Matt Berkey has amassed millions in tournament winnings. He plays high stakes cash so competitively, some games stopped inviting him. We’re lucky to speak with him this week about his training method and style of play. Like Red Chip Poker co-founder Christian Soto, with whom he closely collaborates, Berkey is a fan of challenging conventional poker wisdom, and exploiting entire populations of players by getting inside their heads.
Berkey has been playing poker for 14 years. Though he mostly plays live cash, he wouldn’t call himself a grinder. Proudly, he as not put in thousands of live hands per year.
“I guess I’m just a poker player looking for a good spot,” he said.
Recently, he was playing the biggest games he could get into. When those invitations ceased he shifted gears and created the Solve for Why Academy.
Christian Soto was instrumental in pushing Berkey toward starting the Academy. He had the idea for a while. He worked with Jason Somerville training Russel Thomas for the Main Event final table. They did a 7 day workshop that was really good. He built an RFID table (allowing hole cards to be read by observers, as on TV) and gave it a run with Soto, SplitSuit, and other top poker players.
“I was always very hesitant because I play and think differently,” he said. “I didn’t just want to open the door to my opponents getting inside my mind. The beauty of poker is the pride factor is incredibly high.”
Berkey’s Academy provides a perspective and method to think differently and challenge the status quo. They take a “why-centric” approach to problem solving.
“We’re in different times at poker,” Berkey said. “Just grasping at the easiest solve isn’t really optimal anymore.”
In 3 days, Berkey says, it’s really thought to strip away the years of contradictory material a typical student has experienced. Berkey enjoys the challenge. It’s part of the teaching method and brings out the best in the instructors.
They spend the first morning dissecting theory and making attendees realize they have likely not been implementing a cohesive strategy. The instructors dissect the strategies that the population is playing s a whole. Most people are mimicking the field. Berkey & co. strip down the common strategies to help players build up their own unique approach, modeled on Berkey’s own playing style. It’s a very metagame-focused approach.
Population exploits tend to work very well in live settings, where sample size is not going to give you a totally complete picture of another player’s style until you become a reg.
The Academy ends with a secondary element that supports the more tactical content of the first two days. Elliot Roe often does a talk on mental game. They try to round out the strategies with the soft skills it takes to succeed.
CAN CASUAL PLAYERS BE COMPETITITVE?
“In poker, skill is equated to knowledge,” Berkey said.
“Fine tuning the knowledge you’re absorbing and making sure you’re streamlining the path is a great start to work on your mental game. That being said, I don’t think you need to be an elite or pro player to work on the mental game. The self-actualization process is something that any person who wants to be a refined, intelligent individual should putting themselves through.”
He recommends forcing yourself to answer a lot of difficult questions, like, “Am I capable of success, and if the answer is yes, why am i holding myself back? That process is more difficult than learning the game, thats why people pour themselves into study and not mental game.”
PAIN IN POKER
If you make it to the high stakes like Berkey, you should be pretty pain-free at that point. Be financially and emotionally capable of absorbing the blows. Berkey understands what its like to grow a roll. It’s hard. The expectation is really to fail rather than succeed.
When things don’t go your way, Berkey suggests stepping back and putting your energy into something that’s controllable, and to reset your bearings.
“Your relationships, the gym, whatever… find a foundation that is always well within your control, and will leave you no excuses at the end of the day if you fail. once you succeed in that venue, your mind should be reset so you can consider getting back into the game with a clear focus and objective point of view which is difficult to achieve”, he said.
Berkey and Shaw discussed the time coach and co-founder Christian Soto talked strategy with the Red Chip Poker crew coming back from playing Live at the Bike, watching to footage. Shaw was constantly challenged on the way back. Berkey says challenge more than community drives poker greatness, in his general opinion.
“If you want to be the alpha, the you have to conquer the other males in the pride. If you’re not willing to be challenged vocally by your peers, you don’t stand a chance, you’ll be eaten alive. It’s too complex, to unforgiving of a game to get upset about criticism”, he said.
Berkey comes from an argumentative, contrarian school of thought. His natural instinct is to challenge things rather than accept them face value. He advocates for this approach with his students.
FUTURE OF POKER
Tournament poker, especially at the high stakes that Berkey plays at, is alive and well, he says. He is amazed that this amount of money is being pulled together in this small group of high-stakes players. He thinks this is spilling over into the lower buy-in events. Bay 101, LAPC, WPT tour are all very strong, he observed.
Tournament poker lends itself to having longevity, he said. Variance is high, payouts are lucrative in the extreme. It provides the lowest barrier of entry for amateurs, which is a huge plus when it comes to growing the game.
“Live cash is stale and needs something right now — a shift in the landscape to align itself better with tournament play,” he says.
Possible ideas? Antes, a 3rd blind, minimum buyins raised, smaller stakes incorporated. Right now the jumps are too vast for majority of non-elite regulars, in his opinion. The way to adjust that is either to add more stakes or to change the buyin on the current stakes.