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Poker News | People in Poker | Poker Interviews

2008 World Poker Open - A conversation with Matt “Cub” Culberson

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One of the advantages of having been here from the beginning of the World Poker Open is that I have been able to watch the preliminary events and some of the excellent players (and not so excellent) that have taken part in the events. I remembered watching Event #2 and thinking to myself that its winner, Matt “Cub” Culberson, was an impressive player. When I saw him again at another final table the following week, it only confirmed my initial impressions.

One of the things they do here at the WPO is to take $10,000 off of the top of most prize pools and award a seat into the main event for winners of the preliminary events. Because of Culberson's win, he now had a shot to play with the big boys. He started play on Day 1A, and by the end of the day found himself as the chip leader with 98,000 in chips. He enters Day 2, in the top three in chips.

I contacted one of the tournament directors that I knew was close to Culberson and asked how I could get in touch with him to talk to him. She instantly pulled out her phone and called him and a couple hours later we were talking. When I talk to a poker player (which is rare because I'm actually quite shy until I get to know someone), I don't try and question them... I just try and have a conversation with them and get them to talking. That was pretty easy to do with Cub. He likes to talk. A lot. *sarcastic smile intended*

I open things up by asking him... “Running good?”

“Ya know, a lot of my friends have been asking me that and I don't think it's that I'm running good, it's just my style of play. I either am out early or get a lot of chips and right now my style is working well for me.”

“What was a big hand for you yesterday?” I asked.

“On this one hand I raised with K-6 suited and one of the blinds called. The flop came 7-5-4 and there was a little action. The turn was an 8 and I ended up getting him to get a lot of his chips into the middle with pocket 8's. That's the thing... I'm real talkative and people think I'm an idiot... so they end up putting their chips in against me when I have the best of it.”

I had noticed at one of the final tables that Cub was easily the most aggressive player at the table. He was open raising at least 1 out of 3 hands so I asked him about that.

“I try to steal a lot to set up the big pot. I play big pot poker. I don't want to win lots of little pots, I want to win a big one here and a big one there.”

I was curious what Cub's poker background was, so I asked him about that.

“I started playing full time about three years ago. Like a lot of people, I started because I saw Moneymaker and poker shows like the USPC on television. At first, I started out in home games with friends but that eventually led to trips to the local card rooms in the South. I started out playing way over my head... 5-10 NLHE ring games and I got my brains beat out. For the first three and a half months, I lost. I was playing against better players and I was playing scared. I realized I needed to do something about it so I dropped down to the 1-2 game, studied all the books and internet sites I could get my hands on, and started becoming a consistent winner.”

A cash game player, I thought. What made you get into tournaments I asked?

“Well, truth be told, I wasn't really sure I wanted to play many tournaments but one time I was talking to a friend of mine, David Mitchell, about how I was going to go down to New Orleans to play in a tournament and he asked me if I wanted help. I thought about it for some time... and about a month later I went and talked to him and he started backing me into tournaments.

“Things started out really well for us. I cashed in the first three tournaments I played in and was the chip leader in the main event at one point before I had a meltdown. We went through a bad stretch where we direct bought in to two $10,000 tournaments... the WSOP main event and a WPT event at the Beau Rivage... and I didn't do well in those events at all.”

Why didn't you do well in those?

“Because I played scared. It was a lot of money and I felt responsible to David. I felt like I had to make the money and get it back for him. I let the big name players intimidate me. Every time they played a pot, I was a nervous wreck. It was as if they were dealt aces or kings every hand. I was folding hands like K-Q suited and A-J suited because I was convinced they had a monster every time. It was a learning experience though and I told myself I was not going to do that anymore.”

How would you describe your playing style?

“Very aggressive. I believe if you're going to make a mistake, make it wide open. It doesn't mean I'm stupid about it though. Whenever I make a huge move, I'm looking at what the chances are... of what the probability is. For example, in one tournament I was playing in, I moved all in over the top of a raise with A-K. It was a big overbet and after my opponent folded a friend of mine told me that it was such a risky play. The way I look at it though is this... the chances that he has aces or kings are pretty small. I'm willing to take my chances against the other hands and by moving all in like that I can often get those hands to fold. It's hard for some people to risk their tournament life with ten's or jack's in that situation. I put the pressure on them to make that decision. My play is very risky but it's worked for me.”

I wanted to find out a little more about Cub the person so I asked him what was important to him.

“Loyalty and trust. There is so little of it in poker. It's a big thing to me. That's the thing about my backer, David, and I. He's like a Dad to me. Family. My girlfriend and I go over and exchange Christmas gifts with him and his wife.”

How do you keep yourself out of possible bad situations?

“I surround myself with a good crew. I'm a pretty clean liver too. I don't do drugs, go gambling in the pits, drink too much... none of that. I made some mistakes in the past when it came to gambling in the pits and I learned from that. About the only gamble I have in me now is when it comes to online poker. I'll often play at a higher limit than I should be because I am “taking shots” to build up a stake.”

OK, back to the tournament... tell me about your day.

“The first few levels I lost two 30K pots with my money in good. I was up, down, up, down... like a roller coaster. I won a big pot off of this guy and he starts berating me and told me that he had me doing exactly what he wanted me to do. Normally, I like to have a good time and keep things friendly at the table but if someone is going to challenge me, I'll come right at them. Some people will think of it as arrogance but I'm not. I'm one of the more humble people you'll meet. But because of my age, the way I talk and dress, and how aggressive I am, people don't give me any credit and it often works out to my advantage.”

It is at this time that Cub pauses and tells me something.

“I want something more than the money. My family is a really religious family. Very Southern... very conservative. They don't understand what I'm doing and I want them to know that it's not just luck... that it's not gambling. I want them to know that I'm good at something and that I can do this. A lot of people question and doubt me and all I can do is let my actions speak for myself.

“I started with nothing. I am nothing. But I'm living a dream. I love my life.”

So who are your inspirations? Do you study the game?

“Oh I study the game all the time. All the time. Probably too much. People probably think I am obsessed with the game but I want to know as much as I can and do the best that I can. I've always tried to emulate a bit of Daniel Negreanu. I like to talk a lot and make people laugh like he does and think our styles of play are very similar. One of the shows I watch and learn a lot from is High Stakes Poker. I'll watch that over and over and over to see what players are doing and how they are doing it and use it.”

Do you like where you are with your life right now? How long do you think you'll play poker?

“I love my life. Everything is great. I'd love to be a little more financially secure but other than that, everything is great. I can truly say that I can see myself playing poker for the rest of my life.”

At this point, Cub thinks of something and changes the subject. A moment of reflection perhaps.

“You know, this past summer, I played in the main event at the WSOP and on day one I had the privilege of playing with Chip Reese. It was such an honor. Here is this man that is so respected by the poker world and I get to watch and learn from him.”

That wrapped up our conversation but I joined Cub, David, and David's wife for dinner that night. I asked David what he saw in Cub that made him want to back him.

“Just watching him at the tables. The way he can get into people's heads. He knows what he is doing.”

They tell me a story about how Cub psyched a guy out into folding when Cub knew he was beat.

“This guy was reaching for his chips and looked like he was going to place them into the pot. I said “straight” and the guy looked at me and said “what did you say?” still holding the chips in his hands. I say out loud “he's already put his chips in. He's called.” The guy is like “no, no, no I didn't” and pulls his chips back into his stack and folds.”

The two have a good laugh about that and I can sense the closeness between them. They've obviously not only spent a lot of time at the poker table with one another, but a lot of time away from it as well.

Dinner and the conversation were good and I couldn't help but finding myself liking Cub and his “family” when it was over. One of the hard things about writing tournament poker is to not just write about the people you like and don't like... to not just cover the people you are rooting for. It'll be hard for me to not watch Cub's progress over the course of this tournament because I find myself rooting for him to do well.

It's as he said to me earlier in the conversation. “I started with nothing. I am nothing. I'm just living a dream.”

It's that kind of honesty and humbleness that makes me want to see a person do well.

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