After a crippling injury that led to “the worst three years of his life,” Mike Matusow is fighting back and rebuilding one of the greatest careers in poker history.
Matusow suffered from a thoracic spinal contusion in 2014 that left him unable to walk and at risk of permanent paralysis. It caused him severe pain and led to a nosedive that ruined his personal and professional life.
But thanks to a successful surgery and long rehabilitation, Matusow has been racking up cashes at the 2017 World Series of Poker and says he’s doing everything he can to get his life back on track.
Back to the Micros
“After feeling sorry for myself for three years and losing my house and losing everything and being dead broke, I started playing micro limits online,” Matusow told PokerListings.com.
“I ran it up and eventually won $110,000 playing $40/$80 online. I came into the World Series with that much, got someone to take half of me in all the events, told everyone I was done feeling sorry for myself and I was going to fight through the pain and just mash this World Series.
“I’ve had the best WSOP of my life without winning a tournament.”
Matusow has seven cashes so far totalling over $250,000. He made three final tables in $10k events in the same two-week period and he also cashed in the prestigious $50,000 buy-in Poker Players Championship.
Today Matusow is playing the biggest tournament of the year, the WSOP Main Event, and he said he’s ready to make a deep run.
“I feel good. I’m playing with the utmost confidence so we’ll see what happens. I’m 100% convinced I’m going to make a deep run,” said Matusow. “I live for this tournament.”
“My Body Wasn’t Ready to Go Sit at a Poker Table”
Matusow explained that in 2014 he knew something was wrong with him, but after many trips to the doctor he was left without answers.
During the 2014 WSOP Matusow says he was misplaying hands and didn’t know why. His mind and body weren’t working properly.
He later found out that the problem had started years earlier with the calcification of a disc in his back.
Then while playing poker a few weeks before that WSOP, the chair he was sitting in collapsed.
The impact from the fall drove the disc into his spine and left him with what’s called a thoracic spinal contusion.
After seeing numerous specialists Matusow was able to get surgery on October 19, 2014. By February he was back at the poker table, playing cash in Los Angeles.
“I wasn’t healed. My body wasn’t ready to go sit at a poker table but I needed money,” said Matusow.
“I won like $200,000 down in LA but I think that’s what caused the intercostal neuralgia.”
Extremely painful muscle spasms in Matusow’s chest were a rare side effect of the surgery. Now he has to wear a lidocaine patch to control it.
He had short term success but Matusow said his life continued spiraling lower. He went broke and lost his house before eventually getting to a place where he could begin the long job of rebuilding.
Despite the rough road, Matusow counts his blessings.
“I’m the fucking luckiest guy in the world. I can walk,” he said. “I was almost paralyzed and I can walk so no one’s luckier than me.”
“I Play as Good or Better Than All of Them”
Matusow was an A-List poker star when the game was at its biggest. He was part of Team Full Tilt Poker and easily one of the most recognizable poker players in the world.
He’s won four WSOP bracelets and made the final table of the Main Event in 2001, finishing sixth.
His career earnings in live tournaments total over $9.3 million.
Sitting down at his Main Event table today, Matusow was surprised to see so many other big names.
“I got a wizard here, wizard there,” Matusow said, pointing at the seats belonging to four-time bracelet winner Tom Schneider and top-level tournament pro Pratyush Buddiga.
“This guy’s not a wizard,” laughed Matusow, pointing to the seat next to him.
“I play as good or better than all of them. I only realized that last year when I started playing $10ks again.
“I thought they had passed me by but they haven’t. They’re just good. But I still read better. They have fundamentals from playing online but you still have to look someone in the face and make a fucking fold.
“Reading makes all the difference, especially late.”