The Problem With Poker’s William Kassouf

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VSO News writer David Lappin has a thing or two to say about William Kassouf after playing with the controversial pro poker player at the Irish Poker Open. [Image: Party Poker Live – Irish Poker Open]

Friends and enemies 

Last weekend’s Irish Poker Open was a phenomenal event, organized and run brilliantly by JP McCann, Paul O’Reilly, and his team.

I was happy to see some of my friends among the winners

The record-field Main Event was won by Steve O’Dwyer who took no prisoners, knocking out every single player on the final table. I made three semi-deep runs, cashing the 6-max championship event and the Main Event before bubbling the Mystery Bounty. Add to that a small win in the action-packed cash games and it amounted to a break-even week for me but I was happy to see some of my friends among the winners. 

Dan Wilson came fifth in the Main Event. Daragh Davey, Marc MacDonnell, and Dermot Blain made deep runs, all busting on Day 3. Nick Newport final tabled the Mystery Bounty. Michael Dwyer final tabled the 6-max. Jamie Nixon and Dominik Nitsche got second and fourth respectively in the €2000 ($2,169) High Roller. Ian Simpson cashed the €5000 ($5,423) High Roller, the JP Masters, and the Mini-Main. Padraig O’Neill won a tidy sum in the big televised cash game.

It was also a successful week for my new poker enemy too. Alex Kulev was the biggest winner in the televised cash game. He also ran deep in the Main Event (after knocking me out with the very disrespectful 96 offsuit) whilst playing online poker on his laptop. The outcome?

Kulev eliminated me deep in the World Series of Poker Closer last year and pipped me for Irish Global Poker Index Player of the Year. Ok, fine he didn’t pip me. My Irish-Bulgarian nemesis ROFL-stomped me and to use his words: “I chose to be Irish last year because you didn’t deserve it.” 

Shots fired in the commentary booth

The Irish Poker Open is very special to me and so, when possible, I try to do some commentary at the event. My second bullet bust-out came at the feature table late on Day 2. It was too late to jump into anything so it made sense to offer my insights to Fintan Gavin and Emmet Kennedy on the livestream as it was the table of players with whom I’d been battling all day. 

Dermot Blain and Dan Stacey both showed their class

Andy Black was a powerhouse, hoovering up all the pots that nobody wanted enough. After one misstep cost him dearly midway through the day, he went ‘back to the coalface’ (his words) and impressively rebuilt his stack before losing a couple of flips. Dermot Blain and Dan Stacey both showed their class, squeezing into the money and then kicking on. 

During one of the few lulls in play, Kennedy asked me about my experience of playing my Day 1 with sticky-palmed chatterbox William Kassouf. I was blunt in my response, which sparked a follow-up question on the topic the next day by the event’s sideline reporter Laura Cornelius. 

Notes on a scandal

In September 2018, William Kassouf made a public statement about the events surrounding his expulsion from the Grosvenor Casino in Leeds. In it, he said that he was drunk and that he made an error of judgment which he greatly regretted and, as a result, he and Grosvenor, his sponsor, had mutually agreed to part ways.

the empty words of a hollow man

It was a wishy-washy statement, offering no clarification or admission of what he had done.  It was just the empty words of a hollow man, deliberately vague and carefully constructed to mitigate his actions and cling onto some ownership of the termination of his sponsorship deal.

Kassouf took a £100 ($131) chip off the roulette stack of his friend Ryan Mandara using a sleight of hand maneuver known as ‘palming.’ It is a deft technique that absolutely requires practice, begging the question, when has he practiced palming chips and why has he practiced palming chips?

Popular poker pro Ian Simpson issued this important PSA on Easter Sunday:

Lies, damn lies, and hand histories 

In my interview, I referred to Kassouf as a sort of David Brent figure. Some people have asked me to explain what I meant by that. Firstly, there is an element of cringe with Kassouf. I dare you to watch back that WSOP coverage and not squirm. My main reason for the comparison, however, is that he is a fantasist, both the creator and main character in a world of his own invention. When his solipsistic belief system is threatened by an event or another person’s will outside of his control, he simply bends the truth to suit his desired narrative. 

It also wasn’t lost on me that, in his own interview with Laura Cornelius, Kassouf repeated a lie he told to another player the previous day that he was bad beated in a ‘big pot’ against me late on in Day 1. He told that player it was a 65,000 pot, which was weird because I only had 13,500 when I shoved my A5 suited into his big slick.  

Barny Boatman also spoke out about Kassouf’s proclivity for dishonesty:

Time thief titillation 

I received a lot of feedback from my interview, with everyone who reached out telling me that it was a good thing that I called him out. I was obviously answering a direct question honestly but I wondered afterward if they might be wrong and I hadn’t just given him the attention he craves. I wonder the same about mentioning him now in this piece.

This is the problem with people who court controversy and are shameless. A microcosm of this is whether to clock him right away when he starts his catchphrase-laden ‘speech play’ carry-on at the table. He craves attention so, at some level, you are giving him what he wants and his bad behavior usually worsens after the floor has been called.

I have seen him stealing time from his table-mates

Kleptomania is a recurrent failure to resist the urge to steal, usually items of little to no value, that are easily affordable. People with kleptomania feel a strong urge to steal, experiencing arousal leading up to the theft and then pleasure and relief during the act. I have no idea how Kassouf felt when he palmed his friend’s chip but I have seen him stealing time from his table-mates and it does seem to titillate him. 

In conclusion, I do appreciate that his scandal took place almost four years ago and my views might be seen as puritanical by some and even vengeful by others. If you believe in second chances then good for you but unfathomable to me is the opinion of some in the community that what he did ‘wasn’t that bad.’ Someone who steals from their friend is a pariah and if the framework doesn’t exist for them to be black-listed, then they ought to be shunned. I honestly don’t think we can afford to have any other opinion as a community as anything less puts us on a slippery slope to an amoral abyss.