At every major poker tournament throughout the world, there is one person in charge of the action, the Tournament Director. The TD's decisions resolving disputes at the tables are the glue that holds any tournament together. As the final arbiter, the TD's word is law; they are the judge, jury and, sometimes, executioner of the rules of the game.
One person whom you nearly always see in the Tournament Director role lately is Matt Savage. Matt was the TD in charge at the World Series of Poker over the last couple years, but the list just starts there. Matt also controls the action at the Ultimate Poker Challenge, the Battle of the Sexes on the Game Show Network, and other events too numerous to mention. I had the chance to talk with Matt about the life of a Tournament Director, how he comes to his decisions, and how he gets away from it all.
PN: It would be easier to mention what tournaments you're NOT involved with than those you are. Can you talk about what have been some of your career highlights?
Matt: I do have a busy schedule, but I have to say my career highlights have to be the World Series of Poker events. The most difficult and rewarding part of that is keeping the tournament in order despite the massive growth of the event.
PN: When you have a tournament that is extremely large, like last year's World Series, are more than one Tournament Directors in use? Or, because of the nature of being the arbiter, do you find yourself running around quite a bit?
Matt: Both, to be honest. Jim Miller was working with me during the event last year, but I definitely ran around a lot. Even with his help, I found myself working sixteen hour days.
PN: You are one of the founders of the Tournament Directors Association. What is the goal of the organization?
Matt: The goal of the TDA was and continues to be the standardization of rules around the country and world. It is tremendously important for both the tournaments and the players to be working off of the same guidelines.
PN: Are many tournaments still conducted without the use of the TDA Rules, which have become the guideline of both the WSOP and the WPT?
Matt: I can only think of a couple that do not use them. They are used in every tournament that I am involved with.
PN: Are the TDA rules something that are continually evolving or have they been settled for a
Matt: You might think that they are constantly changing, but they aren't. The list of rules have been settled for quite a while now.
PN: How can someone become a part of the TDA?
Matt: It is easy. You can go to the Tournament Directors Association website www.pokertda.com and sign up there that you will abide by the guidelines set there. Just by signing up and keeping up the standards of the association anyone can be a part of the organization.
PN: Has the College Poker Championship been exciting for you? It must be quite interesting to see potential poker superstars at their beginning.
Matt: The CPC is a great event and poker has become a big part of the college experience. It is
surprising to see how advanced these young players are in their games.
PN: What is the most difficult thing to do as a Tournament Director?
Matt: You would think that it has to do with the players, but it isn't. It has to be managing the delicate situation of working with ESPN, FSN, GSN, UPN, and the WPT and keeping neutral enough to keep everyone, including the players, happy.
PN: Can you think of an individual situation where you did not like to make the decision that you did?
Matt: I always feel confident in the decisions I make and I like to try and learn more and more every day.
PN: Do you ever rethink a decision, as a poker player might after a tournament?
Matt: Sure, I have to do that. It is important to my growth as a tournament director. I like to discuss tough decisions with my friend and colleague Dave Lamb. Between the two of us, we always learn something new to improve ourselves.
PN: Who has been the most influential figure in your profession?
Matt: There have been many, but I would have to say the most influential people have been Bay 101 owner Marko Trapani, fellow Tournament Director Linda Johnson, and Mike Sexton.
PN: What is the main problem that new players have when they step into the tournament arena?
Matt: Watching poker on television, the new players take far too long to act on their hands. Also, and again caused by television, sometime the attitudes of new players are influenced by what they see on television broadcasts of tournaments..
PN: How do you feel we can continue with this "golden age" of poker? How do we keep the players coming?
Matt: Keeping the new players coming in is extremely important. I believe that getting major sponsorship will be playing a role in upcoming events. That will help to keep the number of players high.
PN: Do you ever have the urge to step to the felt yourself as a player?
Matt: I do when I get the chance, but I do have to say that I am a bad player! I thoroughly respect the players in the game and their abilities at the tables.
PN: You are a young man. How long do you see yourself working as hard as you do?
Matt: I have set a limit. It will be ten more years, then maybe I can relax!
PN: How has married life affected your career?
Matt: I have to say that Maryann is my biggest supporter. No matter what may happen during a day or in a tournament, she always lifts my spirits high!
PN: As busy as you are, how do you get away from your job and relax?
Matt: That is something I have not been able to do much of lately. I would just love to just spend some time with my wife and daughter.
PN: What are your plans for 2005? Are you going to keep the schedule you have in past years?
Matt: 2005 will be my busiest year to date as I am working on a movie, a book, player sponsorship, my website (www.savagetournaments.com), and a multitude of televised events. You can also keep up with my tournament activity and the College Poker Championships at my website as well.
PN: Thank you for your time, Matt.
Matt: Thank you, Earl.
I want to thank Matt for taking the time from his busy schedule to sit down with us. He is one of the people in the game who sometimes doesn't get the due respect that he deserves! For more information on the Tournament Directors Association or to see the list of the TDA Rules, be sure to check out their website at pokertda.com. Also, to find out which of the tournaments that Matt will be in charge of, visit www.savagetournaments.com.
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