Pokernews India Exclusive: An Interview With Sky Matsuhashi

Sky Matsuhashi

PokerNews India had a chat with Sky Matsuhashi, one of the best and most humble poker coaches on the international poker circuit today. Sky is the author of 3 brilliant poker books which make you look at learning poker from a completely new perspective. He runs The Smart Poker Study podcast and has produced numerous YouTube poker training videos. Following is our interaction:

PokerNews India: How did your poker journey start?

Sky Matsuhashi: I started playing poker in 2002 in $5 buy-in family home games. They were simple one-table tournaments with a couple cousins and some uncles. I had a ton of fun but eventually wanted to play for real money. So, I decided to try the local card room. It was a simple $2/$4 limit hold 'em game. I enjoyed that first experience and would go back at least once per week. I played at 2/4, 3/6 then 4/8 limit. I would also enter the occasional no-limit Hold'em tournament.

I did this a whole lot more after I saw Chris Moneymaker win the WSOP Main Event. I didn't start playing no-limit cash games until about '07 or ‘08 on PokerStars. I lost my first $600 there really quick, then I tried Ultimate Bet and lost another $600. Then I went back to PokerStars and just grinded in the low limits and MTT/SNG’s for a long time.

PokerNews India: Do you play poker full-time now or do you have other engagements?

Sky Matsuhashi: I do not play full time right now, nor have I ever. I tried it for a little while, like less than a week, and it just didn't suit me. I enjoy between 1 to 2-hour sessions of poker. I’m able to play in LIVE tournaments for a lot longer though. Right now, my time is spent between writing books and doing my podcast where I release three episodes per week. I'm also making my first course about plugging leaks, so a lot of time is devoted to that.

I'm also a father of two boys ages 11 and 9, so when they’re not in school, they take up a ton of my time. I work from home right now, so I’m basically a stay-at-home dad.

PokerNews India: What does a typical day look like for you?

Sky Matsuhashi: I wake up early in the morning and get about one hour of work done. Then I'll wake up my boys, cook them breakfast and get them off to school. After that, I do various things like creating a podcast, maybe create a training video, respond to emails, do some coaching or write my course.

I take the dogs out for twice daily walks once in the morning and once in the evening. Normally about 5 o'clock I’ll pull myself away from the computer and help the kids with their homework as I cook dinner. And I always get to bed by 9:30 at the latest so that I can wake up by 5:30 with plenty of rest.

PokerNews India: How often do you play live tournaments?

I average one per month. I really enjoy tournaments and I go to the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas every year. For many years now, I've been telling myself that I'm going to play more next year, but it just never works out that way. I'm often motivated to go play a tournament during the week, but then when the weekend gets here and it's time to put up or shut up, I often shut up and I stay home and play some online cash games.

PokerNews India: What resources would you suggest to newbies who are just starting out in poker?

Sky Matsuhashi: I play mostly online, so my recommendations are for online players.

First, choose a site that allows poker tracking software. If you want to get better at the game, poker tracking software and the HUD that it allows you to use will give you more information with which to exploit your opponents. Not only more information in-game, but it also saves a database of hands so you can study your play and improve your game.

Second, get PokerTracker 4. I've been using it ever since it was PT3 years and years ago, and I've created lots of YouTube training videos surrounding PT4.

Third, I recommend is Flopzilla. This is a great equity calculating software that allows you to look at individual hands or an entire range of hands, and how often they hit flops and how well they perform against other hands and ranges. Utilizing PT4 to find hands to study and doing those studies with Flopzilla will teach you so much.

The fourth thing I recommend is my book, How to Study Poker Volume 1. This book compiles and explains all the study methods I use and recommend to my students and podcast listeners. We kinda learn basic study techniques through grade school and college, but nobody has ever taught how to study poker. That's why I wrote my first book on this topic and that's why the podcast is about it.

PokerNews India: Do you have a training regime? Do you read books etc.?

Sky Matsuhashi: My poker improvement takes the form of daily studies with one weekly topic. So, for example, if I'm studying to improve my 3bet game, I'll watch a video, read an article or listen to a podcast on one day centered around 3betting. I'll use what I learned in that piece of content to go through my database of hands to see how I’m playing in relation to that part of the 3-bet strategy.

Also, I play all my sessions that week with the idea of practicing what I'm learning off-the-felt. This is the most important part of my studies. Too many people study something, but they don't purposely try to put it to use. That’s my biggest recommendation for everyone. Practice what you learn off-the-felt to ingrain those skills in your skillset. That’s the most beneficial use of your time.

I do read books, but I don't read them crazy fast as some people do. When I pick up new poker book, I’ll basically spend one week per chapter on it. I'll read the chapter and take notes. I'll look for additional content to study and I'll play with purpose and study with purpose through my database with whatever was taught in the chapter.

PokerNews India: Tell me about your podcast.

Sky Matsuhashi: The Smart Poker Study Podcast has been around for a couple years now and I just released episode #208. I've always been a big podcast fan, and I was blogging about poker, so I decided to put my two loves together and create a poker podcast. My podcast differs from a lot of others because it's just me speaking about a poker topic. I teach about the topic and then at the end of the podcast, I issue the listeners a challenge. The intent is to teach you something then get you to use it in your next study session or your next play session.

I also release two other types of podcasts on my same channel. The first is the Minimum Effective Dose Monday episode. In these, I’ll read a poker article from another poker blogger or coach and then I'll give two things. The first is the MED Idea, this is the critical idea to take from the article and apply to your game and your studies. The second is the MED Action. This is the one thing you can do this week to boost your poker to the next level.

The third form of the podcast I do is the Walking Wednesday podcast. This is a short-form podcast up to 5 minutes long and I'm simply going for a walk, either by myself or with my dogs and I discuss one poker concept. It’s something that I've been thinking about or pondering on.

So, every week at least three podcast episodes are released. And with each of the podcasts, I have a show notes page where you can go to it. And even if you don't want to listen, you can always read the show notes and still get all the information there.

PokerNews India: Tell me about your other social media channels.

Sky Matsuhashi: I’m most active on Twitter (@smartpokerstudy) and Facebook (@sky-matsuhashi), but mostly I’m just promoting every piece of new content. I try to retweet a lot of things from other content producers as well.

My show also has a Facebook discussion group with about 1,500 members. Anybody is allowed in as long as they click that “Join” button. There are discussions about hand histories and strategies and sometimes study groups develop from the member interactions. I try to chime in on every post. It’s a fun, positive crowd over there.

PokerNews India: Do you have any favorite poker books? Which books did you read while learning poker? What books would you suggest?

Sky Matsuhashi: My favorite poker book is ‘The Course’ by Ed Miller. I learned a ton from that. Number two is ‘The Mental Game of Poker’ by Jared Tendler. Number three is probably ‘The Myth of Poker Talent’ by Alex Fitzgerald. I really liked ‘Peak Poker Performance’ by Dr. Tricia Gardner. You cannot go wrong with any of them.

I also learned from plenty of older books (Harrington and Little books), but I’d recommend the prior 4 I mentioned over those older ones.

PokerNews India: Tell me about all the books you’ve written.

Sky Matsuhashi: How to Study Poker Volume 1 was my first book. The goal of the book is to show you how to study one strategy at a time and work to ingrain that skill into your skillset before moving on to the next. Too many people are overwhelmed with all the books/videos/podcasts/courses out there, and my study strategies help to cut out the overwhelm and build your skills efficiently.

I followed this up with How To Study Poker Volume 2 where I took the reader through 28 days of actual study that I completed. This is four complete weeks on four different topics. I showed how I went through and found pieces of content to study, and then I showed you what I took away from those videos and articles and how I put the strategies into practice.

My latest book is Preflop Online Poker and I think it’s the best preflop book there is. I purposely built this book around developing preflop poker skills in a smart and logical progression. Each chapter builds upon the lessons learned in the prior chapter. And because it's all pre-flop, you first learn about position and player types. After that I get into open raising ranges, calling ranges, 3betting and 3bet calling ranges and so on. I built it with lots of tasks to complete to force you into using the skills you read from reading the chapter.

Early next year after my course is released, I’ll write the next book on post-flop online poker.

PokerNews India: What are your thoughts on GTO and exploitative play?

Sky Matsuhashi: I preach playing exploitative play. I understand the value in thinking in terms of GTO, because I think there is a game theory optimal way to approach poker. Poker’s all a big math problem, and for math, there’s always a solution. However, we can’t do GTO calculations on the felt. By studying GTO, you get an intuitive feel for the right plays, but your opponent should always be a large part of your decisions.

If you’ve studied a certain part 100 times and the best play is to call the bet, but you know your opponent would never bluff here, then you’ve got to go with your knowledge of the opponent and fold. Your opponents aren’t making GTO plays, so you should play in an exploitative way.

PokerNews India: What’s your most cherished poker memory?

Sky Matsuhashi: It would be all those Friday night home games that I started with. That's when poker was the most fun and I wasn't concerned with getting better at all. Plus, it was fun spending all that time with the family. We still have those home games every Friday and I go as often as I can.

PokerNews India: Do you have a favorite starting hand?

Sky Matsuhashi: My favorite starting hand is pocket aces. But, non-pair hands, my favorite would be KQs. I seem to make a lot of money isolating limpers with that hand.

PokerNews India: What has been your ultimate ‘tilt’ moment?

Sky Matsuhashi: Honestly, I don't remember. I do get angry and tilt sometimes, but the worst that happens is I lose an additional buy-in before I realize my play is lacking. I haven't had a crazy moment like smashing a keyboard or throwing a mouse or anything. It's more like frustration that just leads me to spew chips by making poor calls, bets or raises.

PokerNews India: Who’s your favorite poker player?

Sky Matsuhashi: It used to be Scotty Nguyen or Daniel Negreanu, but I just don't watch poker at all anymore so no current favorite poker player.

PokerNews India: What’s your favorite poker strategy HUD software?

Sky Matsuhashi: PokerTracker 4. I have created my own HUD for it called the Smart HUD. I use it for every session regardless of cash, SNG or MTT. I've created my own pop-ups to go with that HUD as well so I don't use the standard PT4 pop-ups.

PokerNews India: What are your plans for the future?

Sky Matsuhashi: I'm in the process of creating my first poker course right now all about plugging leaks. Beyond that, in 2019, I'm going to publish one more book about post-flop online poker. After that, I have another idea that will be either a course or a book.

This next isn’t a plan, but I want to start playing more LIVE poker, both cash and MTT's.

I'm definitely going to continue with the podcast and with the training videos on YouTube. Also, I want to do more play streams on Twitch or possibly YouTube. I also want to do another season of “28 Days of Poker Study” on YouTube and possibly another series of videos like I did with my “66 Days of Hand Reading”.

Check out Sky's website here.

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