Where are They Now is a series of an in depth look at all poker players - not just the pros - as they travel through one long game. Some of the players profiled are deceased but not forgotten.
With a new decade came a new era of poker, one that would eventually become a common theme, but up until now had never happened. In 1989 young upstart Phil Hellmuth Jr. became the youngest World Series of Poker Main Even Champion at just 24 years old. Hellmuth has gone on to become one of the most recognizable faces (and voices) in the game, while arguably the next WSOP Main Event Champion is one of the least recognizable names to ever win that coveted bracelet. However, what makes Mansour Matloubi so unique is that he was the first non-American (born in Welsh) to win the Main Event, meaning that the “W” in “WSOP” was now an accurate description of what has grown to become easily the biggest, most popular, poker tournament in existence.
While the name Mansour Matloubi doesn’t exactly ring a bell as a major poker celebrity today, there are a few situations and instances regarding Matloubi that makes his story unique in its own right. The 1990 event was the first WSOP to be held after the death of tournament creator Benny Binion. More than a few poker players had wondered if the tournament would still live up to its expectations, which were growing higher and higher by the year. The answer would be an emphatic yes, as a record 194 people showed up for the event. One of the greatest promoters of the time may have passed, but Binion had done a good enough job for the tournament that it was now able to promote itself. What’s also unique about the 194 entrants is that it was the last time that the tournament ever had less than 200 people in it. Every tournament since that one broke the entrance record, with the exception of last year due to people being leery of the new poker rules that had just gone into existence. With close to 8,000 people forking over $10,000 for their shots at millions nowadays, 194 people doesn’t seem much, but for that time it was quite a huge feat.
This may be an unfortunate statistic connected with Matloubi, but it was also the last time that a winner of the Main Event ever won less than a million dollars. I’m sure Matloubi wasn’t exactly upset with his $850,000 prize, but it is a pretty unique fact concerning the history of the WSOP and particularly the Main Event.
Matloubi was also involved in one of the most talked about hands in WSOP history. He was heads up against another relatively unknown, Hans “Tuna” Lund. Matloubi was a slight underdog to Lund, with Lund controlling about 55 percent of the chips. Matloubi looked down to pocket Tens, and immediately raised with the strong hand. Lund woke up to , and made the call. The flop came 9-2-4 rainbow, giving Lund the top pair, but still a substantial underdog to Matloubi’s tens. Lund checked, Matloubi bet, and Lund then check-raised, and Matloubi went all in.
Lund tanked for a little bit, but eventually made the call. Upon seeing Matloubi’s tens, Lund looked disappointed, realizing he would probably need to make a huge comeback if he were to become champion. However, the tide quickly turned when an ace came on the turn, giving Lund two pair. Matloubi then raised to get out of his seat, anticipating the second place prize. With only a 1/22 chance of winning, a two-outer, Matloubi looked for the nearest exit.
Amazingly enough, Matloubi spiked a ten on the river, giving him a commanding chip lead. The end would come soon after when severely short stacked Lund pushed his pocket fours all in, only to be called by Matloubi’s pocket sixes. Matloubi was the 1990 WSOP Main Even Champion, his first, and to this point, only WSOP bracelet.
Matloubi isn’t particularly active on the tournament scene anymore, yet from time to time will make an appearance at the WSOP. He prefers to spend most of his time in his current home in London, occasionally traveling around Europe to play a few tournaments.
One of Matloubi’s closest friends in poker is Dave “The Devilfish” Ulliott. In 1997, one of Matloubi’s increasingly rare appearances at the WSOP, he met up with Ulliott who was in a bit of a funk as far as his poker career was concerned. Ulliott arrived at the WSOP with over $200,000, ready to play in juicy side games and a few of the series events. Within a few days he had lost the 200k, and even 70k more of borrowed money.
Ulliott was able to scrape together $2,000 for an Omaha event, which he won, but he was still close to $70,000 in debt to himself, and others.
Matloubi then suggested Ulliott play Lyle Berman, another poker pro, heads up in Omaha. Ulliott was reluctant at first, but after some pressuring from Matloubi, he finally said yes, and would go on to win $168,000 from Berman. At the end of the trip that started so sourly, Ulliott would leave with about a quarter of a million dollars. While Matloubi’s career may have staled (albeit it could have been a self imposed “stall”) he is partly responsibly for the revitalization of Ulliott’s career.
Matloubi spent a few years playing live games at the Mirage in Las Vegas, when the Mirage had all the poker action in town, in the early 1990s. He comes and goes from the tournament scene and has been spotted in Aruba, during Ultimate Bet’s Aruba Poker Classic tournaments, in the company of Russ Hamilton – another WSOP main event champion.
Many players have been more popular, have won more money, and have contributed more to the game, but as you can now see, Matloubi had his own unique quest to the top as well. He will always be associated with what can possibly be considered the very beginning of the poker boom.