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Thursday April 26 2018
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Buy In with Matthew Berkey

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Twenty eight year-old former Leechburg resident Matthew Berkey recently won over $206,000 in the 2010 Main Event World Series of Poker in Las Vegas.

Berkey, a 2000 graduate of Leechburg Area High School now living in Nevada, was as high as 12th place during this summer’s action at Harrah's Casino. His chip stack was crippled when he lost to Jonathan Duhamel, who had a full house of eights over sixes, while Berkey had triple sixes in the Texas Hold 'Em tournament.

A 2005 Gannon University graduate, Berkey played varsity baseball for the Golden Knight and still plays for an adult league in Las Vegas, snapping off backdoor sliders for the Las Vegas Sandpipers when he’s not playing poker professionally. Berkey, who recently enjoyed a poker game with actor Leonardo DiCaprio, has been playing cards for a living since 2008. He chatted with PSR’s Tony DeFazio shortly after his big payday.

TD: When did you start playing poker seriously? Seriously enough to consider making it a way of life?
I played cards throughout college, but eventually the games were just too small out here. Poker really boomed in ’03, but by then the games had dried up. The good games did, anyway. So it was mostly underground games at the time – I was still living in Erie and still in college, so we’d play around there, find the underground games, venture into New York. Salamanca Casino in Niagara Falls isn’t too far.

I was determined to not get a real job and pursue poker as a career. There was a group of four or five of us who decided to pursue the same thing. I don’t know if there was really a moment where I decided I’d do it for a living; it just felt that way throughout college for me. It had a lot to do with the big poker boom and how uneducated most people were about the game in general. You’d see that at games everywhere, not just in college, but at underground games and even in the casinos.

When you realize that the money you’re making as a college kid is more than your parents are making, then it becomes hard to resist the allure.

TD: It’s hard to make a living at poker working out of Erie. When did you decide you needed to move?
Yeah, I moved in January 2008 to Vegas. It was a little bit scary… I don’t have a small town mentality, exactly, but I am just so used to it that it was tough being in Las Vegas at first. But honestly, one thing that really helped was that I won the first week I was out here. I won in $26,000 in the Venetian Deep Stack Extravaganza right off the bat, so that made things a bit easier.

TD: There wasn’t a time when you seriously questioned your decision?
Oh, there were a LOT of nights I’ve laid in bed and questioned the validity of it, and whether I could really make a career out of it. But that’s just the nature of the beast, especially when you start out… your bill money is all you have and that can get tight.

TD: What about the dark side to being a gambler? Do you see that?
Sure – the degenerate gamblers who are always broke and begging… But it’s like any other business, believe it or not. That negative side is there in everything, but honestly the negative stigma that used to be a part of it isn’t there anymore, really. I think it’s become so much more accepted and mainstream that much of that has disappeared. And I mean, the degenerates all go broke and kind of fade into the darkness anyway.

TD: What’s a normal day for you?
Well, I’m in bed before 2 and up before10 every day. I do a pretty good job of making sure that’s the case. I usually eat a big breakfast and then I’ll hit the gym and workout. Come home, eat lunch, relax a little bit and then head out around 5 to play.

I’ll go to the Venetian and the Bellagio and play mostly cash games. I mostly stay away from tournaments; I prefer to play mostly cash games. Tournament days are long and grueling.

TD: What’s the best thing about being a professional poker player?
The freedom that comes along with it. Being your own boss.

If there is a big negative, I guess it’s that I’m not a huge fan of living in Vegas.

Plus it’s a very anti-social career choice. You’re not meeting too many people in your age group, you don’t meet too many athletic people at the tables, or too many girls. You generally meet people who are either gambling for fun, or who are trying to grind out a living.

TD: What about those casual gamblers? Are they in your way or do you want them at your tables?
I absolutely welcome every one of them. Not only are they worse players, but they are usually the ones you find a common interest with. They’re not miserable because they’re on vacation, they expect to lose some money and they’re generally more pleasant.

TD: What kind of impact do you think the table games at the casinos in western Pennsylvania will have on the area?
I love Pittsburgh to death. I love the people there and everything else, so I just hope that the casino doesn’t have a negative effect on the local economy. I’ve seen so many Indian casinos boom for a few years and then drain the local economy. But I think Pittsburgh is big enough that hopefully that won’t happen.

TD: Does the presence of the casinos in western PA make it possible for someone like you to make a living in Pittsburgh?
Sure, it’s conceivable… as long as there are people playing then you can always make money. It’s like any business in that as long as people are buying your product, you can make money.

But I think the popularity of tournament poker is going to hurt the game in the long-term. The casinos are taking so much money out of the poker game with all the money that they spend on the tournaments. I think it’s still kind of a secret how much money they are taking out of the poker economy. I’m hoping that they can find a way to slow that…

They’ll charge 10 grand per player, but 12 percent for casino is taken out and eventually it just drains the money from the general poker economy.

On one hand the popularity is great. It’s an awesome endorsement for the game and it takes away the negative stigma, but like anything else there are problems.

TD: What’s the best poker movie?
Rounders is the most entertaining of the poker movies. It’s not like that anymore, but when it came out it was more relevant. Honestly though, poker is not very Hollywood-worthy. It’s not glamorous, really, it’s pretty tame and pretty boring.

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