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Poker News | People in Poker | Poker Superstars

Where Are They Now – Matt Savage

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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.

If you’ve ever tried to host your own poker tournament or participated in a home tournament, you quickly realized just how much work is involved to ensure it goes off without a hitch. Or, if there is a hitch that it is only a temporary one, before the tournament is running smoothly again.  In my experience, I’ve seen people attempt tournaments only to realize they don’t have enough starting chips for everyone.  Interestingly enough, I’ve also been a part of a home game where after sitting down to start the tournament, it quickly became obvious that nobody knew the blind structure, or how long each set of blinds would last.  In other words, tournaments don’t run themselves.  

Matt Savage realized that early on in his first job at a casino, and has gone on to become the tournament director of the most popular tournaments all over the world.  It wasn’t a job he always wanted, and unfortunately it was an injury that led him to this job, but the poker world is a much more efficient place because of Savage.

Savage, born in San Jose, California, was a fan of poker from an early age.  Savage enjoyed playing in games with his family, and also noticed he liked to make sure all of these games went smoothly.  When Savage turned legal age he went to work at the Bay 101 Casino, which was conveniently located in San Jose.  Here he took a job as a dealer.  Savage realized he loved this job so much that it hardly seemed like work to him at all.  While working the box he got to meet a slew of top poker players, building a relationship with him that would be beneficial down the line, although he had no idea at the time.

In 1997 Savage started feeling pain in his wrists and hands while dealing, so much so that he often had to take a few breaks just to get through his shift.  The pain led him to a doctor where he was devastated to hear that he has carpel tunnel syndrome.  Unable to continue dealing, Savage was left looking around the casino wondering what else he could do.  A tournament director was going on vacation, and Savage stepped in to the position, substituting until the regular came back.  This, of course, would be a blessing in disguise, as Savage is now one of the most well known tournament directors out there.

Even when he was filling in he noticed that there were major problems with the structure of tournaments.  The rules seemed to be made “on the fly,” often varying from tournament director to tournament director, despite the tournament having the same name.  Basically, one tournament director would make each blind level half hour where the other would make it 20 minutes.  While the players didn’t seem to complain about this at the time, Savage was smart enough to see that there was a chance tournament poker would never be taken seriously if it didn’t make some drastic changes soon.

Savage wished he could have stayed at his home casino, the Bay 101, but when the vacationing tournament director returned he was forced to look for work elsewhere.  He ended up moving to a small town named Colma in California to take a job at the Lucky Chances Casino, a brand new casino.  It was here that Savage would really start making changes to the game, attempting to make the rules for each type of poker tournament, no matter who’s running it, the same, basically making unified rules.  In this little known town, Savage started to make changes to tournament poker, which some say saved this form of poker.

Savage drew the attention of the bigger casinos in Vegas for the changes he was making in his casino.  Savage took advantage of this by trying to set up a meeting with many of the top tournament directors in an effort to bring standardization to tournament poker.  Despite being initially received with a lot of negativity, basically because nobody wanted to put in the work to do it.  Savage, along with the “First Lady of Poker,” Linda Johnson, created the Tournament Directors Association.  The initial grassroots campaign has grown to over 1,300 members, tournament directors from all around the world.  Each year the TDA also meets to make a “set in stone” set of rules that they feel are the best for all the different tournaments use.

His biggest test came in 2002 when he was asked if he would be the tournament director for the World Series of Poker.  In the present day and age that seemed like a dream job, but just a few short years ago nobody wanted to touch it.  The WSOP was having financial troubles, mainly because of the cash problems that the host casino, Binion’s, was having.  After initially having trepidation about that job, he took it, relishing the opportunity.  

With his job as a dealer he had met a lot of the top players, and he made it a point to introduce himself to the ones he hadn’t.  By the time he officially took the job he only had a month before the WSOP started and his first order of action was to implement the TDA rules to the entire tournament.  He also wanted to put in rules regarding raising and showing your cards.  Before then you weren’t really required to announce the size of your bet, and this often left a lot of confusion among the players and dealer, slowing the game down to a snail’s pace.  Players were also allowed up to this point to go back and forth between their chips, attempting to get a read on their opponent.  Savage also didn’t like all the talk about hands, especially when some of the players were still in the hands, and also sought to put an end to this.  

Another rule, not all Savage’s doing, but he certainly fought to enforce it, was making the WSOP a non-smoking event.  Other than a few hiccups here and there, the three years Savage directed the WSOP were considered the smoothest running in the history of event.  While the internet poker boom had a lot to do to make sure the WSOP will be around for a long time, Savage had a great part in making sure it would be run smoothly.  Nearly all the rules Savage implemented in his three years there are still the standard for the WSOP.  

Since his WSOP days, Savage has gone on to direct nearly every big tournament in America and a few overseas.  Savage has predicted that he has been the director of as many of 350 televised tournaments.  He has even run tournaments back in his home casino of the Bay 101, including the Shooting Star tournament that was sponsored by the World Poker Tour and shown on the Travel Channel.  He was also the go-to guy for almost all of the networks who decided to put on a poker tournament, including FOX Sports Net series of televised tournaments.
Recently Matt Savage, a regular contributor to, wrote a column about Scotty Nguyen’s behavior at the final table of the 50k H.O.R.S.E  Final Table, an event Nguyen went on to win.  In it Savage questions both the tournament staff and the rest of the casino staff for allowing him to have so many drinks during the final table, which went just over 12 hours.  He also gave a laundry list of rules Nguyen broke during the final table, including being disruptive and even walking a fine line where some felt Nguyen was attempting to collude with Erick Lindgren to knockout Michael DeMichele, a plan Lindgren vehemently shot down.  Scotty has since gone on to apologize for his actions, but he still left a very bad taste in many people’s mouths.

Savage went from small town dealer, to small town tournament director, to being THE go-to guy when it comes to rules in poker.  Not bad for a guy who originally thought that he would be most happy being a dealer in his hometown of San Jose his entire life.  The poker world is without a doubt a better place because of Savage’s efforts to make it that way.  

When he isn’t directing tournaments around the world, Savage spends time with his wife and children in San Jose, while sometimes playing tournament poker, most recently cashing in a $500 No Limit Hold’em event in November in San Francisco.

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