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Czech Casino Owner Allegedly 'Pressured' Poker Pro To Continue Playing In Booze-Fueled Game

Man Involved With Failed Settlement Talks Gives His Perspective


More allegations have emerged in the $2 million legal battle over a controversial heads-up poker match that happened in May in Las Vegas.

Last week, Czech casino owner Leon Tsoukernik responded to Australian poker pro Matt Kirk’s June lawsuit and filed a counterclaim alleging that Kirk and the Aria casino where the game took place allowed him to become too intoxicated and “fatigued” and “prevented” him from leaving the exclusive poker arena Ivey’s Room.

The result, says Tsoukernik’s countersuit, was a dishonest and unfair game. Kirk is seeking to recover the $2 million, while Tsoukernik wants damages in excess of $10 million for the destruction done to his reputation, among other sufferings.

Some of poker’s legends, including Daniel Negreanu and Doyle Brunson, took to social media to blast Tsoukernik for his countersuit against Kirk and the popular poker room. Brunson even offered to be a character witness for Kirk and his legal team.

Rob Yong, the founder of the U.K. card room Dusk Till Dawn, was drawn into the matter thanks to court papers stating he tried to help the two broker a settlement in the days immediately after the game. After a couple of attempts, the deal to resolve the alleged debt was off and now multiple high-profile lawsuits are working their way through Nevada’s court system.

Yong, who is “one of the most respected people in poker” according to Poker Hall of Famer and former World Poker Tour commentator Mike Sexton, penned a blog post detailing what he witnessed transpire between the two high-stakes poker players.

According to Yong, Kirk told him that he wanted to stop playing Tsoukernik in the game that was going past 5 a.m. local time, but that the casino mogul was uninterested in quitting while stuck.

Kirk “told me the game got ‘out of hand’ when Leon became very drunk, loaning in total $3 million in Aria chips from Matty which he then lost back to Matty heads-up,” Yong said.

“I asked Matty why he didn’t stop playing if Leon was that drunk or just refuse to loan him any more money. Matty said he didn’t want to ‘hit and run’ Leon and was heavily pressured by Leon to continue. Matty told me the game finally broke with Leon owing $2 million, but they talked at the Aria lift on the way to their rooms and went back to Ivey’s Room to continue playing with Leon borrowing a further $1 million which he lost to Matty.”

Furthermore, Yong said that Tsoukernik, who said in court papers that he was invited to the casino to gamble, had about $4 million “on deposit” at Aria from roulette winnings. In other words, Tsoukernik didn’t need to borrow money from Kirk, according to Yong. Also, according to court papers, Tsoukernik allegedly beat Kirk out of $1.5 million just the day before the ill-fated match.

“Matty told me that he regretted lending Leon the money when he was in that state but told me Leon said he wouldn’t play him ever again if he stopped playing,” Yong said. “I told Matty that I had played against Leon when he was really drunk so understood Matty’s predicament, but I chose to get up and quit on him and I think Matty should have done the same.” Yong said that Tsoukernik said the day after the game that he did not “remember much.”

In a statement following the filing of his countersuit, Tsoukernik described himself as the victim from the incident. “As a casino operator, I feel it is my obligation to never allow a patron to be treated as I was and to alert the poker community of the risks they take in situations like mine,” he said. “I believe that my response shines light on some of the unethical practices that target poker players. It would be easy to remain silent and make a business decision but too much has been said and too much damage has been done for me to keep quiet.”

Tags: Matt Kirk,   Leon Tsoukerni,   Lawsuit,   Aria