to work on.
To some extent we're all trying to get people to like us and sometimes you're not yourself as a result. Maybe we're scared people won't like us for who we really are?
I'll tell you a story before I go. When I was 18 and in school I was dating this girl who was the same age. This was when I was starting out playing poker online.
Anyways, we went to the bar one night and she was cheating on me with this 28-year-old guy and basically I tried to fight him when I saw them flirting. His friends jumped me and beat the crap out of me.
See that story is something that could put a chip on your shoulder.
No one tells you you're going to make it in poker and then when you make it on your own, those same people who watched you get your ass kicked and did nothing, they're now your best friends again. And they want to fuck your ex so it's funny how life works.
Do you have a hard time trusting people because of things like that?
I think loyalty is priceless and very few people deserve trust. I think that trust is a hard thing to understand because sometimes people have to do things you don't understand.
You talked about redefining some things in your life. What are those things?
If you want people to know the real you, tell us who you are and how you're going to change some of the misconceptions you feel people have about you.
My good friend Kweku Mandela, who is Nelson Mandela's grandson, he speaks at all the We Days which are events for kids all over the world.
I'd like to work with him on those in the future. They get all sorts of people to speak and I'd like to talk to people about bullying and stuff like that. Other than that there's a lot of things I want to do to change.
One thing is to get more in touch with my religious side. I grew up Roman Catholic and I don't know if God exists or not but what I do know is that I believe in a positive message.
"I think people have a completely different image of me than what is actually real."
I believe in promoting a positive message and doing good and when someone does something wrong to you, you don't have to necessarily stoop to their level.
I've realized that an eye-for-an-eye mentality, or an eye-for-a-head mentality, is wrong. I'm still a little spiteful or vengeful but that's something I need to work on.
I've never really done anything. I think people have a completely different image of me than what is actually real, based on what they've created for themselves.
I'm a 27-year-old kid who's been playing poker and working hard at it since I was 19. That's all that I am.
I've never stolen from anyone and I never will. So to be called a thief when you're not hurts. To have some of your recognition taken from you as such a good poker player who works hard, comes to the World Series every year and works hard.
I knew that I had jealous friends and exes around me that were not happy for whatever reason.
I've been mistreated and taken advantage of and sometimes maybe I'm not reasonable enough but I feel like the guy who goes above and beyond reasonable to accommodate someone else.