I’ll be honest, I’m only writing about Kassouf because he’s industry click-bait at the moment, and everyone who plays or works poker has heard of him and has an opinion on him.
Opinions are fun, but stimulating a discussion between people who are already obsessed with poker probably doesn’t do much to grow the fish pool, ie I don’t see how me and other poker nerds arguing about whether or not Kassouf is good for poker can, of itself, be good for poker.
Increased traffic may grow ad-revenue for larger sites, but it will be, like all media phenomenon, short lived, and in the long-term, I don’t see how the same people visiting poker news sites a couple of extra times in the space of a month to see what Kassouf has done now is really that “good for poker”.
The only things I see as “good for poker” is attracting more recreational fish to the tables, or more long-term passionate spectators for reliable ad-rev, and I don’t see how Kassouf behaving like he does will do that.
The details of the incident between Benger and Kassouf made the national mainstream media here in the UK, and exposure should always be good, but exposing poker tournaments as places where grown men act like petulant toddlers probably isn’t the public image poker’s PR manager would endorse.
Poker has been in my life for many years, and I have three routes of contact with it: Firstly as a player, secondly as a tournament director and thirdly as a viewer, and my reaction to Kassouf varies depending on what hat I’m wearing.
When I watched the first episode of Kassouf I laughed my arse off. I thought he was hilarious, with his nuts and his gravy and his constant chatter.
I definitely thought he was a breath of fresh air in a time when too many thick-armed jocks are sitting silently because they sweated their personalities out at the gym.
Don’t get me wrong, I like a handsome boy to look at, and they’re clearly not idiots, and they’re obviously better poker players than me, but does this new wave of GTO pros have the sparkling personalities of the less physically attractive early characters from televised poker? Hell no.
After initially enjoying Kassouf’s waffle, I’d heard the same few phrases on repeat and I started to feel like the hooker in that shit 00’s drug culture movie, Spun; tied to the bed with a CD skipping loudly.
I applaud and enjoy banter and waffle as a viewer, but Kassouf needs a more varied script and a greater ability to improvise.
When he was being mocked for playing $100 tourneys or posting a picture of a $500 cash stack, why didn’t he have more to say to defend himself?
As a viewer, I was excited to see a guy who played in a £120 tourney in England a few months ago sitting deep in a $10k tourney in Vegas, and yet he genuinely looked ashamed for a moment when Josephy and Moss were taking the piss. He had a really good opportunity to be proud of his low-stakes games on an international forum, and he didn’t have the social skills to finish the banter he started.
If you’re going to be entertaining with your poker banter, you have to be able to think on your feet and be funny (with actual jokes and comebacks) and Kassouf can’t do either.
Kassouf seems to have a lack of genuine emotion, common in lawyers, but not common in the early poker characters like Tony G, Matasow, Negreanu and Hellmuth. Those noisy buggers actually took us on an emotional journey as a viewer; Hellmuth so angry, Negreanu so honestly passionate, Tony G so unashamedly rude and Matasow cried at a beat for fuck’s sake!
The only viewer engagement I can find with Kassouf is seeing how he winds other players up, but then it’s narratively disengaging when he looks all shocked and sheepish as they explode!
Kassouf is like a shop dummy with a tape recorder lodged in his chest cavity; an expansively bad actor more than a genuine big character.
Kassouf doesn’t encourage other players to interact in a fun or entertaining way; in every bit of WSOP footage I watched this year, his opponents seem to react badly to him, making some moments uncomfortable and others just boring as they shut down, refusing to talk.
At one point he defends his behaviour with “If we want to make poker popular again, people need to start talking a bit more. I think we should make a song and dance about it. Poker should be fun.”
At that moment, there was not one person at that table having fun. Not the dealer, not the players, not the audience, not the TD; and by looking at his body language as he went over and blustered to somebody on the rail, neither was Kassouf.
I agree people should talk more at live tables, I agree it should be a song and dance, I agree it should be fun, I just don’t think Kassouf has the formula.
There was a lot of table noise and nonsense from Keating over the same period of play, and his table was having fun. Are poker viewers really only interested in watching aggro and awkwardness? I hope not, because unfortunately for poker, it really won’t stand up to a Big Brother or Real Housewives format treatment.
If we can’t pull in viewers for poker with poker, and have to rely on bad drama, I’m worried. I don’t want to watch high-stakes final tables where “some scenes have been edited/scripted for your entertainment”.
Kassouf apparently found a friend in fellow Brit, Andrew Christoforou (British players generally seemed to be better equipped to deal with Kassouf) who entered into Kassouf’s banter arena, but I didn’t think Kassouf was very good at it. This exchange, for example:
Kassouf: You should write a book, I’ll buy it.
Christoforou: You’ll have to learn to read first.
Kassouf: Yeah? You’ll have to learn to write first too.
OOOOOH! Zinger! The Saturday Night Live team are on hold waiting for you to contribute to the script.
Benger gave him some back, at which point, Poker Twitter went mental calling him a bastard for doing so.
That was my favourite bit of the footage, that’s the point of enjoying someone like Kassouf on televised poker, because he pokes the bear, and I wanna see him get pawed.
I cannot believe how many people turned on Benger for fighting back, whatever his reasons! What entertainment are you looking for if Kassouf is cool but anyone who reacts to him is a wanker?
If people are scared to react how they want to Kassouf for fear of people turning on them, then they may just shut-up when the cameras are on, and that means Kassouf will be performing a soliloquy, and after a very short time of laughing, it quickly becomes dull.
Ten years on I still enjoy watching the personalities that are Matasow, Tony G, Negreanu and Hellmuth.
Does Kassouf have that level of interactive longevity? Not from where I’m watching, and I’m not blaming him. The original poker characters came to televised poker having no idea what it would bring. Kassouf knew he’d be making a name for himself with his on-camera activity, which is fine in principle, but deprives viewers of a genuine personality to engage with.
Fuck. That. Noise.
Seriously, live poker is already too slow. Yes, the WSOP ME is a two hour clock, but at Kassouf speed that’s about twenty hands per level.
I wouldn’t like to play with him, because it would be one of those very rare occasions I get my headphones out.
He’s really got nothing to say, so I wouldn’t want to chat with him; and I can’t chat with anyone else because the atmosphere is treacle thick and everyone’s in a bad mood.
He gets alpha-male players’ backs-up, so I wouldn’t want to be seen as “on Kassouf’s team” because I’d then have to combat these angry gorillas and I’ve just done my nails.
I’m not joining in with the ganging-up and high-school girl bullying that Kassouf’s presence encourages. Kassouf is bloody annoying, and this brings out the worst in others.
The feature table turned into an absolute bitch-fest with King Of Gorillas Cliff Josephy ring-leading the other little sycophants into some, in my opinion, insidious and nasty behaviour.
In theory, it’s not Kassouf’s fault that they all need to hold eachother’s hands to get into a fight with him, but we all know what happens when you push people.
I hate it when some male players get all ego-war with eachother, puffing chests and cock-measuring and boring the absolute tits off me. It ruins my live game, and it does for a lot of other men and women too; putting people off playing live cannot be good for poker.
If I was at a live table with Kassouf, it would be among the most boring games of my life because I’d be headphoned and listening to podcasts, so I don’t want him at my table, no good there.
If a new player came into a cardroom for the first time, braving the outside after months of playing online and got sat at Kassouf’s table with the noise, the aggro, the bad atmosphere, arguments with players, arguments with the floor and one hand dealt every six minutes, I’m gonna say they’re not that likely to come back.
That’s not much good, is it?
There is always one player who has to take the rules to breaking point.
They will constantly say “I’m not breaking any rules”! They may even have it on a t-shirt.
They will be very comfortable with the room’s rule book, having read it alone in bed when socially tolerable people are fucking.
They are in no aspect interested in the integrity of the game, only finding potential angles for shooting.
They are dickheads and all TDs hate them.
Kassouf rings my TD alarm bells straight away as “but I’m playing within the rules!” is a phrase he used multiple times during the WSOP and in interviews afterwards.
In the last cardroom I operated, there was no written rule that said “players may not shit on the carpet”, but be absolutely certain that had a player opened their bowels on my fire-resistant, double-pile threads, they’d have been DQ’d from that tourney, no warnings, no arguments, no refunds.
Jack Effel has come under fire for the way he handled Kassouf, but anyone who has worked as a TD will have to respect how calm Jack actually was.
When you have 100 players in your care, and there is one who is draining your energy and resources, compromising the experience of others and then pretending they’re totally innocent when you pull them on their behaviour, it makes you want to pick up a chair and smash them in the face.
That Jack issued a fair penalty and then took time later to talk to Kassouf makes him TD of The Universe in my eyes.
I’m not going to imagine a cardroom full of Kassoufs, because it would be the End of Days, but let’s imagine there’s enough Kassouf characters to have one on every table, what would that be like?
It would be like a closed cardroom, because business would be lost as genuine recreational players drop off through boredom of poker nerds arguing about rules whilst they waited to play hands.
In addition to the loss of business, there would be a massive spike in labour costs as (and this had to happen in WSOP2016 on Kassouf’s table) two or three floor staff will need to be at every table, monitoring clocks, penalties and player aggro.
More than one Kassouf per cardroom is not good for poker, if lots of players start copying Kassouf’s behaviour without his intelligence, (and thus even less discernible charm and humour) then the only noise louder than Kassouf’s voice will be the swansong of low-stakes live poker.
Overall, I do not think Kassouf is good for poker, not by himself, or as a template for others to model their poker room behaviour.
He’s not enough.
He’s not clever enough, he’s not funny enough, he’s not engaging enough, he’s not interesting enough; none of what he does is enough.
He’s got the right idea, let’s have more fun, let’s stop pretending poker is serious, let’s have a laugh when we play live, whatever our stakes!
Let’s have an actual laugh though, not just try to convince potential new players that poker has to be one socially inept guy making everyone else feel emotions on the negative spectrum, because it doesn’t, and we all know it.
James Hartigan interview with William Kassouf: