Q&A with famed tournament director Matt Savage

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A lot of people may not know this, but you founded the Tournament Directors Association. Is it your dream to have all tournaments worldwide follow your TDA rules and how do we get there?

It’s kind of a passion for me. When I started the TDA back in 2001 I was told that it could never happen, and right now the TDA is used in most major tournaments around the world. It’s something that is easy to use and better for the players because now they can go into a casino and say ‘Hey, they’re using TDA rules; I know I’m gonna get the same consistent rules here that I get everywhere else.’ So we have people looking out to join us in the TDA, and it’s never been for any kind of profit, which I’m very proud of, and we work really hard to make sure the people get those questions answered that they have in their home games, in their small tournaments and in the major ones.

On your Web site, SavageTournaments.com, you offer to help people wanting to make tournament poker their career. How many people approach you for this kind of guidance and is the offer still on the table?

A lot! (laughs) There are a lot of people who’ve said I want to do what you do, I want to have a career in poker. It’s hard because what am I really doing if I’m training people to do what I do? It’s kinda taking away from a craft that I have, but at the same time I’m totally willing to offer any kind of encouragement I can. Recently I’ve been hit with a lot of inquiries from dealers, from floor people, from people in college who want to (do what I do). … I’ve already placed a couple of people that have become tournament directors in their casinos.

Name a situation that came up in a tournament where you either didn’t know what to do or were just sick because you realized later you made the wrong decision.

I don’t make wrong decisions. (laughs) Basically every day. There are different situations that happen … players feel that there’s a bet and a call on the river, and the player that bet on the river throws his hand away without showing it, a lot of people feel that the other player that called needs to show two cards to win the pot even though he’s the only player with a live hand. I disagree. I went around and talked to a few of the other tournament directors and they seem to agree with me for the most part. But one in particular, Jack Eiffel at the World Series, feels that the player that bet needs to show his cards as well. So we do tend to disagree. And those are the types of things that, when we have those TDA meetings, we try to rectify, get everybody on the same page. And, hopefully, even though we may not agree on the ruling, we go with the same one and it’s better for the industry as a whole.

There was a point in poker where we couldn’t turn on the TV without seeing you in a tux. You even had your own TV show called Inside Poker. Do you think a tournament director getting his own show was the pinnacle of the poker boom?

I might have been the pinnacle, you never know. With the UIGEA affecting us the way it has it’s been problematic, but at the same time growing internationally, maybe not. So we’ll have to see. I think it’s yet to be told where poker has to go.
OK, let’s get this one out there. A friend of Ante Up is Sam Minutello, the poker room manager at One-Eyed Jacks here in Sarasota. He obviously has called a lot of tournaments on TV as well. Is it safe to say you guys have a rivalry? I wouldn’t say rivalry. Obviously there’s a lot of stuff going on so there’s plenty of things to do. You know there was an event out at the Playboy Mansion that he ran. Everybody was calling me up saying you need to run this event; it was a total disaster, and all this stuff. So I tried to get involved the following year, found out that Sam Minutello was the one that was running it so, in that respect I backed off right away because I like Sam. I would say a healthy rivalry is kinda what we have.

Who’s a better tournament director, you or Sammy the Deuce?

Definitely me. There’s no question. (laughs)

You used to put your Inside Poker guests on the spot and ask them one-word questions, sort of like word-association. So, we’d like to do that with you now if you don’t mind.

Sure.

TDA: Integrity. I’m proud of that.
Jack McClelland: He is historic … he’s influenced my career a lot. I respect him and the job that he does.
World Series of Poker: Tradition. Unfortunately I think some of that’s been lost with Harrah’s, but at the same time I think that what they’ve done over there is great for the game as well.
Linda Johnson: Respect. She’s basically the one that helped me get the TDA started and without her it probably never would have gotten done.
Drunk players: They don’t happen in my tournament, not nearly as much as it does in others.
Commerce Casino: It is an amazing place. … It’s all about the live games there, and now with me as tournament director hopefully we can build up the tournament side of things and make it just the No. 1 poker property in the world.
Sam Minutello: I’d like to work with him more, actually. I think he’s got a reputation in the industry of integrity and fairness, and that’s the kind of people I like to work with. He’s welcome to work with me any time. … under me of course. (laughs)