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A Poker Life: Matt Ashton

by Julio Rodriguez |  Published: Oct 02, 2013

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Head into your local casino, sit down at a low-stakes Omaha or stud game and take note of the average age of your opponents. Odds are that number is significantly higher than that of your average no-limit hold’em table.

The reason for that is simple. Young players today are introduced to poker through no-limit hold’em, the game they see on television. Though Mike Sexton of the World Poker Tour famously says the game “takes a minute to learn and a lifetime to master,” most high-stakes pros would argue that the mixed games are the true test of poker acumen, which is why those games are, for the most part, made up of grizzled veterans who have been playing the game for decades.

One of the more notable exceptions is 25-year-old Matt Ashton, a high-stakes mixed-games player who proved his skills at this summer’s World Series of Poker, making four final tables, earning his first gold bracelet, and banking $2,043,492, all in non-hold’em events.

Here’s a look at how one player is changing the way young pros look at mixed games.

Poker Beginnings

Ashton was born in London, but was raised in Liverpool, England. He grew up playing chess and competing in soccer and tennis with his friends. Though his parents encouraged his competitive spirit, poker was never supposed to be part of the equation.

“My parents were very conservative with their money,” said Ashton. “Gambling is the last thing they would ever do. We’d play a few card games at home, but never poker.”

Despite his childhood environment, Ashton still found poker early in life, playing online poker when he was just 15-years-old.

“It was 2004, but I didn’t start playing because I saw Chris Moneymaker on TV or anything like that. A friend of mine told me I could win money online. At first, I was playing on a site run by FHM magazine. I started with the freerolls, won some money and started building up my bankroll.”

Though his family was opposed to gambling, Ashton’s risk-averse parents would be pleased to find out that he was playing with house money.

“I never deposited,” he admitted. “To this day, I still haven’t deposited a dime. I’m still playing on the same bankroll I built up from the initial freeroll win. So even if I lose everything I have from here on out, I’ll still be ahead.”

Ashton started with tournaments, but quickly transitioned to pot-limit Omaha cash games. Once he turned 18, he started to frequent the casinos and began to clean up. After one particularly good summer, he entered the University of Sheffield with a bankroll of £60,000.

Poker Doesn’t Interfere With An Education

Though he was certainly walking around with a lot more money than most college students, Ashton never allowed his profitable hobby to change his plan to attend a university.

“I was in school for the experience of going to school,” he said. “The degree was a nice bonus, but I was there for everything that goes along with being a young guy out on his own for the first time. My order of priorities was drinking, poker and then studying. My grades weren’t great, and I took a little time off, but I finished and got my degree in math.”

Despite his focus on partying, Ashton’s poker game skyrocketed during his time at Sheffield.

“I was playing £40-£80 or £100-£200 limit games at the time,” he recalled. “No one knew that I was a poker player. They may have known I was pretty comfortable, but they didn’t know how much money I had. I didn’t like to show it off. I still don’t like to show it off.”

A Mixed-Games Monster

After pleasing his parents by getting his degree, Ashton then allowed himself to turn his attention full time to poker. In 2010, he began to travel to live poker tournaments. His results weren’t great, but he continued to crush the nosebleed stakes online.

“I had a breakthrough summer, earning way more money than I ever had before. I went from playing £100-£200 games to playing £500-£1,000. The games were good and I felt like I couldn’t lose.”

When asked what led him to learn mixed games when so many players his age are focused primarily on no-limit hold’em, Ashton admitted that making the switch was his initial form of tilt control.

“I just love games in general of any kind. Poker is great because I get to experience the pure joy of learning the same game in a number of different varieties. When I lost money playing pot-limit Omaha, I would go and sit in low-stakes H.O.R.S.E. games just for fun. Then PokerStars started spreading eight-game mixes and I realized there was value to be had, so I started putting a lot more time into it. The way to earn money in poker is to be ahead of the curve, and when it came to mixed games, I was.”

His 2010 coming out party also marked his first live tournament cash, a fourth-place finish in an eight-game mixed event at EPT London. The next month, he won the eight-game mixed event at EPT Vienna. At the 2011 PokerStars Caribbean Adventure, he took fifth in the eight-game event.

At the 2011 WSOP, he took sixth in the $10,000 H.O.R.S.E. event for $101,813. He had two more cashes in 2012. After finishing third in another eight-game event at the 2013 Aussie Millions, he finally earned his first ever no-limit hold’em cash, taking 35th place in the EPT Grand Final main event. Of course, this occurred only days after he won yet another eight-game mixed at the same venue.

“Other than the main event, I really don’t play that much hold’em,” said Ashton. “I don’t mind it, but I just prefer the other games. That’s where I have a much bigger edge on my competition.”

The 2013 WSOP

Ashton started off his most recent WSOP campaign with a third-place finish in the $2,500 Omaha/stud eight-or-better event. It was a score worth $86,437. He topped that less than a week later by finishing runner-up in the $5,000 stud eight-or-better event for $164,700. In just 13 events at the biggest poker festival in the world, Ashton had cleared more than a quarter of a million dollars, yet he wasn’t satisfied.

“It’s about the bracelet and winning,” he said. “The money is not an issue. It was my birthday and I really wanted to win to make people notice. In fact, after that, I vowed not to play any cash games and focus primarily on the other mixed-game events.”

A week after his close call with WSOP gold, Ashton took seventh place in the $2,500 Stud eight-or-better event, pocketing another $18,266.

“Before I played, I made sure to study proper stealing ranges. The first street of any stud game is the street that is the most important, because you’ll be seeing it more often. I worked hard on that first street to figure out how wide I could steal. Though I only finished seventh, it really helped me in the next tournament.”

The next tournament, of course, was the $50,000 Poker Players Championship, the king of all mixed-game events. After five days of action, Ashton emerged on top of a final table that included Jonathan Duhamel, Mike Wattel, Minh Ly, George Danzer, David Benyamine, John Hennigan, and eventual runner-up Don Nguyen. He not only earned his first gold bracelet, but also the Chip Reese memorial trophy and a hefty $1,774,089 payday.

“The WSOP main event is the biggest tournament of the year, but it’s not as prestigious as the Poker Players Championship. The money was obviously significant, any seven-figure score is, but this tournament in particular really showed the rest of the poker world that I really worked hard, that I’m not some fluke who got lucky.”

Moving Forward

Ashton plans to continue being the high-stakes cash game grinder that he was before the summer made him a recognizable face on the circuit, but now that he is in the lead for the WSOP Player of the Year race, he recognizes that he’ll have to make the trip to France to play WSOP Europe, suffering through a series with no mixed games and only one pot-limit Omaha event.

In the meantime, he’ll work on finding some balance between his hobbies and poker.

“Some people think that balance is sitting at home spending time with their family, but for me, I get bored easily being in the same place all of the time. I need to be traveling and experiencing new things. I used to believe that I would play long enough to earn $100 million or some crazy number, but after so much time visiting other parts of the world, I realized that I can be happy without spending any money. Maybe I’ll go teach math to children in some poor countries. I don’t know yet, but I know that winning money is no longer a big motivation for me.” ♠