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[caption width="640"] Matt Mendez was overcome with emotion last year after winning The Big Stax XV High Roller only a month after the birth of his daughter. (Parx photo)[/caption] Winning poker tournaments can have a contagious effect. Just ask Fedor Holz. There may be no pure way to prove that “momentum” exists in poker but there is an empirical effect of confidence that some players will attest becomes apparent when they put together multiple deep runs. Matt 'MattEMenz' Mendez is one of the believers and pulled off an amazing run last year that spanned two casinos with Mendez ending up $313,000 richer in the process. He wrapped up the Parx Big Stax XV series in February with a win in the $2,500 High Roller event, beating a field of 193 of the toughest tournament players in the Northeast. After making a heads up deal with Nicholas Gerrity to take first place and lock up $100,000, Mendez was overcome with emotion that was heightened with the recent birth of his daughter, Mathai. “Winning the first tournament at Parx changed my life drastically. Before I could even take the winner’s photo, I had to go take a walk and gather my thoughts and feelings and call my wife," said Mendez. "My daughter was only a month old at the time, but since meeting her I've had a hard time controlling my emotions. When I called my wife I was just crying hysterically in a way that I can't remember doing before. That's a feeling in poker that I can't imagine ever having again and I think about it all the time.” Fatherhood is something Mendez takes seriously and is prideful about. The 27-year-old grew up without a father and was without his mother after the age of 13. He credits his aunt and uncle for molding him into the person he is today and says that being a father is something he’s always wanted from life. “Mathai is special to me. The joy I get from being a father makes every part of my life's journey worth it. My main mission in life is to shower her with all the love I have while also helping to develop her into a strong, happy, healthy, free-thinking woman that no matter what has always felt loved.” Mendez followed up his victory at Parx with a victory two months later in an event relatively the opposite of the Parx High Roller. The Borgata Spring Poker Open $1,000,000 guaranteed Event #1 drew a field of 2,527 and when the dust settled, Mendez was there once again in the winner’s circle. This time, Mendez earned $213,000 for his win and felt a new set of emotions when playing for another title. “Winning the second tournament at Borgata, I felt prepared and ready to win. A weird sense of calm that I can't really explain. I was just in the moment and trusted my gut," said Mendez. "I study a lot of different games and playing styles, so when playing, I'm comfortable in trusting in my gut when my immediate thoughts have mixed feelings on how to approach different scenarios.” While he does put in more volume live than online, Mendez says he likes to play the higher guaranteed events that run. Last month, Mendez capped off the PokerStarsNJ Winter Series by winning the $400 buy-in Main Event for almost $21,000. Mendez and his wife, Victoria, are both stay-at-home parents and take great care in raising their daughter. “As I've evolved and eventually had a child, I've realized they don't care what you do for a living they just notice the time spent together so I've cared less about my financial goals and more about quality time. My wife and I take Mathai to the mall regularly and we also go to a baby gym class once a week. [We] are basically living our dreams of being stay-at-home parents while also having our own jobs that allow us to have flexible schedules. ” Mendez thanks Victoria for all the support she has given him from the time the first met and Mathai for “showing me a level of love that I wasn't sure was possible.” The success Mendez achieved last year was a humbling experience for him given all the new variables in his life at that point. Nearly a year removed, Mendez is still grateful for his victories and considers himself blessed to have the life he does and be able to be an integral part in Mathai's upbringing. “Everyday I'm thankful that I'm good enough at a card game to be able to spend the amount of time I do with her.”
Every year, the World Series of Poker brings out all kinds of storylines as players, professional and amateur alike, come from varying backgrounds to win one of poker's most coveted prizes, a WSOP bracelet. Matt Mendez, winner of the $565 Online Six Max Pot Limit Omaha event, is one of those stories. Actually, he's more than one. He's a stay-at-home parent with a young daughter. He's an online grinder who recently rediscovered his passion for poker. He's dreamed of winning a WSOP bracelet of his own - more than one actually - since he was 12 years old. As if all of that didn't make for an amazing storyline following his victory, Mendez also made history as the first player to win an online bracelet while playing in New Jersey. That event wrapped up Saturday morning after 15 hours of play. "My wife had to work at nine in the morning and it was like 830 and my wife, she's chronically late to everything. It's 8:30 and she's still not up, so I just don't bother her because I'm at this final table and she's running late and that means maybe she'll be here when it ends. So she finally gets up and it's 9:15," said Mendez. "I have like 3.5 million and (my opponent) has like 15 million and it was perfect timing when the break hit so I go upstairs and I'm like, 'I'm heads up for a bracelet'." Even though his wife, Victoria, was already late for work and her boss was looking for her, Mendez implored his wife to stay and see it play out. No matter how it ended, he wanted her there. "By the time she came down, I'd flipped it. Now I had 15 million and he has 3 million," said Mendez. "She's sitting next to me and I'm like 'you gotta be here, if I win I need a hug, and if I lose, I need a hug. I need you to console me if I lose'." On the final hand, Mendez flopped a straight and checked the action to his opponent. He had a feeling his opponent was going to shove and that's exactly what happened. "I called and the hand ended and I looked at her and I said, 'I'm a bracelet winner!'. It was a really cool moment," said Mendez. "I literally got a hug and a 'congrats' and she was out and then the baby was up right way, so I didn't get to sleep." Players typically fall into one of two categories in the immediate aftermath of a bracelet victory. They're either elated and are running on a high that would make Post Malone jealous or they're so physically and mentally exhausted that they simply crash and catch up on sleep. With his daughter ready for her day to start, Mendez basically fell into the former category, even if he could have fallen into the latter. With his wife on his way to work, Mendez had to get on the phone and let his first poker teacher know that he'd won. His Aunt Michelle was on the other end of the call. "She was bawling her eyes out. She was so excited. We've always talked about bracelets. Since I was 12 years old, that's what we talked about, 'you're going to win bracelets'. I used to say I was going to win 20 when I was a cocky 12-year-old," said Mendez, now 28 years old. His aunt and uncle taught him Seven Card Stud when he was just five years old. It wasn't "poker" or "stud" though, they had their own name for it. "I would call it Cards and Chips, it's just what we did. I'd go visit every summer and we would play Cards and Chips on the poker table and it evolved to games like Gin, Black Maria and a bunch of other card games. That's just what we did as a family - we played cards," said Mendez. His love of poker skyrocketed when he saw Robert Varkonyi win the 2002 WSOP Main Event on ESPN. He was 12 years old. "I was hooked at that point. I read Super System at that age. I started playing, I think it was called PokerRoom.com, where they had Limit sit-n-gos . My aunt and uncle, we would all play the free ones. We'd all register at the same time and play those nine-man Limit sit-n-gos," said Mendez. He actually lived with his aunt and uncle through his high school years. He moved back to Florida with Victoria after they were done high school and then bounced back to New Jersey when they had a baby on the way. The move allowed Victoria to work full time after having the baby and Mendez could play online and be a stay at home dad. His view on the life of a traveling poker pro changed dramatically after Mathai was born. "I get homesick so easy. Even now, if I can't drive (to a tournament) I'd rather not play. Things don't go your way very often, so if 80% I'm disappointed in a hotel room for a night or two, I'd rather just be disappointed and wake up the next day at home because it was a local tournament and I get to see the baby," said Mendez. " I spend so much time with her. It probably hurts my professional life, but I wouldn't give it up. It's so great, it's so awesome. I love being the first person she sees in the morning most days." Mendez isn't overly comfortable with the title of "poker pro: though. He's a dad first, and the chips and cards thing is secondary. It's still how he makes his living though, and he noticed about four months ago that players around him were playing at a higher level and continuing to get better. "Probably the last year and a half I've just felt like the game passed me by again. It's like the third time in my life where I've had some success, didn't study as hard, thought I got it figured out, and then all of a sudden you look at your results, you look around and it's like everyone is better than me again," said Mendez. " I started consuming more poker content. Before, I used to watch training videos all the time. Start the day with some training days, do some reading. I watch a lot of online cash games and I watch a lot of online tournament replays just to see what people are doing." Now playing four or five nights a week, Mendez also spends a lot of his time studying as much poker as he can. During the day he's at home taking care of Mathai and figuring out how to make all of it work has been harder than constructing three-bet ranges. "The last 18 months has been a really hard struggle for me to balance both. When you have an option of do I want to play this tournament or play this series of events of events online or travel to Borgata? or do I want to take the time with my daughter and take her to Storybook Land? I'm going to go to Storybook Land nine times out of ten," said Mendez. "I realized a few months ago I had to start making a little bit of home sacrifice if I'm going to keep the schedule that I have. So she'll have to miss me a little bit more, but that's better than me getting a full-time job and missing her every day." Mendez will receive his bracelet later this week in Las Vegas. The WSOP is flying Mendez and his family out for the ceremony.
In June, the poker world is consumed with results and stories coming out of the World Series of Poker. This year was no different with players, like Michael Mizrachi, accomplishing previously inconceivable feats and legends, like Doyle Brunson, hinting that their time playing the game may have finally come to an end. Here are some of the biggest stories that made headlines in the month of June. World Series of Poker Takeover If you follow poker, then it is impossible to get away from the World Series of Poker in June and here at PocketFives, we brought you wire-to-wire coverage of the biggest tournaments taking place at the Rio in Las Vegas. Some of the biggest names in the game were crushing the highest stakes and taking home new hardware to add to their poker legacy. Additionally, amateurs were making dreams come true by winning life-changing money and fulfilling their poker dreams. Relive some of the summer glory by checking out some of the most popular headlines from the WSOP. Read: Siever Takes Down $10K Limit, Nguyen Wins MONSTER Stack Read: WSOP Social Media Fun Ramps Up In Week One Read: Just How The **** Are You Supposed To Bead John Smith? Read: Matt Mendez ‘Goes From Cards’ And Chips To WSOP History Maker Doyle Brunson Hints At Retirement In the midst of the 2018 World Series of Poker, news came down that Doyle Brunson - who had given up WSOP tournaments in recent years - registered for the $10K No Limit Deuce To Seven event. It was “probably the last one I’ll ever play.” he tweeted. However, after comments he had made to Poker Central, it looked as if this was not only his last tournament but that he was planning on walking away from the game of poker at the end of the summer. “I’m planning on retiring after the summer,” Brunson said citing that he wished to spend more time with his wife Louise, who was in declining health. Brunson then went on a deep run in Event #23, eventually finishing in seventh place. He tipped his hat and left the Rio to a standing ovation. Brunson has not yet stepped away from the game, regularly appearing both in Bobby’s Room at the Bellagio as well as on camera playing the highest mixed games on PokerGO. He had recently commented that his wife has been feeling better. Read: Doyle Brunson Spent 30 Hours Taking the Poker World Back In Time Read: Doyle Brunson Announces Retirement, Goes Deep in $10K 2-7 Shaun Deeb Wins Third WSOP Bracelet “I think I have a great shot at Player of the Year right now so I think I’m gonna battle in every event I can and just enjoy myself.” - Shaun Deeb, Back in June, the writing was on the wall. Former #1-ranked PocketFives member Shaun Deeb was on a heater and on a collision course with the 2018 WSOP Player of the Year award. Deeb picked up his third WSOP bracelet this summer when he outlasted Ben Yu heads-up in the $25K PLO event during Event #42: $25,000 Pot-Limit Omaha 8-Handed High Roller for a massive score of $1.4 million. Deeb went on to pick up his fourth bracelet of the summer during Event #74: $10,000 No Limit Hold’em 6-Handed Big Blind Ante for another $814K - essentially propelling him to his first WSOP Player of the Year title. Read: WSOP - Former #1 Shaun Deeb Wins $25K PLO For 3rd Bracelet ($1.4M) Michael ‘The Grinder’ Mizrachi Wins His Third $50K PPC Title The $50K Poker Players Championship is still one of the most coveted titles in poker. Which makes it all the more impressive that in June of 2018 Michael Mizrachi took down the event for an incredible third time, beating Poker Hall of Fame member John Hennigan heads-up for the title. “It’s quite an accomplishment,” Mizrachi said, reflecting on his win. “To win the first one was amazing. The second was great. The third one is unheard of.” His third PPC victory was the fourth bracelet win of his career and awarded him a $1.2 million payday. It was the sixth seven-figure cash of his storied career. Read: WSOP - Michael Mizrachi Wins Third $50K PPC Title ($1.23M) Read: 5 Things - The Poker Players Champions Deserves More Celebration Alex Foxen, Kristen Bicknell Chop Venetian $5K A tinge of controversy surrounded the $5,000 $1 Million Guaranteed Mid-Stakes Poker Tour Main Event at the Venetian when well-known poker power couple Kristen Bicknell and Alex Foxen ended up chopping the event heads-up. Foxen, the high-roller powerhouse, officially took home the win, the trophy and $239,000 for first. His better-half Bicknell, took home $200,000 as the runner-up. However, after the tournament, there were some accusations of soft-play on social media between the couple. When the play became three-handed, Kahle Burns declined a three-way deal. When he fell in third place for $120,000, there was some over-analysis of hands that were played on the live stream and discussion over how to handle a situation where an actual couple is competing at a final table. Read: Alex Foxen Tops Venetian $5K To Headline Non-WSOP Events ‘C Darwin2’ Takes Down June PLB It was yet another month at the top of the PocketFives Monthly PLB for the Swedish superstar ‘C Darwin2’ in June. He had held over the rankings for the better part of 2018 and his dominance continued into early summer. Despite pulling back on volume, ‘C Darwin2’ managed a few major scores in June. In the first week he took down the Winamax Mini Las Vegas High Roller for $46,404. He also managed a runner-up finish in the June 17 edition of the PokerStars $2,100 Bounty Builder High Roller for over $25,000. In total, he posted eight five-figure scores in the month. In the end, it wasn’t really a close race in June as ‘C Darwin2’ held a nearly 1000 PLB point lead over his closest competition, Denmark’s ‘x_zola25’.