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After Breakout Year, Ian Matakis Excited to Chase WSOP POY Again

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There’s a target on the back of Ian Matakis. He knows this. Last year, the 26-year-old Minnesota-based poker pro seemingly came out of nowhere to dominate the 2023 World Series of Poker and rise up from the ranks of anonymous grinder to emerge as the current reigning, defending WSOP Player of the Year. So, unlike last year, when he sits down in a WSOP tournament in 2024 there will be no mistaking Matakis as his POY banner hangs in the Horseshoe, draped among the company of WSOP legends of years past.

“Yeah, that’s going to be weird for sure,” Matakis said at the thought of being in the presence of his own banner. “Especially just every time I’m at a table now, people are going to recognize me and I’m not sure if I’m going to be able to bluff this summer. Nobody’s going to fold to me anymore. I’m going to have to just have good cards.

“That’s actually going to be the main thing for me is to kind of figure out how different it will be playing now that people know who I am. Last year I feel like I could get away with a lot of things, right? Because nobody really knew who I was.”

For Matakis a new, higher profile is just part of the ride – one he’s excited to take again. With the 2024 Wsop roughly a month from kicking off, Matakis has already laid the groundwork for what he hopes is another big year. He says he plans to play “pretty much everything” including, after spending time receiving some coaching and studying, a schedule full of some of the lower buy-in mixed Games .

He showed off some of his non-Hold’em skills recently by spending a week in the PokerGO Studio in late March battling in a series of high-stakes PLO events. Over four days, Matakis cashed four times for more than $175,000 with three final table appearances. It’s safe to say that when he returns to Vegas for the summer, he’ll be ready to go.

“I’m super excited – just to have a great tournament to play every day is phenomenal. Confident? Yeah, all-time high, I would say. I’ve been studying a lot, playing a lot, so I guess the next month actually will kind of be in a sense my time to relax. I got a trip with my girlfriend planned. I got a camping trip planned, so yeah, I’ll be kind of just gearing up to grind for seven straight weeks.”

He’s also presented with a unique opportunity, one that only one person per year gets – the chance to repeat at the Wsop Player of the Year. When asked about trying to go back-to-back, it’s clear he’s thought about the possibility, and unlike last year, he’ll have it in the back of his mind right off the bat.

“Yeah, so I guess last year I had basically no plans to play for Player of the Year until about halfway through when I was leading it. Then I was going for it a little more,” he said. “This year, I guess I will be trying to defend my title. Nobody’s ever won it twice in a row, so that would obviously be a big feat. I think Daniel [Negreanu] is the only one that ever won it twice at all. So yeah, I’ll be looking to join him and make some history if I was able to win it twice in a row.”

Matakis gives off the impression that while he’s confident and eager to win, he’s actually pretty low-key about it. He’s not one to put an inordinate amount of pressure on himself to show others that he belongs or force a POY run to happen again.

He called last year “a 1% summer” – one in which he cashed in 22 Wsop events (13 live, 9 online), picked up his first WSOP gold bracelet, and had three six-figure cashes including a third-place finish in the $3,000 PLO for $205,696, which remains his current career-high cash. Sure, the want to make something like that happen again is there, but for Matakis, once again there’s no pressure. And whether he actually is a target or not – he’s simply ready to give it another go.

“I guess I already kind of proved that I can play well and have good results, but yeah, I would say no pressure. I’m just going to be kind of doing my own thing again, playing my set schedule, and my main focus is always just can I play my best and keep myself level-headed, and if the results come, the results come. But you can’t really control that part in poker.”

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