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Final Table Takedown: WSOP POY Ian Matakis Scores Win At Canterbury Park

by Craig Tapscott |  Published: Nov 15, 2023

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Ian Matakis started playing poker at just eight years old when his sister taught him the rules to the game. He was probably the only elementary school kid spending his days on play money tables on PokerStars. He eventually built a small bankroll playing freerolls and small stakes MTT’s on Carbon Poker. This allowed him to save up enough to buy his first car at the age of 16 for $3,000.

Matakis started to play more seriously in 2018 while attending the University of Minnesota as a sophomore. It was a quick rise, and he dropped out of school the next year to pursue poker full time. In the few years since, he has gone on to cash for nearly $2 million in tournaments.

This summer was particularly profitable for Matakis, who earned his first World Series of Poker bracelet in a $500 buy-in no-limit hold’em online event along with $120,686. The 25-year-old had six top-10 finishes overall, including a ninth-place showing in the $50,000 pot-limit Omaha high roller for $199,275 and a third-place result in the $3,000 six-max pot-limit Omaha event for another $205,696. With 22 cashes total, he was named 2023 WSOP Player of the Year.

Matakis found himself back in the winner’s circle most recently in October, taking down the Canterbury Park Fall Poker Classic for $117,668. Card Player caught up with the rising star to break down a couple key hands he played during the tournament.

Craig Tapscott: You’ve had a dream year that any player would be envious of, and the crowning achievement of WSOP Player of the Year. Can you share a little about your amazing run?

Ian Matakis: I put a lot of time into my game before this year’s WSOP. And then, I was very locked in at the series. I showed up to play every day, stayed off my phone, and paid attention to everything. Of course, there were some lapses as there will be when you have no days off over such a long span. But I’m very proud of my overall focus during the series.

CT: You had some of the best tournament players in the world chasing you for POY, including Shaun Deeb, Chris Brewer, and Phil Hellmuth, etc. When did you know you could make a solid run for the title?

IM: When I was leading POY about halfway through the series, I knew I would have a decent chance at it. I decided to stop playing other venues and completely prioritize WSOP for the rest of the summer. I didn’t multi-table, but I didn’t miss any tournaments unless I went very deep in something else.

Event: Canterbury Fall Classic Main Event
Buy-In: $1,100
Entrants: 679 
Prize Pool: $651,840
First-Place Prize: $117,668

Stacks: Ian Matakis – 1,800,000 (45 BB) Villain – 720,000 (18 BB)
Blinds: 20,000-40,000 with a 40,000 big blind ante
Players Remaining: 18

Matakis raised to 80,000 from the hijack holding KHeart Suit 8Club Suit. 

Craig Tapscott: Now I’d like to talk about your most recent win and some of the pots you played on the way to victory. Set this table and this hand up for us. 

Ian Matakis: Well normally you wouldn’t open this hand from this position; you would need K-10 or better. But I was chip leader at my table and had reason to believe I would rarely get three-bet light from anyone behind.

Villain called from the big blind.
Flop: JDiamond Suit 8Heart Suit 3Diamond Suit
Villain checked.
 

IM: My opponent checked which I would expect him to do every time. I went for a very small continuation bet.

Matakis bet 45,000. 

CT: Let’s talk about flops you would always continuation bet and flops where you might put on the brakes.

IM: There are a lot of dry unconnected boards where you open and the big blind defends where you can just c-bet 90 to 100 percent of your range for a small size. And it will be very effective (i.e. A-9-2 rainbow can be 100 percent c-bet as we just get a quick fold the majority of the time).

A board where we will “put the brakes on” at a very high frequency would be if we open, big blind defends, and it comes 4-5-6. The big blind will have a bunch of hands that we simply do not have like 7-8 offsuit, 7-3 suited, 2-3 suited, all the offsuit two pairs, etc. So it gives the big blind an advantage, and we have to be careful betting a board like this. Good players will check-raise this board often and put you in some tough spots.

Matakis bet 45,000. 

IM: I would make this c-bet with my entire range with the idea of just folding out his complete misses for a cheap price.
 
Villain called.
Turn: 5Spade Suit
Villain checked.
 

CT: What was the plan after the turn?

IM: Good question. Now came our main decision in the hand. We can go two different routes here. 1) Check back to bluff catch the river on a lot of different cards and value bet ourselves if they check again or 2) Go for a turn bet to get value from inferior pairs and draws. I decided in game my opponent would likely check-raise most of their J-X on the flop, so it makes more sense to just go for a turn bet to get value and deny equity.

CT: Had you played with the player in the big blind for much of the day?

IM: No. I had very little experience playing with this player, but he was young and I assumed competent.

CT: Why did you think he would check-raise a J-X hand?

IM: Generally, when you are short between 10-20 big blinds, and you defend and flop top pair (at least the ones with good kickers) on a board with more draws you prefer to check-raise and get it in. While he still could have some J-X, I decided it was more likely he held something else.

Matakis bet 185,000. 

CT: Why did you choose that bet sizing?

IM: I bet around 60 percent pot, so 185,000 into 310,000. If he called, he would have about 60 percent pot left on the river or 410,000 into 680,000. My opponent thought for some time, and…

Villain called.

CT: When a player goes into the tank like that, what kind of reads do you pick up off of their behavior?

IM: Normally you get an idea of whether they’re considering just raising or folding. A hand like 9Diamond Suit 2Diamond Suit doesn’t have enough equity to call but could consider check-jamming to get my bluffs to fold and will still at least have some equity when he gets called. However, this time I was fairly certain he was just taking his time before calling.

River: 9Heart Suit
Villain checked.

IM: The river comes down an offsuit nine not completing the flop flush draw. On some brick rivers we could even consider value jamming this but on a nine that not only completes some of our opponents draws or two pairs, but also completes some of our bluffs. We have an easy check back with K-8. 

Matakis checked. Villain revealed QSpade Suit 8Spade Suit and Matakis won the pot of 680,000.

IM: This time we do end up beating Q-8 and that’s a nice pot for us with 18 players left.

Stacks: Ian Matakis– 2,600,000 (52 BB) Villain – 550,000 (11 BB)
Blinds: 25,000-50,000 with a 50,000 big blind ante
Players Remaining: 14

IM: It folded around to me in the small blind and I looked down at Q-2 off. In this situation with 14 left and covering the big blind, we can shove pretty wide. But Q-2 offsuit isn’t quite good enough. So, I decided the big blind would not raise much if we limped, so that’s what I go ahead and do…

Matakis limped in holding QSpade Suit 2Heart Suit. Villain checked.

CT: What are the most common mistakes you see players make when limping?

IM: I wouldn’t recommend limping at all unless it folds around to you in the small blind. When you raise instead of limp you give yourself a chance to win the pot preflop and you also build the pot for when you have good hands.

Flop: KSpade Suit KHeart Suit 4Club Suit
Matakis checked.

IM: There wasn’t much reason to bet here as we don’t get any better hands to fold and the hands we get “value” from will likely bluff us on later streets.

Villain checked.
Turn: 10Diamond Suit

IM: The turn ten completed the rainbow board. Same story as the flop.

Matakis checked and Villain checked behind.
River: 7Club Suit
Matakis checked.
 

IM: I attempted to show down my queen high, but my opponent now bet…

Villain bet 100,000.

CT: What did you make of this bet?

IM: I should beat all of my opponents bluffs here but from experience it’s a very under-bluffed spot.

CT: Please explain.

IM: Well, I’m putting my opponent mostly on value betting a seven here and every once in a while, could have a ten as well (I expected K-X to either shove preflop versus a limp or bet on the flop or turn).

CT: So, in this spot you believed you could take away the pot with a bluff?

IM: I did. I settled on turning my hand into a bluff here for a couple reasons. 1) It’s a very under bluffed spot, which made it quite credible and 2) If my opponent doesn’t end up calling the check-raise with most of their 10-X and 7-X on the river this bluff will be very profitable for me.

CT: So, you went for it.

IM: Yes. I decided to check-raise their 100,000 bet to 350,000 (leaving them 150,000 if they’re wrong). In hindsight I think I would have preferred a shove, but I’m not entirely sure how big of a difference it would have truly made. 

Matakis raised to 350,000.
Villain called and revealed JClub Suit 10Club Suit and won the pot of 850,000.

IM: Unfortunately, this time I ran into a hand that wasn’t folding. That’s okay. Because going for these very unique under bluffed spots works more often than not.

CT: Let’s talk about that. Please share other spots players should look for. And why are those spots under bluffed to begin with by most players?

IM: Sure. You will have a lot of mandatory bluffs (hands that cannot win under any circumstance that get many better hands to fold) and then you will have spots that come up that are not so natural. You just have to think about where you are in your range.

For example, maybe turning a raised UTG ADiamond Suit AClub Suit when the big blind calls. Turn the aces into a bluff on a board like 8Spade Suit 7Spade Suit 6Spade Suit, then a turned 9Diamond Suit, and a river 2Spade Suit. We will have many more high flushes and our pair of aces is unlikely to win at showdown without bluffing.

CT: Why are those spots under bluffed to begin with by most players?

IM: I believe because it’s an uncomfortable thing to try and get someone to fold a pair, blind vs blind, especially when you’ve showed a lot of weakness. You should actually go ahead and pull the trigger here, as it looks quite strong and credible.

Keep up with Ian on Twitter/X @IMatakis and message if you’re interested in coaching.