Frank Kassela -- From “The Deadest of Money” to Two-time World Series of Poker Champion
Businessman Finally Gets Breakthrough at 2010 WSOP
Ten years ago, Frank Kassela came to the World Series of Poker on a dare and a whim. He’s been back almost every year since, but it was this summer that he finally broke through and won his first bracelet. It took him 10 years to get bracelet no. 1, but then just two weeks to get bracelet no. 2.
With his victories in the $10k seven card stud eight-or-better and the $2,500 razz event, Kassela has become the first (and so far, only) player to win two bracelets in the 2010 World Series of Poker. Although the accomplishment perhaps became a little diluted last year when five different players won multiple bracelets (Jeffrey Lisandro, Phil Ivey, Brock Parker, Greg Mueller, and J.P. Kelly), Kassela still joins an exclusive group of players to win two different WSOP events in a single calendar year.
After his victories, he talked with Card Player about his journey in poker and in life.
“The Deadest of Money”
Growing up in Chicago, it didn’t take long for Kassela to find a card game for money.
“Even as young as 11 or 12, we would play a variety of card games for money. I came from a Polish Catholic family in Chicago, and gambling is just what they did.”
At 12, Kassela moved with his family to Texas, going to high school in North Mesquite, a suburb of Dallas (and also the home of the Mesquite Rodeo, he explains). After high school, he began working for a company that sold promotional products and specialty items. At the age of 25, he moved to Memphis to start his own company.
It was in Memphis that he began to play poker a little more frequently. Just a short drive from Tunica, he found himself heading to the card rooms about twice a month because “that was kind of the thing to do.”
In 2000, Kassela started to play even more regularly, and after one of his employees dared him to play in the main event, he was off to Binion’s in Las Vegas.
“Abel Tobias, he was my vice president of sales…he was watching it on TV the night before — the old grainy coverage they used to show before they had hole cams,” Kassela remembers. “And he was like, ‘you know what, I dare you to go out there and play.’ I said, ‘You know what, I’m going.’”
Kassela admits now he was in over his head.
“I had no clue about any of the procedures…I was the deadest money in the field in 2000, almost for sure,” said Kassela. “There was no online qualifying back then. I mean, there were people who showed up and won satellites, but you had to actually win a satellite. You had to be at least moderately competent, but there is no way I was. I was the deadest money.”
But it was in 2000 that Kassela really started to play poker much more frequently and more seriously. He was making a good amount of money in cash games in Tunica, and he had caught the tournament bug. It was only a matter of time before he became a regular on the tournament trail.
A Risk-Taker His Entire Life
Now, Kassela owns a number of companies that sell promotional products and specialty items. He has three offices in Memphis and another office in Dallas. He also owns a medical uniform retail company.
Clearly a successful entrepreneur, he can now afford the time to play high-stakes poker tournaments. But there was a time when his life was at its crossroads, and money was tight.
“The first business that I started when I was 25. I worked for another company in Dallas that did kind of the same thing,” said Kassela. “We had a non-compete agreement, so a couple of friends and I went to Memphis to start a business.”
Kassela remembers it wasn’t an easy decision for him or his family.
“It’s always tough when you pick up and move with a few kids from one state to another. We left Dallas, we didn’t really have too much money, but we picked up and moved to Memphis,” said Kassela. “We didn’t really know anybody, and it’s always tough when you move somewhere new.”
It wouldn’t get any easier. Despite moving to Memphis to run this business with friends, Kassela was convinced he could manage it better himself. So, after six months, he made the decision to go on his own.
“I was afraid of long-term issue. I hate to really say bad things,” said Kassela. “There was nothing about my partners that were necessarily bad, I just felt like I could do it better myself.”
The rest, as they say, is history.
As his businesses grew, so did his affection for poker. Kassela says the similarities between being a successful entrepreneur and a successful poker play are plentiful.
“Anybody who is going to be a productive, positive, generating poker player has to run their poker world like a business,” said Kassela. “You’ve got to be on top of how you allocate your money, just like you do in a business. You’ve got to guard your resources carefully and use your money wisely.”
And of course, both poker and entrepreneurship require you to have plenty of gamble.
“Just like in business, you’ve got to spend money to make money. Running a business is a pretty risky adventure for most people,” said Kassela. “It’s hard for me to imagine that a really good entrepreneur, with the right training and good adaptation, couldn’t almost always become a good gambler just because there’s so much in common between the two.”
A Regular on the Trail, But Without a Bracelet…Until Now
It was in 2005 that Kassela really devoted himself to tournament poker.
“In 2005, I had a really good January in Tunica. And in April, I had a really good month at Bellagio where I made two final tables. At the end of April, I’m in the top 20 in Card Player Player of the Year with like four or five final tables even though I had really only played in two places,” said Kassela. “So I was like, let me give this a real-life try. So my wife and I packed up some suitcases and came back to Vegas for some World Series events.”
At the World Series that year, Kassela found himself at a final table with Johnny Chan in a pot-limit hold’em event.
“We had 80% of the chips between the two of us. He had queens, I had aces. He hit a queen on the flop. The rest is history. He wins his 10th bracelet and I go home without one,” said Kassela.
It wasn’t the first time he fell short when the cameras were rolling. In WPT events in Paris and Aruba, Kassela made deep runs but was eliminated just before the final table.
“I feel cursed in TV events,” Kassela says with a smile.
Despite never getting that big win, he has continued to be a familiar face on the tournament trail. Over the course of Card Player’s 15-minute interview in the hallway outside the Amazon Room, Kassela was interrupted no less than a dozen times by friends and other pros congratulating him on his recent success.
The businessman had wanted a bracelet for so long, and now he has two.
“If you play poker with any kind of regularity, there is nothing in the world that you want more. There just isn’t,” said Kassela. “I know people who have won a million dollars in a televised event on the EPT and they’d give it all up to win a $200,000 event at the World Series for a bracelet.”
For Kassela’s two victories this summer, he has earned over $660,000 and has launched himself toward the top of the various Player of the Year standings. He is tied with John Juanda for WSOP Player of the Year, and is No. 21 in Card Player’s year-long Player of the Year.
“If I do well in another event here at the World Series and lock up the WSOP award, I’d love to ice the cake and add Card Player Player of the Year,” said Kassela. “I’m going to play everything.”
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