Matas Cimbolas is just 25 years old, and he has already accumulated $2.9 million in live tournament earnings, as well as more than $3.5 million more in online cashes. He was born in the small city of Alytus, Lithuania, about 90 minutes southwest of the capital of Vilnius.
His first live tournament cash was recorded just over five years ago, and he has already earned himself a World Poker Tour title and enough earnings to climb to second place on the Lithuanian all-time money list, behind only Antanas ‘Tony G’ Guoga.
While Cimbolas won the WPT UK main event back in 2014 for $313,327, he has secured the two largest cashes of his young career in the early months of 2019. Cimbolas finished second from a field of 546 players in this year’s WPT L.A. Poker Classic $10,000 buy-in main event, earning $646,930 as the runner-up. Less than three weeks later, he navigated a field of 439 entries in the partypoker LIVE MILLIONS South America $10,000 buy-in main event, ultimately placing third for $571,504.
The two finishes in massive events earned Cimbolas a huge haul of Card Player Player of the Year points. As a result, he has catapulted into fifth place in the 2019 standings, with 2,950 points and more than $1.2 million in year-to-date earnings.
Card Player recently interviewed Cimbolas about his road to becoming a poker pro, his impressive start to the year and much more.
Card Player: Can you just tell me a little bit about your background as a poker player? How did you start playing poker?
Matas Cimbolas: I just started playing with the friends back when Poker After Dark started airing. We just started playing with friends for nothing, for small money. From there I started playing online freerolls then start grinding 180-man sit-n-go’s, satellites, cash games… everything at the beginning. I just played everything and then it got serious when I was in university. I met one good poker player, at that time we were at the same level, and we had the same goals.
So we grinded a lot. We studied a lot. We basically put poker first ahead of school, and after the first year I noticed I could not do both things, so I took a one-year break from university. After one year, I moved to London to follow my dream, play more live, and since then I have lived in London and my poker career has just gone better and better each year.
CP: You’ve always been a very competitive person but were there other strategy games that you played?
MC: I played chess for three years in school, when I was 13 or 14 years old. I just trained my brain, basically. I was not always the smartest guy, but I was the guy who liked to think, do the research and find out things by myself.
CP: Can you tell me a little bit about poker in Lithuania? How was the game viewed by family and friends?
MC: In Lithuania, the poker thing started off pretty bad. My parents thought that it was like a mafia underground game, with guns, like something from the movies. To other people, as well, it didn’t necessarily look great. I was hiding what I was doing, basically just saying that I was working on my computer. When I got my first few big scores and people noticed that, I stopped hiding and just didn’t care what other people think.
At the beginning, it was really bad. Luckily, we had Tony G as a poker personality. He basically lifted the popularity of poker in Lithuania. Because there was huge money being won on TV, and he is Lithuanian and everyone wanted to be like him. He helped make a poker boom in Lithuania.
CP: You mentioned taking a break after one year of school. Is that when you fully committed to being a full-time poker professional?
MC: Yeah. My friend and I, we each set a goal. If we reached $50,000 to $100,000 in profit that year, we would just drop out of uni. We had a lot of success pretty early. He just binked the Big $55 for like $50,000 right away, so that was huge. He dropped out straight away. I was like still grinding my way up, so I managed to finish the first year.
CP: So what does your life as a poker pro consist of now?
MC: My main game, of course, is tournaments. I play a little bit of cash games, but it’s not enough. I still do staking. Not as much as I used to, but I still stake some people. I travel. I play live poker. I grind online. I do a lot of workouts. I’m really into fitness now. I just figure out where I want to invest money and what to do with my life.
CP: So far in 2019 you’ve already made two top-three finishes in two of the biggest $10,000 buy-in main events, which there aren’t a lot of anymore. What can you attribute your success to?
MC: I do feel like I’m in the zone. I’m playing my ‘A’ game, really confident, really focused. I actually wasn’t sure if I wanted to travel to play the L.A. Poker Classic because of the tax implications and I didn’t want to leave my fiancé Greta for 10 days. But I just had a feeling that I was going to do great things in that one. I told her, ‘I’m going to win this.’ I came second. I started doing some visualization things every day before the tournament, as I got deeper. I have also just worked on my game a lot. So, it was a combination of things.
CP: You made the final table, which was delayed, and came in second in chips behind Darren Elias, who’s the all-time leader in WPT titles. What were your thoughts how that final table played out?
MC: First of all, I’m pretty happy with regard to how I played. The final table was pretty strong. Of course Darren Elias just ran the table but unfortunately got knocked out in third place. I came in at a big deficit in heads up, like 3:1 or something. I had a good experience overall. In fact, the final table played out very similarly to the 2018 WPT Tournament of Champions event. I came second, Darren Elias had the chip lead as well to start, and he ended up finishing third. It was like déjà vu.
CP: So you came into heads-up at a chip disadvantage against David Baker, who is likely a bit different from your average tournament opponent. He is primarily a live mixed cash games player. Can you talk a little bit about some of the interesting hands you played against him?
MC: Everyone thought he was a maniac. At that final table, I actually thought he was more tight and crafty, while sometimes being aggressive. Just unpredictable. The hand where he bluffed the river and got me to fold trip kings with a ten kicker was interesting.
(The action in the hand went as follows: Baker limped in from the small blind for 75,0000 total with 65. Cimbolas raised to 275,000 out of the big blind with the K10. Baker called and the flop brought the KQ5. Baker checked and Cimbolas bet 375,000. Baker called. The turn was the K and Baker led out for 550,000. Cimbolas called. The river was the A and Baker checked. Cimbolas bet 900,000 and Baker check-raised to 2,400,000. Cimbolas folded.)
Most guys just never bluff that spot. I had a few options once I bet the river and he check-raised. One was to go all in because I had good blockers and I thought he might fold a straight. I could also call, but I thought that he shouldn’t be bluffing there and that he could have some traps as well, like a K-Q or K-5.
I was just like, ‘Okay, I’m just going to let this one go.’ I didn’t expect him to be bluffing that spot. I guess that was my mistake. When I talked with other players they just said, ‘Didn’t you know that David Baker is a maniac? He’s just unpredictable.’ I was like, ‘No, I thought he’s like a tight, crafty kind of person.’ Then when I saw some of what he showed down, and I realized that I was really naïve about his image.
CP: You went on the get second for about $646,000. Less than three weeks later you final tabled another big main event down in Brazil. Had you ever played in South America before?
MC: That was my first time. I really loved Rio. My plan was to just play the $10,000 main event and otherwise enjoy Brazil. It turned out I just had one day off out of like eight days.
Good experience, pretty tough, good structure. At first, I buy in. The partypoker tour had a promotion, that if you played in all their stops, you’d get a £10,000 seat. I guess that’s what attracted a lot of good players. I didn’t originally plan to go because of tax reasons, but when they offered that promotion I was like, ‘I have to go, and I also want to visit Brazil as well.’ My run in the event was surreal. I didn’t expect that I would make a deep run again so soon after the LAPC.
CP: Is it ever hard to focus right after making a big score? I could see it being difficult, knowing that you just won so much, to really give it your all the next time you played.
MC: I was just so relaxed playing there. I just wanted to play my ‘A’ game. It felt good to just make friends, with no stress. It was just really chill. But when I made it to day three, then I got really serious. Actually, the later stages of that event were really stressful and really a lot of different situations. I remember I was so tired after playing ten hours each day with really good players.
CP: As a result of making these two big scores, you have moved into fifth place in the Card Player Player of the Year race standings. Would an award like that be a meaningful thing for you to win?
MC: Of course it means something. I’m really a competitive guy, so I want to win every competition possible. On the other hand, sometimes it’s too much. I’m feeling more mature and I’m trying not to follow those rankings as much. I was actually thinking about trying to go hard this year after these two good scores. I was like, ‘Oh have a good start to the year and I can go for a high ranking.’ But then I thought that maybe I shouldn’t do that because it just takes too much. You have to travel all the time and it’s really stressful and you’re not happy.
At this stage in my life I am really focusing on my happiness. I’m going to turn 26 this month. I’ve been in poker already for seven years or so, and I’m starting to feel more mature in poker. To chase the leaderboards you have to sacrifice all your time and everything else to have a chance to win. You have to just live it.
I feel like I wouldn’t be happy traveling to play 24/7. It’s not my dream to be the Player of the Year. It would be cool to just to have balance in everything and reach my highest possible ranking while still being able to really be happy.
Photo credits: partypoker LIVE.