With over $1.3 million in online poker winnings Matt "mlagoo" LaGarde is one of the rising stars in the poker world. We caught up with Matt to see what he thinks of being a CardRunners instructor, why he decided to drop out of law school, and how he ranks the top tournament players in the world.
Mr. LaGarde, thanks for taking the time to chat with us. Congrats on your Sunday 500 on PokerStars a few weeks ago. What’s been going on in your life lately?
Not too much. Moved into a new place in Baltimore recently and decided to head out to Vegas to hang out with some friends during the FTOPS. All in all, I’m in a pretty good spot right now. I have a handful of students that I'm working with every week. I'm still making videos for CardRunners. I have a leak-finder video I'm working on right now for a CardRunner member. I am just doing my best to stay busy and productive.
What made you decide to stay in Baltimore and not live the sinful life in Las Vegas?
Well, part of it is the sinful life of Las Vegas. I've been in Vegas every summer for the last four years, I guess, although in 2006 I was just another random casual player who satted into the WSOP Main Event. It is a ridiculously fast-paced town. The nights are much longer and much more expensive than I'm used to. The other part is my friends and family. It's tough to move across the country from a bunch of people you love. Not to mention live poker is rigged.
Ok, so what brought you to CardRunners or what sparked you to become a professional coach?
Well, I made my first video for PokerSavvyPlus with a friend of mine, "NoahSD". He is mostly a cash player. He wanted me to basically review a tournament of his and do some dual commentary on it for a video. It was a one-off thing for PokerSavvyPlus, but I thought it was a lot of fun. It actually was really helpful for me as well. It kind of forced me to be a bit more analytical and make sure I had a articulable reason for everything I was doing. Which is tough sometimes, because simply saying that you just "feel" this is a good time to 3bet or 4bet doesn't make for a particularly insightful commentary.
And as for why I joined CardRunners? They've been THE name in poker instructional videos for quite a while. It is actually the only site I had a paid membership to at the time. So when I decided I'd start making videos on a more regular basis, I "auditioned" for CardRunners. They were willing to bring me on and I was happy to join.
The coaching stemmed from the same idea. Analyzing other people's games forced me to take the time to sit down and make sure I knew why I was doing everything I was doing. So, I did a LOT of math homework, a lot of hashing out profitable resteal ranges/situations, profitable spots to open light, profitable spots to three-bet-fold, etc. I needed to actually have a math-based reason for doing each of these things so that I could explain it to my students, so I had to make sure I was comfortable with it myself as well. Not to mention that I've learned to appreciate the value of variance-free income.
CardRunners has definitely been around the longest and is one of the most well-respected training sites. What games are your specialties and what is your hourly rate? Can anyone get lessons from you?
I only coach no-limit hold'em MTTs, any stakes, and I charge $150/hr. Anyone can get lessons. Right now I would say the majority of my students are from continental Europe, along with a couple of Brits, a couple of Brazilians, and 1 or 2 Americans. I wouldn't say any particular game is my specialty. For instance, I'm not a 180-man specialist or anything like that. I think my students just appreciate that I play all stakes of tournaments, from $20 rebuys to $1k's, to $10k's, when I get my lazy ass out to a live event and can offer experience-based insight into those tournaments. And obviously, I came up from the bottom and spent quite a lot of time way back when grinding $11 freeze-outs and $3 rebuys. Those were fun times.
Interesting, why are you students more from foreign places than in the U.S.? What’s the reason behind that?
I can't say for sure what the reason for that is. My assumption is just that Americans have a bit less money to throw around these days. Most of my American students that I have had tend to be mid-stakes grinders. They have had some success and want some advice (or in some cases, just reassurance) as they move up to the higher stakes. Whereas more of the Europeans tend to be guys who just like poker and want to win at it.
So right now are you mainly focusing on online poker, or have you been making the transition to live poker as several big online players are?
Mostly online. Again, it's just the thing of not wanting to be away from my friends back home for too long. Maybe that's weird. In the spring of 2007, I withdrew from law school and by the summer had made what to me seemed like a hell of a lot of money playing poker. So naturally I started searching for ways to spend it as quickly as possible.
I settled on a trip through Asia. I traveled through various countries in Asia for about six months before heading to Australia for the Aussie Millions and then finally home. When I got back, my friends had new friends. There were new in-jokes that I didn't know about. I just missed all that I guess. So now, while I still love to travel, I tend to do it in short bursts. I still do Vegas in the summer, one big live tournament in some weird place in the fall, Bahamas or Australia in the winter, and another big live tournament somewhere in the spring.
Also, just in terms of managing your variance/mental state, my average weekly buyins online are probably somewhere around $14-$15k. If I throw a bunch of random $10k's in there and run bad, all of a sudden I've created a pretty healthy hole to dig myself out of grinding relatively small stakes online. I'm not saying that means you should never play $10k's. But it's definitely a recipe for increasing your variance far above and beyond the extraordinary heights of variance that just a regular MTT grinder already experiences.
You say you dropped out of law school. Is the money in poker too good for you? What made you decide to quit law school?
No, it wasn't that the money in poker was too good. Well, that was part of it. So here is the story of the whole thing, I guess. I got into poker when I was in college. Played home games with friends for $20, etc., and did OK. One of my friends played online poker as well and was just beating up the $5/$10 limit-hold'em games on PartyPoker. So he lent me Small Stakes Hold'Em by Ed Miller. I read it, stuck some money online, grind, grind, grind, and all of the sudden I had maybe an extra few hundred dollars a month playing small-stakes limit hold'em and small-stakes sit-n-gos while in college. Continue this through first year of law school and somewhere in there I won a random TwoplusTwo MTT Community freeroll for a WSOP Main Event seat.
So that summer between my first and second year of law school, I headed out to Vegas for the main event. Busted the main event the first day, proceeded to grind $1/$2 and $2/$5 live all week and make like $3.5k or something - a stupid amount of money to me at the time.
Came back for my second year of law school and just a couple weeks into the semester I came down with appendicitis. Apparently it was pretty bad, and I was hospitalized for a week. I was told that I was confined to bed rest for the next couple months. They waited for the infection to die down so that they could perform an appendectomy.
During that time, I just played a ton of poker, mostly cash. Won maybe $12-$13k in that stretch, which again, seemed like a ridiculous amount of money to me. I took a trip to Egypt for a couple of weeks, had the surgery, then went back to school the next spring.
A few weeks, maybe a month into that semester, I don't know, I just couldn't do it. I didn't know what I was in law school for. I was drifting from topic to topic. I had no goal. I was just there because law school is what a bright young political science student does after college. So many of my peers in law school seemed so driven, so compelled to be there and do the best they could. And I just didn't share that passion.
So ultimately I decided to take a break. At which point, Maryland Law told me that I had three years where I could come back, during which time there were no questions asked. I just had to let them know I want back in and I'm good to go. So I thought "sweet," that sounds like a great security blanket. Let's give this poker thing a shot. Then, ya know, went on to win the Sunday Million a couple months later.
Do you regret withdrawing from law school?
There have certainly been times over the past couple years that I've questioned my decision to withdraw. Who knows what field I'd be in. Presumably, had I stayed in, I would have a job somewhere now. I would have a nice respectable job that my parents would feel good about, etc. But it's been a fun ride. Ultimately, when you're paying for a very expensive education and know no reason why you're doing it, no idea what you want to do, it might not be a bad idea, if you have an alternative "skill," to pursue it and see how it goes. Especially if you're given the option of returning if things go poorly.
How important is it to get a college degree?
I don't know how important a college degree is. My oldest brother right now is crushing it in the IT field without a college degree. America is overrun with people with college degrees but no real practical skills. What I do think is that the college experience is a valuable one. I made friends who I will keep for my whole life. I learned social skills and obviously somewhere in there learned a bit about political science and philosophy. But I doubt just in terms of return on investment, especially considering opportunity and cost, my bachelor's degree was the best investment I've made.
Alright the night before a big Sunday grind, what to do you do physically/mentally to prepare for all the tournaments. Are you out the night before partying till the break of dawn?
(laughs) Well, I do try to take it somewhat easy on Saturday nights. I usually don't play on Friday or Saturday. So Thursdays and Fridays are usually my big nights out. Sometimes there will be some special occasion or something going on, and I'll just wake up Sunday saying "Why do I do this to myself?" But even on the easy nights, it's not as though I do anything special to prepare. I don't do some yoga or meditation ritual. I'll just relax, watch a movie, drink some beers with friends and play some FIFA, or Madden and have an early night.
Besides poker, what are some of your favorite hobbies?
Soccer is for sure number one. Tennis is also up there, racquetball as well. Watching sports - soccer, football, tennis, basketball — probably in that order — is up there. As a male 25 or younger, video games are obviously in there. I like to read books that I think will make me smarter or more interesting, and that also help me to cling on to a more wholesome past and future. I like to travel and go out, although I'm not sure either of those qualify as hobbies.
If you are at a final table of a big MTT event, what is the one clutch song that is playing in your iPod?
Oh man that’s a good one. If I had to guess it would be something off of the Black Album. I'm not much of a one-song-on-repeat kind of guy. I'll just put an album on and let it run. Although recently in the FTOPS Quadruple Shootout, I was heads up at my second table with a guy from Russia, and I definitely put on "Eye of the Tiger" to propel myself to victory.
Alright, you are out at XS at Encore. Who’s your entourage that’s in the VIP booth with you?
This is tough, give me a second. Alright I'm going to say Jay-Z, Rio Ferdinand, Jack Black, Michael Cera, Vince Vaughn. Maybe one of those dudes from MGMT because I definitely need a slightly strung-out rock star there — and Scarlet Johannson. Also, somehow she hooks up with me instead of any of the infinitely richer and more attractive celebrities that are there. I was going to say 50-Cent, but I feel like he might just be too hard for me, like we couldn't relate.
Since you seem to be a big book reader, what are your top three novels of all time or that you recommend?
Oh man. Well I love Notes from Underground by Dostoevsky, and Crime and Punishment, The Old Man and the Sea by Hemingway. I really enjoyed The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Kundera. I also love Lolita by Nabokov. I just finished reading The Post-American World by Fareed Zakaria. It was a really great read and in my eyes is already proving and will continue to prove to be a very prescient book about the coming decades of development and paradigm shifting in global policy/politics. I don't have a lot of "sleeper" picks because it's taken me long enough to just try to catch up on all the classics out there.
Your predictions on the Baltimore Ravens/Maryland Terrapins seasons?
Well, Terps football is obviously an ugly thing that I occasionally torture myself by watching. I'm a Skins fan, which is a similar experience, although I always watch because I'm a masochist. As for Terps basketball, like I said, staying out of the NIT would make me a happy clam. And one win against Duke. I don't ask for too much. Living in the gambling world, I'm always hesitant to make predictions. Because as opposed to normal people's reactions of "Yeah right, whatever," in poker it's "WANNA BET ON IT?" At which point, you realize you actually have no idea and do not, in fact, want to bet on it.
Top 5 online tournament players of all time please.
That's a good one. Let's go with Shaun Deeb, "westmenloAA", "Gboro" and "DJK" to get the obvious ones out of the way. Then my sleeper pick is going to be young "JCarver". He's a beast.
What order of greatness?
Brutal. Ok, I'm going to give some reasons with them. I would say Gboro #1, for sustained results and high level of play in the toughest online tournaments for years now. He's never fallen off. He doesn't grind like some of the others. He just plays the toughest tournaments in the world and crushes them.
DJK is #2, for basically completely rewriting the way MTTs are played. It's amazing the way MTT strategy at the highest levels has shifted, and DJK was absolutely at the forefront of this. He is responsible for basically educating (through observation) the rest of the world on plays that no one else had even considered. While doing this, he won a lot of money at MTTs.
Deeb is #3, for his ability to grind all stakes of tournaments, day in and day out, for incredible stretches, and playing incredible amounts of tables at a very high level. There really isn't another player in the world whom puts in the volume he does and still plays as loose/creatively as he does. It's really extraordinary how much attention he pays and how few spots he misses while playing 20 tournaments at once. And again, he has put up amazing results at all stakes.
Menlo is #4, which a lot of people would consider fairly controversial, but it's just that right now online MTTs are as tough as they've ever been. He isn't really playing them. So it's tough to put him at the very top, but he was the man at MTTs for a very long time and I just couldn't see excluding him from this list.
Finally, JCarver is #5. Here is a guy that also plays a very different style from a lot of successful tournament players, and does so with a lot of success. He's a thoughtful, incredibly skilled player who seems to average about a six figure score every six months. He gets it quietly, and he will continue to crush everything for years to come.
Matt, thanks for taking the time to sit down with us. We wish you the best of luck.