Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Talk is Cheap—Or is It?

Have you heard the latest controversy in poker?  Poker social media is all abuzz over a hand that was telecast recently as part of ESPN’s WSOP main event coverage.

The fury is over a penalty given to a player for his excessive table talk during a hand, and for taunting a fellow player.  I won’t describe it, but fortunately through the magic of YouTube, you can watch it yourself.  And for this post to make any sense, you just have to watch it for and then return for my comments.  I’m not sure if it is cool for me to imbed the video, so I’ll just provide the link (It’s here).  It’s the very first hand of the episode, and to understand everything I want to cover here, you should watch at least the first 12 minutes of the show (up to the first commercial break).  Go ahead, check it out, I’ll wait.

Back?  Good.  So what do you think, was the one-round penalty given to William Kassouf fair?

Certainly, on the most basic level, it is proper to give him a penalty—he was warned and kept doing what he was warned about after being warned, so of course he should be penalized.  And if you go this link here, which has a good debate about the penalty, you will see a list of the various TDA rules he violated. 

Of course, if you wanted to, you could make the argument that the rules need to be updated so that what Kassouf did is allowed.  Or you could say he should have been given a milder penalty.

You won’t hear that argument from me.

To me, Kassouf comes off as a world-class dick.  While there is no law against being a dick (if only….), I think it is in poker’s best interests to minimize dickish behavior as much as it can.  See my recent post (here), for example.

It comes down to how much and what kind of “table talk” should be allowed. Readers should not be surprised at my reaction, especially if they recall my post here where I got very upset at a player who was acting much like Kassouf was. 

I recognize that a lot of the very best players—Daniel Negreanu, to name one—are experts at table talk and consider it a key part of their game.  And there are great arguments for what an important element of the game it is.

But as far as I’m concerned, non-stop talking, becoming harassment, has no place in poker.  It’s abusive and it takes the fun out of the game.  Maybe there’s a line to be drawn somewhere, but clearly Kassouf crossed it.  Then erased it, stomped on it, and urinated on it.  If Kassouf had done that to me, I would have gotten up and slugged him.  I might have slugged him if I was just a bystander at the table.  What a world-class douche.

One thing to note about allowing such table-talk is that you can only allow it in a heads up situation.  Had there been a third player in the hand, he wouldn't have been able to say a thing.(because you might be giving away information to that third player).  While I get the distinction, does it really make sense to have one set of rules for heads-up play and another set for a multi-way pot?  That’d be like saying in baseball, it’s three-strikes and you’re out if no one is on base, but it only takes two strikes and you’re out if there’s a man on base.  Ok, that analogy sucks, but really, why is it ok to have different rules just because there’s an extra person in the hand?

I ask you, is the “skill” involved in using table talk to your advantage a legitimate poker skill, or is it just a form of angle shooting?  I’m sure it alienates some players (I mean, in addition to me) so is it good for the game to allow it?  Clearly Kassouf’s opponent wasn’t very happy about it (I mean, even before she folded the winning hand).  And she is a professional poker player, not some newbie.

And….I actually think allowing such table talk is worse in a tournament than in a cash game.  I acknowledge I might be in the minority and some people might have no problem with it or even like it.  Maybe the person who is the “victim” of it actually can outfox the person doing the talking and get a great read and turn it around in his favor? Or at the very least, finds the other guy’s chatter amusing and not bothersome. Fine and dandy.

But if a player doesn’t enjoy it and it’s allowed, well, if you’re in a cash game, after the hand is over, at least you can get a table change if you like.  That’s what I did in that post I linked to above when I felt abused.  But in a tournament, you don’t have that luxury. You may be stuck with the abusive talker for hours.  That’s why they need to be more vigilant in keeping the talk to a minimum in a tournament.

Anyway, of course Kassouf deserved the penalty.  Not only for his talking, not only for flaunting the warnings he received, but then, for his totally classless act of rubbing it in when he exposed his hand.  “Nine-high…..like a boss.”  I think the Tournament Director himself should have punched him for that.  And keep in mind, we didn’t see the entire hand play out, we came in at the end. Presumably he had been an asshole for awhile (even a few hands earlier, according to the announcers).

Finally, Kassouf is totally unrepentant even after the penalty.  He is happy as a clam for getting penalized by not just any tournament director, but by the Tournament Director of the World Series of Poker!  And he even appears to be happy when the person he bluffed busted out while he was serving his penalty.  Although, to be fair, that may just be editing and it is not certain that is what he is reacting to.

I hope you also noticed the guy who called the clock on the player (Stacy Matuson) who was being harassed by Kassouf.  Now that was totally out of line.  Under the circumstances, with all the warnings and everything else, totally unfair to call the clock there.  Although again, to be fair, the floor person could have—and should have—said that it was too soon to start running the clock under the circumstances.

Anyway, I’m interested to hear other people’s takes on this.  I might be the only one who feels the way I do.  I just feel that poker is supposed to be fun and friendly. Not everyone is going to enjoy this kind of talking at the table.  I suppose a compromise would be to allow it until the person being spoken to says, “Can you please be quiet?  And then the person would have to sit quietly until the action was complete.


So what are your thoughts?


27 comments:

  1. I can't criticize the guy for calling the clock based on what was on television you have no idea how long that had been going on. And once people start to pile on the guy it quickly turns into a herd mentality. As was mentioned, if it was an unreasonable request they didn't have to start the clock.

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    1. Thanks. Did you notice that all the other players seemed to think the guy calling the clock jumped the gun? One guy even said he had a time in his head before he'd call it....and it hadn't been reached by the time he said it, probably a good 5 or more minutes after she folded. There was a commment that she had been under "assault" the entire time and really hadn't had a chance to think until the clock started.

      That said, I think the bigger error was the TD not refusing to start the clock, he should have given her more time.

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    2. Yes I caught all that - it sounds like the guy was fairly new to the table

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  2. People like him is bad for poker. I think the tournament director should have stepped in the first time he hand gestured. Also the clock should not be started so soon. Jack Effel should have given him 2 rounds penalty. I would have given the jackass a tough time afterwards.

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    1. Thanks, Pokerdogg, obviously I agree.

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  3. Hi Rob Kassouf by profession is a lawyer. I do not know if this makes any difference or not. He is used to using his mouth to his advantage. Negreanu is friendly in his banter and is not necessarily trying to put people on tilt. There is a difference. In cash games this happens a lot but not so much in tournaments. It may spoil the drama for the camera but if you are playing for your tournament life than this should not be tolerated. If a player says I can not make a decision because another player is in effect harassing me than the floor should ask the player to be quiet until the hand is over. If he refuses to shut up than a penalty should be accessed. This of course is only my opinion. You are correct he is a noted dick.

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    1. A lawyer, huh? Well that explains everything!

      Another comment agreeing with me, cool.

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  4. While he clearly tested the patience of the director and was probably deserving of the penalty for violating the directive to cease, confounding a spirited personality seems to me to make the game less entertaining and vital. Rules making decisions easier for players, such as stopping his inane chatter, are humorless and antisocial. I'd rather have him in the game, including any negatives, than go without him, for better and worse.

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    1. If anything, his non stop chatter and harassment is antisocial. There is nothing fun about his behavior.

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    2. Finally a contrarian viewpoint. I respect your view, persuadeo but obviously I don't share it. I think you can have a fun, social game without someone trying to play mindgames during the middle of the hand.

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    3. @Pokerdogg...that would be my point too. I know there's a fine line between fun and no longer fun and this guy was way on the wrong side of it.

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    4. I understand your positions, but I think you are not taking the long view. Poker is a game but played by adults. It's at its most engaging and vital when people let it all hang out, even when it is not sanitary and neat. For instance, microstakes poker players love to piss on Jamie Gold as a poor champion but they never forget him and never, ever stop talking about him, unto this day. They loved Farha and all his angles on HSP. Phil Hellmuth probably would score high on psychsosis testing but he is an ambassador of the game and helps it. Yet no one ever breathes a word about Peter Eastgate, super nice guy - I bet some of you reading don't even know who he is.

      The game needs heroes and villains. Petty laws constrict this, and therefore the game.

      So you should be annoyed by him. That's the point. You are the nice guys. But think bigger.

      Finally, a stronger player than the one with QQ would not have been as flummoxed, but instead used the information provided by Kassouf. As the coverage goes on, we can see how transparent his methods are in some cases. She can hide behind being bothered by him and look for your pity, but that is all it is, unfortunately.

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    5. Do we need Villains on television? Sure, that could be the case, but personally I don't think Kassouf makes a good villain, unlike Phil Hellmuth or some of the other well know names.

      Do we need villains at our table when we play live? I don't think so. I much prefer a table with friendly banter and joking around than some jackass making people miserable. In the big picture we need to grow the player base, and we are not going to get there by tolerating and/or encouraging duuche bag behaviors.

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    6. @persuadeo & @Pokerdogg--great point/counterpoint, thanks guys. Obviously I side with Pokerdogg, but appreciate both sides.

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  5. Rob,
    Negreanu interviewed Kossauf on Negreanu's 3rd podcast. Kossauf said that in day 7 he was warned to receive a 5 round penalty. He said that the tournament director told him that he was too smart for the rules of the WSOP. Negreanu actually supported Kossauf's ability to talk at the table & felt like the tournament director was out of line for telling him that he can't talk at all. I think the publicity that the event has created is good for poker because it gets people discussing the tournament, but I think Kossauf took things too far. I actually like the idea if a player in a heads up hand asks the other player to be quiet, that the other player must respect the request.
    ohcowboy12go

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    1. Thanks....I saw that Negreanu liked what Kassouf did. Not surprising since he is a master at it, tho he is not nearly that obnoxious.

      I suppose the publicity may be good....but try telling that to Stacy, who may have gone a lot further in the tournament without all the chatter.

      Definitely think that if they allow talk like this, you have to give the other player the option to turn it off.

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  6. In prehistoric poker times, Kassouf would have been shot. Almost shot my tv.

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    1. Haha...yes, I can see that. Glad your TV survived.

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  7. My thoughts are...that you once again chose a fantastic photo.

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  8. Poker is a predatory game. Why people insist on nerfing how it plays out is confusing to me. We are not all friends, playing tiddly winks. We're trying to take each other's chips. It's why I went on a poker hiatus for as long as I did. The game got a little too rough for my sensibilities and I took a break. I think a lot of poker players are assholes and I was starting to become an asshole myself so I gave myself a time out. But does this mean that I think that table talk should be nerfed? No, it's part of the game. Kassouf's penalty was way too harsh in my humble opinion but the poker table is akin to a psychological Octogon and you have to expect to be bloodied and bruised when you get out.

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    1. Hmmm, sound like a bit of Stockholm syndrome going on here.

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    2. @AC--I just think that's too extreme, especially at the level we play. Maybe for the full time pros but for the rec players and the low rent grinders? Come on.

      @Pokerdogg--lol.

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  9. Kassouf's a complete douche. The TD was not being strong enough for the moment. While I wouldn't have done it, the guy who called the clock seemed to be trying to establish some order in a situation that was begging for it. The TD should've been the one to do so but didn't. My two cents and a contrarian position, I know.

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    1. Thanks, John. Not really that contrarian, just on the clock, which I think the TD should have handled better regardless of whether it was too early or not.

      Oh and by the way, I don't think the TD or a dealer or anyone but another player at the table can call the clock.

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  10. Rob

    I have to say the reaction to this table talk seems over the top. He didn't really say much in the clip apart from I want you to call and if you show, I will show. The fact his opponent let it get to her is her problem and she clearly didn't have the bravery to call for her tournament life with one pair in such a polarised situation. Given she had folded AA correctly earlier, she should have been able to correlate his behaviour and make an informed decision either way. I don't think she would have called if she was left for 30 minutes.

    Like persuado, I think personalities are good for poker and the last bit where he said 9 high like a boss was for the cameras in my opinion. It wasn't to be vindictive but to entertain.
    You have to be mentally tough to be a poker player, and this type of behaviour shouldn't phase you. In general I would just laugh at the guy. You have to ignore the talk and think carefully about the hand, but it still takes a lot of bottle to call for your tournament with one pair. If anything, his talk makes the call easier rather than harder.

    Paul

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    1. Thanks, Paul, great comments. You're obviously in the minority of my readers (or at least those who chose to comment). I'm actually surprised at that. I expected my opinion to be the minority view.

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