One week from today, the World Series of Poker will announce the single inductee in the Poker Hall of Fame Class of 2023. Mike Matusow is hoping to hear his name called.
“It’s gonna be me or Brian Rast, one of the two. I think Brian Rast is a first-ballot Hall of Famer, but I should have been in ten years ago and it’s getting tougher and tougher,” said Matusow. “Even though Brian Rast has won three PPCs, I’ve still won more in tournament poker than he has. I’ve made two Main Event final tables, five WPT final tables, fucking grinding these tournaments in debilitating pain.”
This year marks the ninth time that Matusow has been one of ten finalists for the PHOF. He was nominated by the public in 2013, 2014, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021, and 2022, and each year he’s watched other nominees go in ahead of him.
“They always go with what have you done for me lately. They put Huck (Seed) in two years ago, Huck should have been in 10 years ago. It’s the test of time. Huck quit playing poker seven years ago. Ted Forrest should have been in 10 years ago. Ted Forrest doesn’t play poker anymore,” Matusow said. “I’ve made a lot of money playing poker the last three years. I’ve never had any other income. I’ve never made a dollar from anything other but poker.”
“So, do I think I should be in? 100%. I believe it. I should be in this year.”
Each of the 31 living Poker Hall of Fame members has a ballot and each gets 10 points to distribute amongst the 10 finalists as they see fit. Matusow has friends already in the PHOF, but he’s very close to Phil Hellmuth and hopes that the now 17-time WSOP bracelet winner is able to help give him a much-needed push this year.
“Phil is giving me all of his votes this year. He’s never given me all of his votes before. He believes certain people should be in before other people,” Matusow said. “He knows that I taught him all of the mixed games and it has catapulted him to winning bracelets outside of No Limit Hold’em. So when people ask, ‘Why have you gotten so good at mixed games?’ What does Phil tell them? Mike Matusow.”
On the same day that the 10 finalists were announced, Rast won his sixth career WSOP bracelet in the $50,000 Poker Players Championship, giving PHOF voters a not-so-subtle reminder of his candidacy and his impressive resume. One week later, Matusow had an opportunity to raise awareness for his own cause when he got heads-up in the $1,500 Seven Card Stud Hi-Lo 8 or Better. A win would have given him his fifth WSOP bracelet. Matusow couldn’t get past Marcin Horecki, though, and was eliminated in second place for just the second time in his WSOP career.
“It’s a shame I got second … I didn’t play my best. The first hour I played great head-up,” Matusow said. “The second hour after the break, I just was off a little and it cost me. I gave it away. I’m telling you right now, the guy played great, but I gave it away. If I play good, he doesn’t win.”
Rast was also at that table. He eventually went out in seventh place. Matusow was well aware of what kind of narrative might have been created had the poker gods stepped in and put the two heads up against each for the bracelet.
“If I get Brian head-up and I beat him head-up, they can’t take it away from me,” Matusow said.
Three days later, he was on the verge of the final table of the $10,000 Seven Card Stud Hi-Lo 8 or Better Championship when he was eliminated in ninth place.
Matusow knows with each passing year, as more and more talented players hit 40 years old and become eligible, the odds of him being inducted are getting smaller and smaller. More personally, if it’s going to happen, he feels it needs to happen while his mom, who turned 86 years old on Thursday, is still alive.
“The fact that I wasn’t in before my dad passed three years ago really hurt me,” Matusow admitted. “And if I’m not in before my mother passes away, I promise you the induction ceremony will be a mic drop.”
These days, the long hours at the table are a different level of grind, too. A spinal cord injury from years ago continues to make life difficult for Matusow. He moves around poker rooms with the use of an electric scooter and relies on pain medication to simply get him through each day.
“There’s not another human in the world that can compete at the level that I compete at in the pain that I’m in,” Matusow said. “In 2019, I quit feeling sorry for myself and I just started fighting through the pain. That’s what I do.”
Matusow is convinced that voters are choosing between him and Rast and he doesn’t want anybody to make the assumption he holds any ill-will towards the six-time bracelet winner. In fact, he believes they should both be enshrined. He does however take issue with the system used to decide not only who gets in, but how many.
“I believe that Brian Rast is the best player in the world and will be in the Hall of Fame, should be in the Hall of Fame, but the fact that they moved it from two (inductees) to one, when it should have gone from two to four,” Matusow said. “It was two every year when there was 100 people, now we’ve got thousands. There should be four a year. There’s so many great players. I mean at one a year, it’s ridiculous.”
Nine times a finalist, nine times an also-ran. The process, the injury, and father time are starting to take a toll on Matusow and he knows that there is a chance it may not happen now, or ever.
“If I don’t get in this or next year, I might never get in,” Matusow said.