By Paul Seaton
To win one WPT Main Event is a huge achievement, but to use your first WPT Main Event victory as a springboard to become the WPT Player of the Year? That’s Hollywood material. So it’s perhaps appropriate that Matt Salsberg, the noted TV writer who has contributed to shows such as Weeds and Kidding, was the man to do just that in Season XI.
As Salsberg tells us six years after his monumental run to winning that Player of the Year – and the most unique additional winner’s prize ever, a beautifully made bespoke poker table – he remembers a couple of fortuitous moments along the way.
“I sucked out twice heads-up.” says Salsberg, who took it down by beating Danish sensation Theo Jorgenson in the final duel. “I had ace-ten against ace-queen heads-up for my life. I had a diamond and I flopped three diamonds then rivered a fourth one. He had just started crushing me heads-up, he was getting hit by the deck and that ace-ten [all-in] was super standard. I ran into ace-queen and got there. Then I chipped away and had ace-four against ace-five and binked a four. Usually, you’re gonna chop those.”
As you can see, that’s not what happened. You can watch Salsberg’s ace-four against ace-five hand right here and sweat along with the hand that put the television writer on his path to his own starring moment on the small screen.
“It was a great feeling, says Salsberg, “When he turned his hand over pre-flop, it was like ‘OK, well we’ll probably chop here’. The ace-ten was more crucial, the first survival double-up, and after ace-four beat ace-five, I had maybe a 3:1 chip lead.”
Salsberg would use that chip lead to ride home to a stunning comeback victory.
“I had pocket queens. I limped, he three-bet, and when I moved all-in, he called me with queen-ten. That was a good run-out to have him completely smashed.”
Salsberg had felt a prescient sense of positivity in the build-up to even playing the event in Paris’ famous Aviation Club de Paris. Despite a poker pilot script not making it to fruition, Salsberg just had a good feeling about heading to the French capital. Things, however, did not start well for him on Day 1.
“In the first 20 minutes, I lost most of my stack. I went down to 5,000 chips from 30,000. But then I doubled, and Vanessa Selbst punted to me. I ran good on Day 2 and any time I had a hiccup, I immediately got a big hand to get those chips back. When even your missteps or coolers where you could bleed lead to you getting it back right away, it’s crucial.”
Despite his win, Salsberg still thinks that the standard of his opponents but incredibly high.
“It was a super-tough final table. When we were seven-handed, Timothy Adams pulled an insane bluff against me when his nose started bleeding. I thought ‘OK, he’s just a wizard; he literally bluffed me when his nose started bleeding on the river.”
Despite the players he’d have to take on, Salsberg felt like he could go a little under the radar.
“When we got to the final six, it was all high roller champions, or EPT and WPT champions. I felt good because I had chips, and I liked that I was a little bit unknown to them. I was able to use that to my advantage by making certain three-bets that were a little light or they gave me respect for it, which since then, nobody has given me any respect!”
Salsberg’s win was very special to him, but he would do more, going on to win the fabled WPT Player of the Year title in Season XI.
“I made five final tables that year on the WPT, including a crazy chase for the Player of the Year when I had to go after in the last five or six tournaments. I didn’t coast to it by any means. I had a big lead after a couple tournaments in January, then Paul Volpe vaulted past me with [a third and a second] of his own in monster tournaments.”
With Volpe hot on his heels, Salsberg couldn’t let up. An epic trip around Europe put him in pole position.
“There were six tournaments left but he had a lead on me, so I had to go out and get it. I went to Venice and got 7th, I went to Jacksonville and got 10th and I got 13th at the Hard Rock in Florida. I did what I had to do to get more points and get ahead of him and then he handed it to me by not firing the last couple of tournaments.”
Despite Volpe dropping away, Salsberg still couldn’t celebrate. If Jonathan Roy could win the WPT World Championship, then he’d leapfrog Salsberg. Roy got three-handed and Salsberg couldn’t even watch the action.
“If he’d won, he’d have beaten me by 25 points. He was three-handed and tied for the chip lead with David ‘Chino’ Rheem. I had to constantly refresh the pages on the WPT site, so it was a pretty stressful night. I kept looking at the updates and Johnny was down to 10 big blinds. Then he had 20, then he had 30, then he had 50. Lindgren was third and had almost no chips. It was very dramatic.”
In the end, Rheem managed to triumph.
“It was a monster cooler that ended his shot. Roy had flopped a set, Chino had flopped a flush draw, turned a straight draw then rivered the flush and Jonathan still barrelled it in with the set. If Chino doesn’t make that flush on the river, Jonny Roy could have beat me for the [Player of the Year].”
Once the news came through – via a smiley message from Matt Savage of all people – Salsberg could celebrate.
“I’ll never forget that night as long as I live. I remember exactly where I was.”
When you win a WPT Main Event, it stays with you. Maybe even your friends and family will never forget it either. But when you’re a WPT Player of the Year, it lives forever, etched in poker history. Matt Salsberg achieved both back in 2013.