By far, the most highly respected and recognized tournament director in the poker industry, Matt Savage, took the time to share with Somuchpoker what it means to be a tournament director, what spawned the idea of creating the Tournament Director’s Association, and WPT’s plans for the future in Asia.
SMP: You are the most emblematic tournament director of the industry, can you tell our readers what exactly is the role of a tournament director.
Matt: The role of the tournament director has changed over the years. Before, it used to be just running the tournament. My job has changed into doing a lot of what the coordinator used to do.
SMP: What is the difference between the coordinator and the tournament director?
Matt: The coordinator used to be the bigger job than the tournament director. Back in 2001, before I got there, the coordinator had a bigger position than the tournament director. That all changed when I went in there because I was involved in a lot of the set up of structures, set up of payouts, staffing, hiring, doing the things that were being done by the coordinator. That then morphed into becoming the responsibilities of a tournament director which has evolved to become a much bigger job through the years.
SMP: And for you as a tournament director, do you still handle all these things?
Matt: For me, my job includes a lot of those things, like setting up the schedule of the events, being involved from beginning to end. When the actual event takes place, I’ll be on the floor making decisions, interacting with people, helping from things such as booking hotel rooms (which I don’t like to do anymore), all the way up to announcing the final table.
MP: Why did you choose to become a tournament director?
Matt: I was a poker player. I was a bad player but I enjoyed the game. I also enjoy interacting with people, and I always thought it could be done better. Back in the late 90’s, when I was playing tournaments, I would go from casino to casino and everywhere I’d go there were different rules, and the tournaments were never really run very well. It was unfortunate, but out of that I had the idea of starting the Tournament Director’s Association, or some kind of standardization. Today, it has grown to become the standard for tournaments around the world. It is something I look back on that I am very proud of.
SMP: And what was the initial feedback?
Matt: In the early days when I brought up the idea of having standardized rules, I was kinda mocked by those who were bigwigs in Las Vegas because they thought it would never work. Luckily I ran into good friends Linda Johnson, Jan Fisher, Dave Lamb, and they gave me a venue to host that first ever TDA summit back in 2001. Out of that, it developed into what we have today.
SMP: How many TD’s were there when it started?
Matt: We had about 25 tournament directors at that time with one international tournament director. In 2015, we had over 200 from around the world and they’ve all taken on the TDA. It has been great. Basically if you don’t use the TDA rules , then the players don’t respect your tournaments as much. And that’s what we wanted. We wanted everyone to be in the same page. This makes it better for the players, better for the staff, better for the dealers. We have definitely evolved with the rules too. Trying to make it more player friendly and mainly, more consistent. When people go from venue to venue or tournament to tournament, they know what to expect.
SMP: As tournament director what is the most complicated situation you faced during an event in your career?
Matt: I’d say the most difficult decision is when a person has come back from a dinner break and they sit down in the wrong seat, play a few hands, lose a few hands, then it turns out he is in the wrong seat. You can’t really do anything about it but try to make it as best as possible. That’s what we always try to do. We try to correct things to make it as fair and as equitable to all players involved.
SMP: In regards to the etiquette of ruling, how much do you adjust on being strict or lenient in relation to the caliber of players? For example less strict with high rollers or with amateurs or different rules in place for different events.
Matt: I try to be as strict across the board. A lot of it is trying to get people to understand that even though you may be playing in a $50 tournament, you are as important to me as the guy playing in a $200,000 high roller because in the end, those are the guys who are striving to achieve and become WPT champions and WSOP bracelet winners. So they deserve the opportunity to be treated the same and yet play by the same rules. When they play by the same rules, they have the opportunity to grow as a player and become better. In the end, I am trying to get the amateurs and the new players to understand and feel like they are playing in the big leagues.
SMP: How do you gauge giving penalties, or are you fairly more tolerant of mistakes?
Matt: I am lenient across the board when there are honest mistakes because if it doesn’t affect action, or hurt action in any way, I am not gonna be strict in giving a penalty. I give less penalties now than I probably ever did because I feel like anytime a penalty situation comes up, it is not necessarily a situation requiring that. Sometimes a warning is good enough. Sometimes just talking to the player is good enough or missing one hand. I try to make it fair and fun for everybody, and giving penalties to players isn’t fun on my side and it’s not fun for players getting them.
SMP: You have been supervising tournaments around the world for many years, which celebrities would you say are exemplary models in terms of integrity and poker etiquette?
Matt: Tough to say because I think it is more of a respect thing where you have a level of respect for each other. I know how difficult it is to be a professional poker player and they understand how difficult my job is, the things I’ve been through throughout my career. There are a lot of players out there that try really hard to be respectful when I am running an event and I appreciate that. I don’t want to single out anybody being the top as far as following rules goes. I do know that there are players out there who constantly try to improve the game like Mike Sexton, the greatest ambassador I know. He is always out there trying to make the game better and more fun. That’s what I am after as well.
SMP; Any bad students?
Matt: Yeah there are a few. (laughs)
SMP: Last year Ourgame purchased WPT, what does that mean in terms of the development of the WPT brand in Asia?
Matt: I would say it has freed us up to be more explorative especially in Asia, and that’s the direction we ‘ve headed. There are so many untapped resources in Asia as far as Japan, Korea, Philippines, and China, and all these countries that are new to the game. That’s the exciting part. With PartyPoker it was restricted because it was a private company so we needed to be more careful and we had to be conscious of who we worked with or partnered with because they were an online company. The environment has now changed and we are lucky to have Ourgame as our new owner. They have been really good for us, and very accommodating in trying to help us grow the WPT.
SMP: What is your personal view of the Asian poker scene?
Matt: It’s growing but I think it may be growing too fast. To be honest, there are events pretty much every weekend. We’ve seen that kind of explosive growth in the United States. Even this event, the WPT, having it come right after the holidays, makes it more difficult because there’s an event next week and another one after that. So there may be a bit too many but I think we’ll see some pulling back on that.
SMP: Who do you think is the best tournament director in Asia?
Matt: I am gonna go with Roberto Wong (WPT team) He is still growing, he is still becoming better all the time. A big part of what you do in Asia is being able to speak multiple languages which he can. My buddy Lloyd only speaks two and he doesn’t even speak English that well (laughs). I’m teasing Lloyd but obviously Lloyd has been doing a great job. He’s been working with me for a long time so I am happy to see him be so successful with the APT. They have a great product there, they have great parties. I think Lloyd does a great job. He’s a little too heavy on the penalties though. (laughs)