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Like a Boss?

by Gavin Griffin |  Published: Dec 07, 2016


I’m sure I’m the last person to write about this subject but I just can’t help it. I’ve had some time to digest the last few episodes of the World Series of Poker main event and they were a real roller coaster. My longtime friend and backer went to the final table with the chip lead, ending up in third place for a good chunk of change, and along the way, everyone lost their dang minds because of one guy.

The floor staff, the other players, the audience, everyone lost their minds because of William Kassouf. As far as I can tell, he did nothing explicitly wrong as the rules are written. They never showed him using disrespectful or hateful words, just a bit of diarrhea of the mouth. Constantly saying the same five phrases over and over again can get a bit annoying, but if being annoying was a punishable offense in poker, Phil Hellmuth and Mike Matusow would always be on a penalty. I do think he was taking way too much time on many of his decisions, even trivial ones, but poker players have a system in place for someone abusing the clock. All you have to do is call the clock on him or her and your problem is solved. If he keeps abusing the clock, have the floorman on standby and get your clock calling hair trigger ready.

The ESPN broadcast gave us a clinic on how not to handle Kassouf’s antics. The floor men accused him of being disrespectful to other players but didn’t admonish them for being disrespectful to him after they called him a clown, made fun of his average buy in, or told him to “check your privilege,” whatever that means. They told him that he had to be quiet during a hand while allowing his opponent to continue to engage him. None of the ways that the floor men approached this situation made any sense and they showed some of their biggest flaws by allowing themselves to get emotional about the situation at hand instead of making a fair, impartial decision.

The other players made it worse on themselves and encouraged Kassouf to continue to do what he was doing by letting it get under their skin. They ganged up on him, calling him a clown and berating him about the low-stakes tournaments he usually plays. Unsurprisingly, Jared Bleznick was the worst of the bunch, really going after him only days after getting himself temporarily banned from the WSOP for tearing cards and shouting at others at a final table. It came as no surprise to hear that he was in the middle of the name calling, but I was disappointed in some of the others, namely Cliff Josephy and Griffin Benger.

Usually consummate professionals, I feel as though the two of them were way out of line in their dealings with Kassouf. Every reaction that Kassouf got made it more likely that he was going to continue on the same path. If, instead, they had been calm and relied on the rules to sort out the issues they were having with Kassouf, perhaps the situation would have contained itself. Instead, they allowed their emotions to get the better of themselves and flew off the handle. For some reason, there is a stigma against calling the clock on people in a tournament. If someone has had a reasonable amount of time to make a single decision or they are constantly slowing down the game making it uncomfortable and difficult for the others around them to play at a reasonable pace, there is nothing wrong with calling the clock, even in the main event with two tables left.

The calmest of the group were Gordon Vayo and Kassouf himself. If it weren’t for some terrifically bad luck towards the end, we might have gotten a chance to see the speech play master at the final table and that would have been special, although quite tedious.

I don’t want to come off as too much of a Kassouf supporter, I think he did some things that were disrespectful to those around him and annoying in general. Any time one person so thoroughly dominates the amount of time each hand takes, they are being inherently disrespectful to those around them. They are like the friend you have that is always 20 minutes late, no matter how much lead time you give them. They’re always just late enough to make you miss your reservation or the first few minutes of the movie. Their time is just that much more precious than yours.

Luckily, I think the lasting impression from this year’s main event will be the man in the raccoon hat, not the one who plays nine-high like a boss. So many Hevad Khans (I really like Hevad) have come and gone that one William Kassouf likely won’t leave a mark on the game. Just remember that everyone at the table deserves your respect at the poker table, unless you’re playing with Russ Hamilton. ♠

Gavin GriffinGavin Griffin was the first poker player to capture a World Series of Poker, European Poker Tour and World Poker Tour title and has amassed nearly $5 million in lifetime tournament winnings. Griffin is sponsored by You can follow him on Twitter @NHGG