How valuable is a poker mentor?

Updated: July 1, 2005, 4:13 PM ET
By Jay Lovinger | ESPN Poker Club

Previous WSOP Moment

What the heck does a mentor do, anyway?

A bunch of you - my faithful readers - must have wondered just that as I mentioned my very own mentor, Matt Matros, on numerous occasions while writing about my year-long odyssey through the weird and wonderful world of poker.

And to tell you the truth, I didn't really know myself, at least not until yesterday.

If you have been following the fortunes of my bankroll - pretty much pointing south since last fall - you'll know his wise advice didn't improve my game any. I hasten to add here that this is not Matt's fault. With his help, I have reached a new plateau -I can now intelligently explain why I'm losing.

But all that changed, as if by wizardry, when he suddenly appeared behind my chair last night during a $325 buy-in one-table NLHE satellite event. I was in tenuous shape, as usual, with $1,400 in chips and only six players left, meaning the average stack was about $2,500. On the very first hand after Matt showed up, the guy in the cutoff seat went all-in, by coincidence for the exact same amount I had in my stack - $1,400.

Holding A-9 suited, I had a tough decision to make  and, with Matt looking on, I wanted to make the right one. I reasoned that the all-in player, being short-stacked, was pretty desperate, especially since the blinds were up to $200-400, and wouldn't necessarily have anything resembling a premium holding. I put him on a range of hands that included any ace, any two picture cards, maybe even something as speculative as J-10 suited. Finally, I decided to call.

Unfortunately, the small blind - the chip leader at the table - quickly went all-in behind me. The big blind folded, and the original raiser showed a K-10 unsuited. "Nice call," Matt said, "but you probably weren't too happy when he (the small blind) went all-in behind you." Truer words were never spoken, because the small blind - after a bit of a slow roll - eventually revealed his superior holding, A-K unsuited.

In other words, in order to survive, I had to hit a 9 (or a bunch of clubs) without a king or a 10 showing up on board. Of course, that's exactly what happened. The flop was 9-8-8, blanks came on the turn and the river, and in one lucky stroke, I more than tripled up, making me the new chip leader.

On the very next hand, the guy with the second-biggest stack raised, I re-raised with Q-Q, he went all-in, and I quickly called. He showed A-K, and things looked dim for me when a king came on the flop, and an ace arrived on the turn. However, the river card was a queen, much to the disgust of the now-eliminated second-biggest stack, who was probably booking a major win in his mind before I sucked out at the last possible second.

"I'm not surprised," Matt said, laconically (I like to think of him as the Jimmy Steward of poker mentors). "I figured anybody who could beat A-K and K-10 with A-9 could easily produce a third queen."

And with that, he was off to play in his own satellite tournament, doubtless satisfied that he had left me in good enough shape to squeak out a victory without any further help from him.

Now that, folks, is what a great mentor does - brings luck, builds confidence. I'd advise you to get one of your own. (And if you do so, in a way, that would make me your mentor, wouldn't it?)

Jay Lovinger

Founding editor, Page 2
Jay Lovinger is a former managing editor of Life and a founding editor of Page 2. "Jackpot Jay" spent a year as a poker pro and participated in the World Series of Poker. He will be writing a book on his poker adventures for HarperCollins.

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