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Matt Giannetti — From Cash Games to Tournament Success

by Brian Pempus |  Published: Dec 01, 2011


Matt GiannettiCash-game pro Matt Giannetti had to rely on a tournament this summer to end a downswing. Fortunately for the 26-year-old New York native, that tournament was the 2011 World Series of Poker main event, where he will compete in November for the $8.7 million first-place prize.

“I was putting in my hours this summer, working hard, but I just felt like I was in the twilight zone in terms of the bad beats I was suffering in the cash games,” said Giannetti, who only played a handful of WSOP events this year leading up to the main event. “Nothing was really going my way until making the November Nine. To finally have this big score on poker’s biggest stage, and to have a chance at the bracelet that is every poker player’s dream, is an unreal feeling.”

Giannetti, who will take his seat with 24.75 million, good for third chip position, said the reality of making the final table of poker’s most prestigious event has not sunken in yet. Giannetti had $550,000 in tournament earnings and two WSOP final table appearances prior to making the November Nine. After spending much of the final table bubble as the short stack, Giannetti mounted a comeback and has a great chance to become one of the game’s all-time highest earners.

Giannetti, formerly known as “hazards21” online, attended the University of Texas in Austin prior to playing full time in Las Vegas. Since he turned 21 he has been a fixture in the high-stakes no-limit hold’em and pot-limit Omaha games in town. He said the $50-$100 level has been good to him over his poker career, but he has no problem playing in smaller games if they seem more profitable.

The former competitive hockey player and golfer used his years of experience in those games to wade through the third-largest no-limit hold’em field in history and compete for the massive payday. Despite the pressure of making it deep in the event, Giannetti, who sold pieces of himself to a few friends, was able to use that experience to remain patient and concentrate on playing his best game.

“The main event field is so daunting when you look and see how many players are in it,” he said. “Making this final table took just focusing on one hand at a time. It’s really hard to think about the final table at the beginning when you see the sea of players. You just have to think about baby steps and playing your next hand well.”

Card Player caught up with the November Niner to ask him about his cash game background, how the games have changed over the years, and what his plans are for the nearly four-month break.

Brian Pempus: Can you talk about your journey through the main event this summer? What were your end-of-day chip counts like throughout the week?

Matt Giannetti: Day 1 I ended with about 26,500. I was happy with that stack going into day two, as I didn’t get many opportunities to accumulate some chips on the first day of play. I ended day two with 79,000, which I was pretty content with as well. Day three saw me end with 253,000, and end of day four I was actually crippled. I ended that day with just 114,000. The blinds the next day started at 5,000-10,000. However, at the end of day five I ended with 1.9 million. That was a big day for my tournament. Day six I ended with 7.9 million and remained up there near the top of the chip counts moving toward the final table.

BP: Can you talk about your cash game background and how it has helped you become a successful tournament player?

Matt GiannettiMG: I started playing poker with buddies of mine when I was in high school. I started to beat those $10 and $20 games pretty consistently, and eventually someone from those games owed me $40 and just transferred it to me on an online poker site instead. I began playing $0.10-$0.25 and after about three weeks I was playing $3-$6, which were high stakes at the time on the site I was playing on. I developed pretty fast, and fortunately the players weren’t as good back then either. I started off as an online player, but really once I turned 21 I became a live cash game player who on occasion would play online. I really found that jumping between live and online really screwed up my feel for the game. The games are two completely different animals. I’ve had trouble doing both, as I’ve really needed to stay in one mode.

All these hours I put in playing live over the past have given me a pretty good feel. You can’t get everything by feel, but if you pick up on betting patterns and it coincides with what your instincts are telling you, it makes all your reads that much stronger. All of the hours spent during the past six years grinding live cash games gives me a ton of experience playing flops. I have developed a good sense of what to look for, in terms of timing tells and tendencies of certain players. At the final table in November there is still a lot of play left in the tournament. I will come back with about 50 big blinds, and everyone has a pretty substantial stack of chips. It’s not going to be an all-in fest, and that definitely plays to my strengths as a poker player.

BP: So in your opinion the cash games, live and previously online, have gotten much tougher over the years?

MG: Yeah, it’s much more difficult to come through the ranks these days as compared to the recent past. There are so many more sharp, good players out there nowadays, because there is a ton of information available on how to play. For live cash games now, it is much more important to have good game selection and networking than how good of a poker player you are. Most of the better cash game players who have been playing for a while would probably agree with that statement. Networking is crucial in order to get a seat in the good games. A lot of the times these clicks evolve and you won’t get a seat in a game, with four or five guys everyone really wants to play against, unless you get invited. The cash games have unofficially become invitation-only, especially the juicier home games that run.

With all that being said, and even though I ran horrible this summer up until the main event, I was actually pleased with what I saw with the cash games that were running. I saw a lot of action and a lot of tables running, and I thought poker was moving in the right direction again after becoming pretty dismal for a few years. The games were just so dry and so tough. I think Black Friday has something to do with this resurgence in live cash game action.

When I was younger I wanted to play as big as I could, just for the sake of playing big. Now, it’s all about game selection. I will swallow my pride and play small stakes if I think that in the long run sitting in that game will make me the most money.

Matt GiannettiBP: What are your plans leading up to November? Will this big score change your style of play in cash games? What are your long-term plans for poker if you were to win the main event?

MG: I am definitely going to make the trip to the World Series of Poker Europe. I’m playing it by ear right now, though. I’m waiting to talk to some other people who have had experience with this November Nine layoff. I am pretty good friends with Michael Mizrachi, Chino Rheem, and John Racener. I know these guys are good friends and have my best interests at heart and will give me good advice regarding my plan of attack for the next few months.

The big score wouldn’t change my style of play. I will never play in a game where my play is influenced by how much money I have, whether it’s a lot or my bankroll was getting low. With that being said, if I was invited to a super juicy game with a really high buy-in I would give it a go. But, I mean I wouldn’t hop into a tough lineup like on High Stakes Poker just to prove myself. A lot of guys out there are trying to make a name for themself. I’ve always been in poker to make money and that won’t ever change.

I see myself as a poker player for a long, long time. With that being said, it would be nice to wake up with a few million in the bank, and a few million in investments that would give me a nice passive income. It would be nice to be able to take off a couple months if I didn’t feel like playing. Even though there are some rough stretches in poker at times, I genuinely love the game, the dynamics of it, and the process of learning and getting better. If you work really hard at something, and see yourself getting better at it, there’s nothing that really compares to that feeling.