Arnaud Mattern: Backgammon and Poker Extraordinaire
Tuesday, 21 July 2009
Arnaud Mattern first entered the poker world in 2004 and has since had three major first place-finishes to his credit, including an EPT title that saw him pick up $928,443. But the backgammon player turned poker professional has far from left his roots, and still continues to compete regularly, like Gus Hansen, in all the major Backgammon Championships. With the World Series of Backgammon in Cannes approaching we catch up with him to see how he is balancing the two professions.
You are a backgammon player turned poker pro but which game do you prefer?
I have to admit I enjoy Poker more. There are more aspects to the game, as you can't win without the proper psychology, mental toughness and discipline. Knowing all the probabilities is just not enough...So the challenge is more difficult.
What excites you more: seeing pocket aces or rolling double sixes?
Well, I'm like you guys. At the very moment I open a pair of aces in the hole, I always experience this rare feeling that everybody gets. It’s what makes everybody play the game... It feels so good!!!
You recently faced off against Gus Hansen over the backgammon board. How was that?
I played a high stakes match against Gus Hansen during the World Series of Backgammon; It's always a big thrill to be able to play against people like Gus Hansen, Phil Ivey, whatever the game is. They have such an aura at the table, that it can't be ignored. Gus is one of a kind, and that was a great experience.
Do you think being proficient at backgammon helps your poker skills?
Definitely. Backgammon teaches you discipline, and also gives you a very clear overview about risk/reward situations: How much do I risk? How much is there to gain? Is it smart to gamble now?
They are also both "betting games", backgammon with the doubling cube, and poker with the betting and raising going on. A player who plays the checkers well (at Backgammon), or plays his cards right (at Poker), but is not street-wise when it comes to the "betting" aspect of the game, has no chance to win big!
Which game do you find more relaxing to play? Do both games require a similar mentality? i.e patience and concentration?
I'd say that Backgammon is more relaxing, maybe because I play more for the fun of it now, on the beach with friends etc. It' s also a game which turns around all the time, there are a lot of swings due to the luck, which makes it very exciting even if you don't play for money.
Also, patience and focus is key, but maybe even more so in poker, where you can not afford to relax and miss hands that other people play, only to get involved in a pot with them later, and have no idea about how they think...
Which game is more strategic? In which one do you take more of a gamble?
I think that Backgammon in itself is more strategic strictly speaking. All the information is in front of your eyes, so the player with the better processing of the info will win (in the long run). In Poker, it pays to see things in a larger picture, rather than hand by hand. i.e: metagame, image, making plays to tilt people, waiting for better spots in a tournament etc...
In Backgammon, every roll, every decision is independent. In Poker, what happened before IS important... The strategic aspects in the two games are totally different.
Who do you rate as the best backgammon player in the world?
There is no doubt that Francois Tardieu is the best backgammon player in the world. And he's French, can you believe that?!!!
In an interview I saw, you agreed that all French poker players are fishy? Why is this?
I think that we have a lot of recreational players, and they play to have fun, so obviously they don't play optimally according to game theory, but they are fun to play with! They are passive; they like to see flops, turns and rivers. They want to enjoy the experience.
But be careful, we also have a few very talented players in France, and even if we don't have many of them, they are exceptionally dangerous, so beware...
Are you fishy?
Yes, but I'm lucky too, so it balances pretty well for now.
How often do you play online?
I focus a lot on the tournament circuit at the moment, but I still play some online cash games to keep up with the new strategies. It’s a good way to stay on top of the game. I also play live cash games when I get a chance, as the side action on the tournament circuit is usually pretty good.
How did the WSOP go for you this year?
I stayed for the whole series this year, managing to cash once in a 2500$ NLHE event. I played for 5 or 6 chip lead pots (with the best of it) in various tournaments, but unfortunately none of them went my way. I am still happy with the way I played; I was very focused and didn't regret much strategy-wise.
Where did you stay, what did you do?
I followed a strict day by day routine at the Wynn hotel, with fitness, correct food, good sleep, and healthy habits. I think this helps a lot for not going crazy in Vegas. I also hung out with some friends and colleagues from the poker circuit.
What are your plans for the year ahead? EPT’s? WPT’s?
There are 2 WPT events I want to play in, Chypre and Marrakech, but to be honest with you; I am going to focus primarily on the EPT's this year. Not only are the venues and organization fantastic, but the fact that we (i.e John Duthie, Thomas Kremser, Francois Tardieu and myself) changed the structure, plays a big role in the fact that I will be playing all the EPT events this year. I think that this slow and deepstack structure is going to figure as the best standard in the tournament industry - which means a lot of deep runs and final tables for me hopefully :)
Having gotten so close with that 5th place finish in Warsaw, I still have this "being the first player to win 2 EPT titles ever" challenge in mind. Stay tuned!