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LAS VEGAS, Nevada –- Mike Matusow has mellowed, which may disappoint the legion of poker fans who have come to cherish his well-documented profantity-laced meltdowns, verbal tirades and constant chattering at the table which earned him the nickname "The Mouth."
They may also be surprised to know that Matusow is a happier person because of the change.
Matusow, 41, has earned more than $6 million playing poker since the mid-1990s. That includes winning three World Series of Poker individual event championship bracelets and more than $3.1 million going into the 2009 tournament.
He reached the World Series of Poker's main event final table in 2005, but finished ninth and won $1 million.
His success at cards came despite suffering from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and being diagnosed as bipolar. Before the illnesses were identified, Matusow self-medicated and he became addicted to numerous illegal drugs, including methamphetamine and cocaine.
His troubles peaked in late 2004, when he spent six months in the Clark County Detention Center after pleading guilty to buying drugs for a friend who turned out to be a Las Vegas police undercover officer.
Today, Matusow is off illegal drugs and is taking two types of medication for his disorders. And he's a better poker player because of it.
"I'm twice the player I was. I'm more well-rounded and not as out of control and crazy," Matusow said. "When I take my medication, I'm more subdued at the table. I'm really focused and really quiet."
Matusow spelled out his poker career in an autobiography, "Check-Raising the Devil." He and co-authors Amy Calistri and Tim Lavalli explain in graphic detail his addictions, his battles with depression and mental illness, and his verbal diatribes, including his 2004 manhood-questioning lambasting of eventual World Series of Poker champion Greg Raymer during the tournament's main event. The meltdown was shown worldwide on ESPN.
He is selling copies of the book in a booth outside the World Series of Poker room at the Rio. He said the public relations push for the book will begin in earnest after the tournament.
"We haven't even done the major stuff and we've sold 14,000 copies," Matusow said. "I want to sell a million copies."
Lavalli is hopeful the book will lead to a movie script.
"Check-Raising the Devil" is a different type of poker self-help book.
"I don't want to see some of these young kids make the same mistakes I made," Matusow said. "There are a lot of good young players who are making a lot of money but are falling into that lifestyle with drugs and strippers. A person who parties like that is going to lose everything. I've been there and I've lost everything."
Matusow said he now wakes up happy, thanks to psychoanalysis. Even when he was making millions, Matusow said he would awake crying with suicidal feelings.
It might seem surprising that Matusow would turn his attention toward helping other poker players avoid some of his pitfalls. However, when he was in jail, he was visited by several members of the poker community who helped him get his life in order.
"There are thousands of these young kids who are really good poker players," he said. "If I find a way to change one person's life, then maybe I did something right."
Of course, Matusow is still Matusow. No amount of ADHD medication can keep him from speaking his mind. Peter Eastgate, the 2008 world poker champion who Matusow refers to as "the kid," earned his respect. He called another player at the final table "a complete idiot."
Matusow won his third World Series of Poker gold bracelet a year ago. His other wins were in 1999 and 2002, when he was hallucinating due to an attempt to quit drugs.
The book recounts the ups and downs of Matusow's poker career, including a 2003 trip to Paris fueled by drugs in which he slept twice in seven days, high stakes tournaments in Aruba, Atlantic City and Las Vegas and his World Series of Poker exploits. He also wrote about the millions of dollars he lost in the Ultimatebet.com cheating scandal in 2006.
Another reason for writing the book was to explain his 2004 arrest for buying cocaine. Matusow said he was set up by an undercover police officer who befriended him over 18 months.
Even though he struck a plea deal with prosecutors, Matusow maintains he was coerced into buying the drugs.
"I wanted to set the story straight. I wanted people to understand exactly what I did," Matusow said. "I wanted people to know what (the police) did to put me in jail step by step."
Once out of jail, he returned to the poker room. He was disappointed by his ninth-place finish in the 2005 World Series of Poker's $10,000 buy-in no-limit hold'em world championship, an event he still believes he should have won.
Matusow can recite in vivid detail the hands the cost him the tournament.
He can also name, card-by-card, other poker hands over the years that sent stacks of tournament chips to other players.
Today, Matusow's demons are in control. The challenge is to stay on his medications during marathon poker games that sometimes last 24 hours.
"That's when I need to sit out for one or two days," Matusow said. "I do believe I'm playing my best poker ever."
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