It was the kind of call that can make for a huge swing in a tournament. Harvey Mathews had fourth pair with only three players remaining in the World Series of Poker $3,000 No Limit Hold’em Freezeout on Oct. 8.
His A-5 caught another 5 on the board but his opponent Michael Gathy applied plenty of pressure. That included a huge check-raise on the flop and massive bet on the river.
But Mathews felt his pair of fives might be good – and he was right. Gathy was bluffing with K-8 and no pair, vaulting Mathews into the chip lead.
“Michael Gathy is an absolute crusher and I knew he would try to put me in difficult spots,” Mathews says. “I went with my read and was correct. At that moment, I really started to think that I was capable of taking the event down.”
That indeed happened for the 38-year-old database manager from Mt. Morris, Michigan. He won his first WSOP championship bracelet and $371,914. Mathews spoke with USPoker this week about his win.
Rallying for a WSOP title
A regular at the WSOP before Black Friday, Mathews returned in 2019 and was back again this year. Now with a nice six-figure score, that turned out to be a good decision.
Getting to the winner’s circle, however, took some work. Mathews began the final table as the short stack and knew he’d sink or swim pretty quickly.
“It was basically the dream situation,” he says. “I knew right away that I had to shove in the first three to five hands. I got one shove in real quick and then was absolutely blessed to pick up pocket Jacks in the big blind when I needed it most.
“My opponent decided to take an aggressive approach to steal my blind. My J-J holding up really gave me a little bit more time and allowed me to make plays that I otherwise wouldn’t have been able to make.”
Shortly after that hand, Mathews flat-called with 4♠7♠ and flopped a 7-high straight. An unexpected move helped build his chip stack even more.
“My opponent hadn’t really gotten out of line at all,” he says, “so I was absolutely shocked when he shoved the river with just Ace-high.”
That quick run of cards helped propel Mathews to his dream win. The accomplishment still has him on a high.
“Days later it’s still pretty surreal,” he says. “I’ve always dreamed and wanted to win a bracelet, but I never thought it was an actual possibility. This event was a pretty star-studded field, so it feels great to get the win in such an event.”
Life as a Michigan online poker player
Along with being a regular at the live poker felt, Mathews has plenty of online poker experience. He began playing on PokerRoom.com in his late teens.
After Black Friday, moving to Costa Rica and Canada offered an opportunity to keep playing. That didn’t quite work out as he hoped and Mathews gave up on the dream of being an online poker pro.
He took a break from the game for the most part from 2012-19, playing less than 30 tournaments. But the return of legalized online poker in Michigan brought him back to the game.
Along with his regular job, Mathews also invests in a local business. But when not working, online poker has been a nice option to play some cards. He also likes the poker community that has developed in the market.
“When I’m not working my full time job, I like to play on Pokerstars and BetMGM,” he says. “I usually try to play three nights a week. So far, it’s been going beyond expectations.
“I’m one of the top multi-table tournament winners, despite only playing about three nights a week. I’ve also met quite a few new young up and comers and it’s a great feeling. The sites are great and have really good series.”
Looking ahead and looking back
The six-figure win was well-timed for Mathews. Prior to heading to Las Vegas for the WSOP, he’d been looking at houses and now has even more funds to make that happen.
“I scheduled a tour of one that I have had my eyes on for Saturday when I get back home,” he says. “If the tour goes well, I’ll probably put down a nice down payment and make the move.”
Away from poker, other competitions also occupy his time. He loves football and has eight fantasy teams this year. His football weekend also usually includes one teaser wager each weekend.
Camping and the outdoors are also big passions and Mathews bought some kayaks over the summer. He also enjoys spending time with his girlfriend of seven years.
After some time at the WSOP, Mathews returns home this week for a bit. He then has plans to play in the $10,000 Main Event.
“I’ve played the Main Event four or five times, but the most recent time was probably 10 years ago,” he says. “I’ve never cashed, so I look forward to the opportunity.”
The championship bracelet easily becomes the highlight of Mathews’ poker career. Looking back on a poker journey that’s taken him from Michigan to Costa Rica to Canada to Las Vegas, an important figure in his life comes to mind.
Mathews met Mike Telker about 14 years ago when both players began taking the game more seriously. The two even lived together for a while in Costa Rica and Telker had a major impact on not just Mathews’ game, but also as a friend.
“He has been down in Costa Rica since Black Friday, so I never get to speak or see him all too often,” Mathews says. “He helped my game so much, and really shaped it into what it is today. I don’t know if he’ll read this, but I love you man and appreciate everything that you’ve done for me throughout the course of my poker career. Pura vida!”