WSOP 2016 Main Event: Will Kassouf Antics Good for Poker?

Will Kassouf
Will Kassouf has been a talk of the poker media lately because of his table antics at the WSOP 2016 Main Event

The table banter and antics have been all the talk lately since the WSOP 2016 Main Event coverage has started airing. Forget about all the champions in the field, forget about the big payday awaiting those making November Nine, because it was Will Kassouf who managed to steal the show with his peculiar approach to the game.

Will Kassouf & table antics

If you’ve seen the coverage that’s aired thus far, I am sure there is no need to explain who Kassouf is. There is no way you could have possibly missed him, even if you really tried hard. From the moment of his arrival to one of the featured tables, Kassouf hasn’t stopped talking, taunting, and otherwise antagonizing players.

At first, most players tried to take it in strides and laughed it off, but as he continued, the mood at the table started to change. Things culminated when he just wouldn’t stop talking when he put Stacy Matuson at the decision for all of her chips and then kept on talking and taunting her.

Matuson had a tough decision to make with an overpair to the board and facing a bet for her tournament life, so she needed a moment to consider her options in peace. However, Kassouf wouldn’t provide any, even after he was warned by the tournament director Jack Effel.

After Stacy had made a bad fold, Kassouf proudly showed his bluff, exclaiming like a boss, and then proceeded to serve his one round penalty issued by Effel. However, Will kept defending his position, explaining it was all part of the game and that he relies heavily on “speech play.”

Will Kassouf believes “speech play” is a valid part of the game

Ever since poker has been invented, there has been a psychological aspect to the game. Messing with the heads of other players at the table is a perfectly valid strategy, and if you can cash in on it, more power to you. Nobody is denying this.

But, there’s got to be a limit.

And Kassouf’s table antics definitely went beyond that limit. While the goal of the game is to win pots and cash in, there’s got to be a modicum of respect displayed towards your fellow players. Will Kassouf went too far and crossed the line of respectful behavior on several occasions and that’s why Effel’s decision to penalize him was more than justified.

Will Kassouf
Will Kassouf calls it “speech play” and perhaps he means no harm, but his behavior during the hand Stacy Matuson seemed rather disrespectful

However, the issue here is not whether Jack has done his job well, as he’s been a tournament director for a long time and he certainly knows what he is doing. The real issue here is that people need to be made aware that this kind of behavior is not acceptable, especially at the biggest poker series on the planet.

Good for TV?

Many people like to say that characters are good for the game and people enjoy watching them. I agree, but there are characters and then there are “characters.” Late Dave ‘Devilfish’ Uliott is a great representative for the former group.

Devilfish had one hell of a “speech play,” but he also had the sense to know when he’s crossed the line.

Sure, Uliott may have gone too far on occasion, but that was because of the type of a guy he was. It wasn’t a part of his game to disrespect his opponents and try to rant into their ears while in the middle of a big decision.

It’s one thing to say “I’ll show if you fold once.” Even twice, or three times is still fine.

Will Kassouf
Characters are good for the game of poker, no doubt about that, but is Will Kassouf taking the whole “character” thing just a bit too far?

But if you are saying it over and over and over again while your opponent is trying to think, it doesn’t even matter what you are saying. You are not letting them think and, ultimately, poker is a thinking game.

So, I don’t think Kassouf belongs to the group of real poker characters. And no, I don’t think what he is doing is good for the game. It may be good TV for some people, but that has zero relevance for the argument.

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And here’s why.

While some people may enjoy his antics and laugh with him, an amateur considering getting his or her feet wet sees this and most people will think one of two things: I don’t need this in my life or, I’d teach that punk some respect. Either way, it does nothing for poker.

Of course, pros would probably like to have as many Kassoufs in the field as possible because his “speech play” would only work against him, but that’s a whole different discussion. For pros, it’s a job; for amateurs who visit Vegas exclusively to play in the WSOP it’s an experience and there is no reason to ruin it for them.

Am I too harsh on Will Kassouf?

Here’s the thing, I can only judge by what I see, and there is no denying Kassouf brings some spirit to the tables. But he definitely needs to tone it down a bit and realize when he goes over the line. I am not advocating for players spending all the time on their phones and with huge headphones on their ears, not by a long shot.

But can you blame those young guns?

Perhaps they just don’t want to listen to banter like this and want to be able to focus on the game they are playing.

Will Kassouf
The poker community is divided on Will Kassouf, as some believe his antics are a valid part of the game. DNegs is one of those not believing Kassouf went to far

Poker is a wonderful game, it’s a game of thought and game of information, and talking to gain information is one thing. Talking to make the life hard on your opponents and make it nearly impossible for them to think, that’s too much. It has nothing to do with the game and therefore it shouldn’t be allowed.

So, to sum it up: having fun at the tables – yes; disrespecting your opponents while pretending to have fun – a big, fat no!

While this is my view of the matter, you can also check Daniel Negreanu’s latest podcast, where he discusses the issue and chats to Kassouf. DNegs clearly disagrees about the penalty, so if you are interested in this topic, definitely check it out.

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