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?