For anyone that doesn’t really know Matt Vaughan’s background, he is kind of old in poker but not that old in poker. He has been playing since he was a teenager, around the Money Maker era. Eventually he took a break from poker and wasn’t really focused on poker as much. While attending college in Cleveland, Matt found his way back to poker and started falling in love with the strategic aspect of poker. He decided to go all in on studying to improve his game. He read books, joined training sites, and absorbed as much as he could about poker. He began playing online at the lowest stakes possible and applying the things that he was learning about the game. In his junior year of college, a casino opened up nearby a few months before he turned 21. This led to Matt spending the better part of his senior year playing live poker instead of online and getting served in the live games as he learned how to navigate the poker streets.
Matt never really thought of playing poker full time but did have dreams of playing like anyone else who has watched the WSOP does. After college, life continued for Matt, he got a job for medical software company in Wisconsin named EPIC. He spent 3 years working there. Poker was still his biggest hobby and the thing he spent most of his free time on during this time. Both Matt and his now fiancée were not in love with their jobs which put them at a crossroad in life where they had to decide on what to do next. Something had to change, and Matt considered making the leap into poker as a source of income and support. They spent a few months planning out what their lives would look like and where they would live. Right around this time Matt decided to start vlogging. He thought it would be cool to document his journey and show what it was like trying to play poker seriously. It just so happened that this was also right around the time that Andrew Neeme and Brad Owen started their own vlogs. Fun Fact! Matt started vlogging on a different YouTube channel and his first video from that channel is from November 2016.
Matt Vaughan is now residing in Las Vegas and still pursuing poker as a career. He has managed to cash in six tournaments for 2021 and even came in first place in the DeepStack Championship Poker Series Event #30. So far for the 52nd WSOP he has cashed in two events and is grinding hard both on content creating and poker.
When did Poker become a goal to play professionally?
I think the operant word here is goal. Because I think a lot of us coming up in poker have this dream in the back of our mind but its not really a concrete goal to play poker a primary income source. It’s more of a dream because we see some of the lifestyle stuff or we just love the game, and we envision how much we could just enjoy ourselves if that was the main thing that we did. I think it was sort of a vague dream in my mind for a long time as far back as college. Turning that into a goal or that morphing into a goal came from the journey of going from a losing player to break even to a winning player. Climbing stakes and gaining the confidence that I could do that again. Transition into live and going through some of the same progression. Then really just starting to work at my first job and seeing that the 9 to 5 didn’t agree with me so fully. I think I am projecting some of those thoughts into the past because I didn’t necessarily have a concrete notion of what being self-employed would mean. These are kind of the elements led toward, “Wow! Maybe I could do that.” And then, “Maybe I should do that.” That transition was slow, but it probably started to become more concrete while I was at that first job. Maybe in the second year or so, I started to look at my results and seeing that I could do this.
Do you feel like you have “made it”?
My gut reaction is like, “No, of course not.” Its yes and no. I feel like I have made it in the sense of I am comfortable with where my life is. I think my life is pretty stable and I don’t feel like there is anything that could happen super short term that could shake me and force me to go find a job. Or make me just immediately hate the game and pack it up. Barring something on a global scale… and by the way this is after having gone through a global pandemic as a poker pro or semi-pro. I do think that I have sort of made in the sense of I am building my life the way I want and not much can change that. But I don’t think I have made it in the sense of, there is still a lot I want to do in poker and there is still a lot that is open ended for me. There are a lot of question marks around maybe the specifics of where I go from here. Because right now I have just been on this grind for quite a while now of content and poker. Some of that has solidified in terms of where the value is, where I am focusing my energy, and where I know I want to continue. But there’s also question marks around how much am I going to continue in coaching vs how much do I want to pursue higher stakes tournaments or higher stakes cash. Because right now I am kind of in this reasonable middle of the road area in poker where I do play $2/$5 and I feel comfortable in some $5/$10 lineups. But its not like I have been stepping super far up. I haven’t taken a lot of big shots even though financially I could take some shots and be fine. “Made it” I think is sometimes a weird phrase because is it, “Have I made it because of the vlog?” or is it my goals within the game itself. All those things coincide and they sometimes also conflict. I definitely don’t think that I have it figured out, but I am pretty happy with where things are and my ability to move forward in the game however I decide to.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
This question is a little but more concrete for me now than if you had asked me a year ago or maybe two years ago. Five years in the future is always weird when you are at a younger age like in your early twenties. Five years ago, I was at EPIC and my life was totally different and five years ago I could not have even remotely predicted where my life would be right now. I mean that in a mostly good way, but it also means that I am still pretty open to the idea that my life could look very different five years from now than it does now or even what I think it will look like. I think where I see myself is a couple different things. Number one I would still love to still be making content in five years. I wouldn’t say I have been close to quitting but it certainly has crossed my mind what it would be like to quit content. I think overall that making content is a plus in my life and I do want it to continue, and I do want it to continue long term, if I can. I am also realistic, and I know if my priorities shift, for example if I started really pursuing trying to become the absolute best poker player I could, that content would get in the way of that for sure. The next part of my answer is that I would like to be a much much better poker player in five years than I am now. I have been in poker for over ten years now. Any five-year period I have been way better at the end of the five years than at the beginning. Even if you shorten that amount to maybe a year or six months that has pretty much always been true, and I would like that to continue to be true. But where I think that allows me to lead is kind of combining the opportunities that I have gotten through the vlog and working on my game quite a bit, to start to take some of those steps up in stakes. Really push myself a little bit more because a big part of what drew me to the game in first place was the competition and the leveling up aspect of it. Whether that just be through your own education and sort of improving and or moving up in stakes. Both of those are very gratifying to me and it’s a big part of what maybe was missing a period of my life where the vlog was the only part of my life. Where I just kind of kept playing the same stakes and I didn’t really take shots and I just kind of plugging away at the same thing. Those are the two big things for five years in the future, but poker is still going to be it. I think I would like to have the opportunity to explore other hobbies because when you go from poker being your hobby to poker being your job, it sometimes becomes very consuming. I would like to be a little bit more rounded in five years than I think I am now but still with poker being the main focus and where I spend the majority of my time.
What are some other hobbies you have outside of poker?
Its kind of funny because I have always been pretty well rounded in my interests. In college I majored in Physics but that was just because that is what I wanted to study. I was briefly a double major with music, ended up dropping that to a minor by the end. I really love music and composition. There are only a couple instruments that I feel even remotely competent on, and I am definitely not as competent on now because I have sort of let them slide. I would love to pick music back up in a much more, not necessarily in a serious way but just a frequent way. To the point where I feel it’s a consistent practice and something I can get some fulfillment out of because music is a really powerful release for me. I have always been interested in coding. I did a small game project in college for fun. I think it only got 7,000 plays on congregate, maybe even less than that, I don’t know. I taught myself flash in the summer and wrote a game in the summer and just put it out on the internet. That was really fun and again another kind of rewarding experience that is fully outside of poker. Its just kind of a cool thing to do. Its not something I ever expect to make money at although not a terrible thing to have in your back pocket.
What is your favorite genre of music?
One of the reasons I started out as a double major was because they were starting popular music program. Most college music programs are fully based on classical, or it might be a broad range of classical but its like still mostly classical music. Having the opportunity to work with contemporary music in college was very cool. As far as genres go within contemporary, I am pretty broad. There is not a lot of genres I fully dislike. I am not really big into country, but I can appreciate some country, not really big into rap but I can appreciate rap. I can get behind a pretty wide range and there is not a lot of music that I can’t appreciate. Even if its not my go to, to listen to. My go to genres growing up was classic rock for the most part. I was obsessed with The Beatles and The Who as a kid. As we get older, we start to crap on music of today and I hope that never becomes me. There is a lot of music where I sort of feel that way. I think its over processed and maybe little to formulaic. But there is some really great music coming out today that I love, and I am super pumped is mainstream. Just one artist that comes to mind is Billie Eilish and of course her brother Finneas. I have watched a lot of YouTube videos of him talking about his postproduction process and the work he does. I think they are just super smart. I think their music is mainstream while still being musically complex. That is kind of where I love to listen right now, is stuff that I can listen to it easily but if I want to listen deeper there are a lot of layers to it.
What is the one thing you miss the most from back home?
There has never been something that drew me back to place as much as the people. Growing up somewhere basically 18 years of my life there, and I am only 30. So, it’s a very large fraction of my life. Its really just the attachments to the relationships and the memories of the place much more so than anything else about it. Some people talk about the food is like so much better than anywhere else or whatever. To me its all tied to memories and to the relationships. If I could still be really tight with the guys that I grew up going to school with, who were my closest friends for ten plus years. That would be something that would be really nice. And that’s the same thing I miss about where I went to college. Yeah, college was great for a lot of reasons but the few people that I got really really close with that I miss the most about that place.
What was the life lesson you learned from the Ignition fiasco?
Frankly I think that there are a couple lessons that might be a little more unexpected that are probably the most broad reaching. The first one is that taking a risk… When you take a risk in an area where the worst possible outcome exists but seems very unlikely. You have to be prepared to take that worst possible outcome. No matter how unlikely it seems if it exists it can still happen. I say that because obviously I took a risk breaking terms of service of the site. It was possible what was going to happen did. Now obviously winning the tournament and having the six-figure upswing effectively and then having it confiscated, that was the worst possible outcome. Living with that is something you have to be able to do. Now I added on the addition of sharing it with the world and getting a ton of backlash. I think a lot of the backlash was largely unfounded, some of it was fair, but a lot of it came down to people equating things that I did to cheating, which is just not accurate. So, receiving the backlash from the community on that was also the worst possible outcome and I also brought that upon myself. Again, I knew there would be backlash and so I did take a risk by publishing. Basically, I think the big take away is that you have to be willing the accept the worst possible outcome in the distribution even when its less likely. That is a good lesson in poker but also in life, because there’s a lot of things that can go wrong. There’s a lot of variances in life. I think a lot of us are not actually prepared for the worst possible outcome when it comes. I certainly wasn’t prepared when it happened, but I am still going to be able to live my life. I am still going to be OK long term. That is the big one and I think I had a second one that now I am forgetting now so it must not be that important of a life lesson.
What is the best piece of advice that you have received for poker?
That is really broad… if we are talking strategy. I think my favorite sort of thing has always been the most important thing to ask in poker is “Why?” So strategically you have to always be able to answer why you are taking an action. If you can’t, you need to figure it out. Because even if you are wrong, you will be able to get there if you have a thought process behind it. If its something you can articulate, then it’s something that you can improve on. Now probably the best practical advice ever was, be massively over rolled, whenever possible for the games you play. Because you are always going to hit some sort of a swing that you never thought was possible and you will most likely have that happen to you multiple times in your career, whether you are a professional or not. Having money behind both to weather the mathematical swings of “what’s my risk of ruin with this amount of bankroll” but also the mental swings of I want to still be able to play well even though I am stuck 20 or 30 buy-ins or whatever on this downswing. Probably for most people the mental bankroll they need is bigger than the mathematical bankroll they need. Cause at some point they’re going to hit that mathematical swing that makes them no longer have the same edge they’re supposed to have. When that happens and your edge drops and you’re in a 20 buy-in downswing or whatever and your edge goes down, now your likelihood of increasing to a worst swing goes up pretty substantially. So, both from the mental and the mathematical standpoint have a lot of money behind for whatever games you play.
What is the best piece of advice that you can give for a poker player reading this?
Obviously, you are playing professionally, and I think most professional players cater to their own crowd. Players who are taking it serious, who are maybe semi-pro or aiming to be semi-pro. I think the best advice I could give to that sort of an audience is, you need to make sure you know why you play poker and figure out what the best role poker can have in your life is. Because for a lot of people its not going to be playing full time. Maybe they are capable of playing full time, but it doesn’t make it the best life decision for them, and it doesn’t necessarily make it the decision that will maximize their happiness. I have seen players losing a little bit of the love of the game when taking it more seriously, or playing professionally, or relying on it for income. I think for most people the sweet spot is playing poker as a side income or a side job or a second job. Because now you mitigate or remove a lot of the downside of playing poker for a living. You mitigate or remove the variance to your income or at least to the level where it doesn’t affect you mentally like month to month or week to week. And you can still get a lot of the benefits of playing professionally. It’s very mentally stimulating. It can be very rewarding from a competition standpoint. The money can still be very good. So, I think you need to figure out why you play the game and its going to be more than one reason. You can love the game, you can love the money, obviously its going to be multi-faceted pretty much for everybody. Figure out why you play the game and figure out where is the best place for poker in your life. I don’t want to be the guy that losing players should quit the game but there are people that would be better off without poker in their life as well. So just be honest with yourself about poker’s role in your life and your mental wellbeing.
How much are you up for 2021?
The short answer is I actually don’t know… and that sounds really dumb, but the reason that I don’t know is in part because of a lot of stuff that we already talked about. It’s in how I have tried to build my life around poker which is never having to rely on the month to month or even honestly how a year is going. I might be able to give you the gist of 2020 but not 2021. My cash volume dropped off; I play way more tournaments. So, I have no idea because I literally haven’t even input… I’m two months behind in putting my results into my tracker for tournaments. I go through stints where I’m playing live tournaments. There was a summer series that was really big and so I was playing like all the time. I know I am up in tournaments on the year, but I don’t know how much right now, because I basically played a bunch of 1k’s, then a couple of 5k’s, and then a 10k but with action sold in everything but the 1k’s basically. Especially when you sell action and there is mark up involved and you have to input all that. Before my cash game volume plummeted, I was up something like 25k on the year in 2020. That was probably something like 800 hours or something.
If you would like to join Matt in his journey as he grows in poker you can find his vlog by clicking on the link below!