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Thoughts From The 2016 WSOP Main Event

by Linda Johnson |  Published: Dec 07, 2016


The 2016 World Series of Poker main event is over and we have a new world champion! Congratulations to Qui Nguyen who bested a field of 6,737 entrants to claim victory and $8 million.

I had the pleasure of attending the final table broadcast in the Rio›s Penn & Teller Theater in Las Vegas. I was seated in the front row in the midst of the “Team Bax” cheering section made up of Cliff Josephy’s supporters. The grandiosity and pageantry of the event is something I will never get tired of, no matter how many final tables I’ve had the honor of watching. The excitement and energy in the showroom was electrifying as each player was escorted to his seat by a showgirl dressed up in full costume. The “shuffle up and deal” was spoken jointly by the newest members of the Poker Hall of Fame, Todd Brunson and Carlos Mortensen.

Each of the November Nine finalists had a rooting section identified with their personalized T-shirts, hats, signs, and banners. They chanted and cheered enthusiastically throughout final table play. After watching for a few hours, I went home to view the rest of it on television. (By the way, the poker community owes a big thanks to Mori Eskandani’s Poker PROductions for producing so many great poker shows including many of the WSOP final tables.)

As usual, ESPN showcased many hours of poker from the days that led up to the final table. Every year, there seems to be a controversial player who gets a lot of air time. This year, his name was William Kassouf, an attorney from Great Britain. Kassouf is either a hero or a villain, depending on whom you ask. For the few of you who may not have seen him in action, he was featured on ESPN many, many times with his continuous talking during play, his stalling and excessive tanking during play.

There was a lot of discussion in the poker community about whether or not Kassouf had broken any rules and if he deserved the penalty Jack Effel gave him. I realize mine might not be a popular opinion, but I think the answer to both of these issues definitely is YES! Kassouf would repeatedly say things during a hand such as, “I’m not making a move on the button; I have a big hand, it’s legit. If I had a mediocre hand, I’d flat in position. You’re behind at the moment, that’s all I’m saying.”

According to WSOP Rule #113, a participant may not “disclose contents of live or folded hands or advise or criticize play at any time.” WSOP Rule # 48 says “repeated etiquette violations, including but not limited to delay of game and excessive chatter will result in penalties.” It is clear that on many occasions, Kassouf advised his opponents on how to play their hands and that he delayed the game by constantly taking an excessive time to play his hands.

For the most part, the poker community seems to be in agreement that he intentionally slowed down the game and should have faced consequences for doing so. However, when it comes to whether or not he crossed the line with his table talk, there seems to be division among both professional and recreational players.

Of the players I have spoken with who think his conversation was okay, I asked them if it would be okay if I was playing against my best friend, who knows I wouldn’t lie to her, and I told her, “Don’t call; I have a big hand. You’re behind.” They seemed to unanimously agree that shouldn’t be allowed and might even be collusion. Tournament officials can’t possibly know who are friends, so for the integrity of the game, I don’t think disclosing the contents of your hand should be allowed.

I definitely think poker should be fun, but what is your idea of fun? The final nine seemed to have a great time and they didn’t disrespect or berate each other. Clearly Kassouf’s opponents were not having fun due to his antics. Would you like it if after paying $10,000 to play the main event, you got put at a table with someone who constantly took excessive time on every decision and continually talked while you were trying to play your hand? I wouldn’t.

I do agree that Kassouf is good for television ratings. I’m sure there were many discussions around the water cooler about his antics, but is this good for poker? Many members of the public learn to play poker from watching it on television. Suppose suddenly lots of players thought it was okay to emulate Kassouf’s behavior…I think it would hurt poker. Please don’t think that I am opposed to table talk. I love it, just not when it involves talking about the contents of your hand.

At one point, there was a cutaway to a segment with Josephy and he said: “I don’t like to play slow. I think it ruins everyone’s enjoyment of the game. We want to play poker, I don’t want to sit there and watch you think forever. Play your cards. Let’s go!”

Kassouf was eliminated in 17th place with pocket kings versus pocket aces.

I may be old-fashioned but I love good sportsmanship. My favorite hand of the main event took place between Gordon Vayo and Jerry Wong. At 18 players, Wong raised to 1 million with A-Q offsuit and Vayo shoved all-in for 6.275 million with pocket tens, which was about 15 big blinds. Wong made the call. Mayo got up from the table and went to the rail and Wong went over to him and asked, “Shall we sweat together?” Vayo said, “Sure!” and then added, “If you take my chips, I hope you go all the way.” The flop was 7-6-3. After a king on the turn and a jack on the river, they shook hands and Wong said, “Still alive.” Vayo said, “Thanks man.” As you probably know, Vayo went on to win second place and more than $4 million.

My favorite quote from the main event came from Mike Shin of Milwaukee who busted out in 12th place and said, “If you had told me on the first day that I would end up in 12th place, I’d be happy with that, but obviously I’m disappointed because I’m so close to it. But hey, I’ll take a shot again next year.” That spirit sums up the main event.

Congratulations to each of you who played, and especially to those of you who cashed!
Change of subject: The holiday season is upon us. A Card Player Cruises vacation makes the perfect gift for your loved ones and for yourself. Our 2017 schedule can be found at I wish you all wonderful holidays and hope to see you on a future cruise. ♠

Linda JohnsonLinda is a member of the Poker Hall of Fame and the Women in Poker Hall of Fame. She is available to host poker seminars, corporate poker events, and charity tournaments. You can contact her through her at