Interview with high stakes mixed games specialist Matthew "MUSTAFABET" Ashton

2013 WSOP $50,000 Poker Player's Championship Winner's Photo

Matthew "MUSTAFABET" Ashton has been a consistent winner in the high stakes games over the last 5 years. Regularly playing in some of the highest stakes across both Stars and Full Tilt. He is primarily a mixed game player, but also specialises in specific limit games.
He has a WSOP bracelet from taking down the $50k Poker Player's Championship in 2013, netting over $1.7 million, as well as making 3 other WSOP Final Tables in that same year, all in different disciplines.  
I caught up with him whilst he was taking some time off from poker to travel. 
Hey Matt, how are things?
Life is good. All travel and no poker recently and I’m enjoying the break.
How have you been spending your time since the WSOP?
I spent a little time with family followed by some solo travelling, first around Scandinavia for a few weeks and have now been in Japan for 5 weeks.
How was Vegas for you this year?
Vegas went well, I mostly played the 10-game mix in Bobby's room and definitely ran above expectation. I roughly broke-even on the 6 tournaments that I played.
After having such a successful WSOP in 2013, what were your reasons for concentrating on cash games more this year?
I did also have a dismal 2014 though :) It was partly for a new challenge. Also I think cash games are generally just a better lifestyle choice, having more freedom what and when you play. I do think they are also a better financial opportunity for anyone who can expect to make a good profit in the mixed game tournaments as well.
Would you consider yourself primarily an online cash player? And what are your favourite/strongest games?
I would. I very rarely play tournaments online. I think I'm quite a lot better at HU games than ring games, and my strongest game could be any out of: Limit Hold’em, Stud8, O8, and Razz. I enjoy the split pot games the most because they are more relaxing. You just don't face too many big/tough decisions in them, and the variance is lower than other ring games.
And what is it like having poker on the back-burner for a while? With you concentrating so hard on it up until now?
So far it’s great and I don't miss playing at all, I had put more time into the last 12 months than any other year and with online poker becoming that much harder to make a lot of money, now felt like a good time to reduce my play.
How has the travelling been so far? And what are your upcoming travel plans?
I’m really enjoying the freedom of it and exploring some new places and cultures. I'll be in Japan for one more week before seeing a few friends in North America on the way back, then possibly Africa or more of South America after that.
Scandinavia was pretty comfortable and smooth-sailing really, aside from the one time I went dog-sledding in Svalbard and nearly toppled over the sled and the people in it. Japan might be my favourite country I've ever visited. Between the impressive nature, the food and extremely friendly people, it’s been great. Even with a language barrier interactions are comfortable, because unlike most countries, it never feels unsafe or like anyone is trying to hustle each other. I imagine I'll need to keep my wits about me a little more once I’m back in South America or Africa. 
Did you play or are you planning on playing any poker on your travels at all? Like in Asia or any EPT/LAPT stops?
No, I haven’t. I don't intend to, but if it fits in nicely with one of my trips I could. Certainly if the schedules or field sizes are anywhere near as good as EPT Barcelona it would become more tempting.
When you get back from your travels, what are your plans poker-wise?
It depends a decent amount on the state of the games. If I feel like I still have a good edge in the games I was playing before then it might not change too much. I do think I'd likely spend more hours just playing to earn and less of my time studying and trying to improve, mostly because the highest stake games are getting smaller and smaller and there is less to shoot for at the top now.
And how do you feel about the state of the games at the minute?
There do seem to be some resurgences from time to time in specific games. Mixed games seem to have a steady influx of players drifting over from big bet. Overall though, I think it’s a pretty clear downward trend in the amount of money you could expect to make at every stake online and I don't see that changing.
So as you said, with it becoming that much harder to make a lot of money, are you planning to play less? Or diversify your time/efforts elsewhere?
I do think my play will be less than before, and may continue to reduce. I'm really not sure what else I'd look to put my time into at this point though. Hopefully over the next year of travelling around and trying and learning new things I’ll figure out what direction I’ll take. I liked an old HighstakesDB interview from Matt Hawrilenko where he talked about having a slow transition out of poker and it made sense to me, so I’m quite happy to take my time.
How did you feel about missing WCOOP this year? Especially with all the mixed Championship events that it had this year?
I think I only played 3 tournaments out of the previous SCOOP and WCOOP so it’s not something I’d miss. Even though they're fun, the size of them isn't enough to get me that into them.
In an interview just before your $50k win, in regards to improving as a player, you said: "You have to evolve, adjust, and stay ahead of everyone." Are you still striving to do that this year? And if so, how?
I had been the previous year through spending a lot more time studying than playing, particularly in the games that are evolving slowest (Stud games). This year I’ll try and keep up with things by talking to friends and watching a little action from time to time, but I will certainly fall behind a little in some games.
The games I'd watch would either be the same games and opponents I’d expect to play, or the highest stake games to see what lines the best players are taking.
Great. Well have fun with the rest of your travels Matt, and thanks for taking the time to speak to me. 


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