Cash game specialist Shawn Sheikhan talks about his Main Event troubles and his relationship with Mike Matusow: “He’s a nice guy, but he’s got the mind of a 12-year old. I don’t hate him for it. I love Mike”

Shawn Sheikhan is a serious poker player in his own right. Just don’t expect him to play nice

Though Shawn Sheikhan has his home in Las Vegas, minutes after we finish chatting, he’ll drive to the Commerce Casino in Los Angeles. The Iranian-born cash game specialist has found the games there too juicy to stay away from. ‘Play the Commerce and you get rich business guys who just want to gamble,’ he says. ‘They come into the Commerce with $40,000 and winning doesn’t really matter. They just want to have fun. These people are so bad.’

Shiekhan loves winning, and his fierce approach to the game has led to him developing a notoriously volatile profile. Watch him on High Stakes Poker reaching over to snap Mike Matusow’s sunglasses in front of his face to see what I mean. But, in person, he surprises me by being a total pussycat.

In fact, just a few minutes into our conversation – after I mention that we have a mutual friend playing in LA – he asks if I want a ride out that way. ‘It’s a four-hour drive. But I can get us there in three,’ he promises. So what is the real picture here? InsidePoker tries to dig a little deeper behind the complex character of the man they call ‘Sheiky’.

How is it that you have never been sponsored by an online site?

SHAWN SHEIKHAN: I’ve never been asked. I guess people don’t want me representing their poker sites.

Maybe it’s to do with the fact your introduction to the poker world came through a major flare-up with Mike Matusow, during the WSOP main event in 2005. You reacted adversely to a flop, even though you were out of a hand. You have to admit that what you did, in that instance, wasn’t right.

SS: I was out of line. But that was my gut reaction. I had $200,000 left. I should have played my Ace-high [an Ace came on the flop]. I got a penalty for 15 minutes. That really hurt.

My recollection here is that Matusow said ‘fuck’, you called it to the attention of a floor man, and he wound up taking both of you out for ten minutes. Had you kept quiet, about Matusow’s cursing, nothing would have happened.

SS: I was already ticked off before that happened; when we were down to 28 players, I had like 2 million in chips and the dealer had a habit of throwing cards to me in such a way that they bounced all over the table. I asked her to put the cards in front of me. I got dealt Queens the next hand and lost to Tiffany Williamson, who started with A-7. After she beat me, I said: ‘I lost with them bitches again.’ The dealer thought I was talking about her and Tiffany – so she started to cry.

The dealer started crying over that? I’m sure she’s been called much nastier names.

SS: The floor man threatened to penalise me, but I apologised to the dealer and we made up. I was still steaming though and got down to 300 fucking thousand in chips. Then, on the last hand of the day, she dealt me my first card and it was fine. But the second card she gave me, it fucking flashed, and I saw that it was a Queen. Trying to prove the point that she’d been fucking with me – excuse my language, but I get hot thinking about this – for throwing the cards at me, I threw the flashed card back at her. I did it without looking at my hole card and asked for a new card.

Uh oh. I think I know where this is going.

SS: I looked at my cards, and, sure enough, the first card was a- fucking-nother Queen. I mucked and it came 10-high on the board, with a Queen on the turn. So instead of me tripling up, and going to the next day with almost a million, I showed up with 300,000 and was getting penalised for bullshit. The point here is that I was already hot before the situation with Matusow.

What’s your general view of Mike Matusow?

SS: He’s a nice guy, but he’s got the mind of a 12-year old. I don’t hate him for it. I love Mike. I go to Matusow’s house and play Chinese poker with him all the time.

How does that work out for you?

SS: Well, you’ve got to figure that if I go to somebody’s house to play cards, it’s a good spot. He doesn’t come to my house. Plus he’s always home, playing online day and night. He’s sick with that. He’s got a big fucking online problem.

Do you curse a lot more in cash games?

SS: I can, and I do, all the time. But one thing I can tell you is that I’ve never gotten violent at the poker table. I’ve never hit anybody and I’ve never gotten hit.

That doesn’t sound like much, Shawn. I’ve never seen anyone get hit at a poker table.

SS: It happens all the time. My friend Curtis Bibb – God rest his soul, he died a couple of years ago – loved beating on people. He’d get drunk and lose it; he’d lose control and throw punches.

Do you drink when you play?

SS: I might have a drink or two. When I drink, I play looser and that works out for me. When you’re losing and having a hard time making hands, having a shot of liquor and changing it up doesn’t hurt. One thing I noticed about Johnny Chan is that when he loses a big pot, he won’t play the next hand. He’ll take free cards. But he won’t ante up if he’s playing stud or whatever. When you’re on a losing streak, you pick up cards that are just good enough for you to get punished.

What stakes do you tend to play these days?

SS: Usually I play $400/$800 or $600/$1,200 – preferably mixed games; I’m strongest at deuce-to-seven and Badugi. If you get lucky, at those stakes, you can win $100,000 in a session.

How big is your poker bankroll?

SS: I try to keep it to $500,000. You’ve got to be able to lose eight times in a row and still be alright. At the stakes I play, you need to withstand losing $30,000 or $40,000 per hand.

How does it feel to lose a lot of money in a single session?

SS: The most I’ve lost is $200,000. It hurts. The next day you sleep it off; you toss and turn, thinking about what went wrong.

Okay, I’ll bite: what went wrong?

SS: I had things on my mind and played badly. People lose like that and say they got unlucky. When I lose, I know I did something wrong. If I play well, I should never lose.

Never lose? How can you say that?

SS: If you play good poker, you should overcome losing at all times. If you play sound poker; raise when you’re supposed to raise; play hands you’re supposed to play, then the cards will break even and you won’t lose. When I lose, I’m playing badly. It’s not because I get unlucky.

I know you gamble a bit at golf. Do you view that game in the same way?

SS: You can’t blame bad cards when you’re on the course. For that reason there is nothing worse than losing at golf. I’ve won as much as $60,000 and lost as much as $30,000.

I’ve been on the course with you and I noticed you’re pretty conservative when it comes to wagering on golf.

SS: It’s really easy to get hustled at that game. Daniel Negreanu got hustled because he wanted to say he played against Doyle Brunson. Doyle is not going to go to a golf course, at his age, just because he wants to play against Daniel Negreanu. If he has the stone-cold nuts he’ll get off his crutches, show up, and win a million dollars. He’s basically showing up to get his money.

Don’t you think on some level that it must have almost been worth it for Daniel?

SS: He can say he lost a million to Doyle at golf. I don’t know how far it’ll get you… [Sheikhan smiles] But, hey, we’re talking about it right now – so I guess that’s worth something.

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