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Thursday, October 27, 2016

Irritating Poker Player Of The Year


For the first time in many years, I haven't watched any of ESPN's coverage of the World Series Of Poker, but several people have told me about one player who got a lot of attention at the event, so I checked out a few clips of him on YouTube.

His name is Will Kassouf, an Englishman who was heavily criticized by other players and commentators for two things: taking too long to play every hand (sometimes he wouldn't even look at his cards for 15 seconds) and talking incessantly to his opponents during a heads-up situation. He does this to get the other players rattled and affect their decision-making skills. As you can see in the clip above, his antics were well beyond the annoyance threshold.

Slow-playing is a major problem in poker tournaments (and occasionally in cash games). It's one thing to pause while thinking through what you're going to do next, but too many young players take more than a reasonable amount of time, and some of them (like Kassouf) do it way too often. I encountered a table full of young idiots like this in Las Vegas this summer, and it was a miserable experience. There's no reason to tank when you have jack-four offsuit. Just throw your cards in the muck and let's move on.

As for the non-stop verbal badgering, Kassouf never called opponents names, never dissed their skills out loud, but he talked so much it was more than a distraction -- it was an irritant -- and tournament officials should have put a stop to it much earlier than on day seven. You should be allowed to play your game, and if that involves some talk that might help you get a read on your opponent, go ahead, but there has to be a line.

Players like Kassouf are not only bad for the others at the table, but bad for the game of poker itself. Television has been a great boon to the popularity of the WSOP and other tournaments, but when they get to the live Main Event final table coverage this Sunday night, if viewers tune in and see a bunch of young guys sitting around and stalling the pace of play, if even the simplest decisions chew up airtime, they're going to tune away and never come back. Worse, they may decide not to go out and play live poker in cash games and tournaments, thus reducing the player pool for all of us.

Daniel Negreanu is one of the best minds in poker and one of its most successful players. He has ranted against slow-play for years, often calling the clock on someone who's taking too long. On the latest episode of his podcast, Daniel analyzed Will Kassouf's actions and distractions, explained why tournament officials handled him incorrectly, and even spoke to Justin Pechie, another player who had the displeasure of sitting at a table with Kassouf during the WSOP.

It's worth a listen -- made even better by the conversation that follows between Daniel and his old friend Jennifer Harman, a high-stakes poker pro, who explains how she's handled sexism in poker, the Full Tilt scandal, and how she got started playing the game. Really good stuff.