Poker routines episode #14: Matt Berkey

Lee Davy continues his award winning Poker Routines column with an insight into the routines and habits of Matt Berkey. 

He is one of the best live cash game players on the planet. He can write as well as Mark Twain. He is one of the best poker coaches in the business. And he wears a bow tie with more style and panache than Winston Churchill.

Let’s find out how Matt Berkey manages it all?

Who are you?

Matt Berkey










What is your claim to fame? 

I’m not so sure I have a real claim to fame. A long time ago Michael Phelps kinda hated me for the better part of a year, but we patched things up.

When did your aspirations to become a poker player begin?

I started playing seriously as a sophomore in college (2003) but struggled to take the leap and commit to a such a high-risk career path. I think it was late 2005 after graduating and having my dreams of playing pro ball dashed that one of my closest friends, Brian Lamanna, convinced me I had what it takes to make it.

How do you spend the first hour when you wake up?

On a typical day, my first hour is spent reading/answering emails from bed, while relaxing a bit. The second hour is where the day really begins which consistently entails 30 mins of fasted cardio, followed by a 5-10 min ice cold shower and my supplements for the day (caffeine, exogenous ketones, niacin and natural thyroid extract).

What time of the day do you find it easier to play poker and why?

My poker play is largely scheduled as I’m mostly playing invite only cash games or tournaments. I personally feel at my best during the late afternoon, early evening because I will have been able to maintain my routine prior to play. Early events are quite disruptive and I often late reg whenever I can.

Do you have defined goals for how many hands/sessions you play in a week: both live and online?

No. I’ve never been a high volume guy. I don’t think I’ve ever played 2000 hours in a year; I’ve certainly never played 100k hands in a year. I tend to hone in on health, fitness, relationships, and study as the things that take up the bulk of my attention. When those areas are stable my time at the table tends to be reflective of my A+ game. Quality over quantity goes a long way in the live realm.

Where do you play online, what types of games, and stakes?

I don’t. My online days are long behind me. Live has always been my bread and butter.

Same question for live?

Mostly Ivey’s Room at the Aria or as of late the PokerGO set & most major tournament venues.

Do you have a specific routine that you go through before you begin a live session?

Absolutely. I am a person who flourishes in chaos. Poker is chaos, but life often can be as well. It’s critical for me to maintain stability in life while deflecting the chaos to the felt. My routine is largely the same whether I’m playing or not. Same morning routine listed above, followed by a 90 min mid afternoon strength and conditioning workout. I’ll then have my only meal for the day. Shower. Meditate. Then head to the casino.

When you first sit down to play poker how do you begin?

I love action. I love being the action. I show up ready to strike. Someone getting stuck in the first orbit (even if it’s me) can never be bad for the game. What tools do you use when playing poker, live and online?

I’ve never been reliant on software. I think it’s more important to understand the nuts and bolts of how the information is accumulated, deciphered, and applied than it is to simply memorize a chart or glance at frequencies. I’ve always been self-taught and feel as though this approach has kept me one step ahead in the learning curve.

What’re your thoughts on listening to music when playing? If you do, what do you listen to?

I largely don’t. I think by dulling any of our senses we are significantly giving up on free information. However, there are certain points in long events where stacks become mindless, or my attention is faded for one reason or another. In those instances, my go to is a band called Leroy Townes (formerly Leroy Townes and the Lonestars). High school buddies of Brent Hanks, and without question some of the most talented musicians that no one has ever heard of.

What system do you use for taking notes on your opponent’s, live and online?

I have pretty strong recall. I tend to be a visual learner, so it’s quite easy to store pertinent information in my memory bank.

Do you have a specific warm down routine after you have finished a session?

Very rarely. My sessions, be it cash or tournaments, tend to run into the late hours, and I’m completely exhausted by night’s end. I guess now that we’ve been making a VLOG, giving a recap of the session has become my cooldown.

Poker Routines #14 Matt BerkeyWhat do you eat and drink when you play, both live and online?

Just water. If I eat (which is rare), it’ll be simply a steak or homemade chili.

What is your process of review?

Occasional hand discussion with my closest group of friends, but largely I’ll just write in a more abstract way. It tends to lead me away from the specifics and instead emphasize the bigger picture of the session and my strategy as a whole.

How do you educate yourself about poker?

I teach it, so I certainly have to constantly be learning. I’m completely obsessed with this game. And not in an “I want to get to the bottom of this mystery and solve the game” kinda way, but more so in the way people are enamored by space or humanity. The game feels larger than life and I love the idea of constantly being on the cusp of feeling like I know it all only to be humbled and be left questioning if I really know anything at all.

How do you improve your mental state?

I seek stability. I lean on those areas which I largely protect from the chaotic world– fitness, nutrition, relationships, etc. These are all areas which I strive to improve upon daily, but also areas that rarely fail me in regards to showing a return for the effort I put in.

How much of your time is spent playing versus learning?

I would say I’m playing about 20% as much as I’m learning.

How do you know when to stop a session?

I’m the last one at the table.

Are you consciously trying to emulate the style of a particular player? Do you have people you look to as models for your game?

Never. This game is far too vast and complicated to believe that one individual has the path to perfection uncovered. I model my game after those players that I’m most focused on beating. I want to study and reverse engineer whatever the community deems to be elite. Because that’s the chase. To become elite and to maintain it.

Is poker easy? Does it come naturally to you?

Poker comes easily to me in the sense that the tools necessary to overcome the barriers to entry (such as risk aversion) and the hiccups along the way (failures) weren’t enough to break my spirit. I have a pretty sick ability to get beaten to my knees and keep moving forward. That resilience translates over to the way I learn and more so the way I play.

What is your favourite moment in poker?

I have a lot of memories throughout my career that feel completely surreal. None more so than the gamble I took in 2016. The first of the year I was fortunate enough to talk my backers into taking a big piece of me in the Super High Roller Bowl, which I ultimately got 5th in for 1.1 million, my first ever 7-figure score. But what makes it my favorite moment is that during that time I decided if I’m going to take a shot, then I’m going to do everything in my power to capitalize on it. I hired a production crew out of pocket on a shoestring budget to follow my preparation while detailing my backstory. In the meantime, I learned all I could about pitch meetings, negotiations, and licensing deals. When the dust settled, I was able to bring this hair brain vision to fruition, and Dead Money made it to air as Poker Go’s first original feature. Sometimes the stars just align I guess, and for that, I’m incredibly thankful.

What books/courses/mentors have helped improve your game (doesn’t have to be a poker book)?

Start with Why and Why Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek

. Numerous Ted Talks and podcasts too vast to name

. And Mike Bertolini. He was the one guy who never wavered in his belief in me. When I was at rock bottom, he was my biggest cheerleader and always quick to remind me that it was temporary.

Do your surroundings affect your work, how?

Absolutely. I think environment and overall comfort play a massive role in our ability to be at our best. Lighting is huge for me. I crave massive amounts of natural lighting, particularly if I’m stuck inside all day. So as you can imagine casinos are a tough atmosphere. But fortunately, the bigger games tend to run in the better lit rooms. Ivey’s room, the Bellagio, and Wynn, they all do a great job of being well lit.

Was there ever a time when you didn’t want to play poker? How did you get out of the funk?

There were plenty of times where I was afraid to play poker. Moreover, I was afraid of not being able to play poker and what that life would entail. I never really developed a plan B, so the times that were most tough were during the early years when money was tight, and I was laying it all on the line night after night. The fear of failing was real. Fortunately, the fear of a traditional 9-5 basic life path was much more present and still lingers today. Again, finding stability in everyday life largely helped me get beyond the feelings of immediacy and despair. It was easy to get beyond the here and now by finding a sense of purpose in the now and forever.

How does poker make you feel?

Challenged. I live to be challenged, and poker absolutely fulfills that need.

What is the one thing you know you have to change after answering these questions?

I don’t feel as though I need to protect myself from answering questions thoroughly and honestly. That’s the real beauty of this game. Even if we divulge our inner most secrets, nearly no one will digest and decipher them in the same manner in which we originally generated those thoughts. It’s a certainty that a lot will be lost in translation. More importantly, even the most candid interviewee runs his answers through a filter of sorts. 🙂

What is the one question I didn’t ask but should have asked, and now answer it?

I can’t fathom you missed any questions that you felt relevant to the piece, so instead I propose we turn the interview around for one question…

What opportunity lost or idea never explored does Lee Davy regret the most?  

I don’t have any regrets. I have learned the most through my suffering. Without my pain, I wouldn’t be the man I am, today, and I like that man. I like to think that I’m where I’m supposed to be in life. For example, I could say I regret taking my first drink of alcohol, and resigning to live a life of societal conditioning at a young age, but then I wouldn’t be saving people’s lives using that experience to help them quit alcohol.