Episode 189: William Kassouf

William Kassouf will be familiar to you if you’ve been watching the World Series of Poker on ESPN. His constant chatter attracted plenty of attention and controversy during the final days of the Main Event. In this interview, we discuss his background in poker, how he evolved his unique style, the method behind his madness, and whether his behavior is really within the rules.

Timestamps

0:30 Hello & Welcome
18:29 Strategy
41:25 William Kassouf

Strategy

$2/$5 No-Limit Hold ‘Em

HJ ($2000) opens to $20. Hero ($1200) raises to $40 with Kd Kh. Button ($2000) calls, as does the small blind ($1500).

Flop ($160): 5d 6c 7h. SB checks, HJ checks, Hero bets $60, only SB calls.

Turn ($280): 3d. SB bets $150. Hero calls.

River ($580) 4d. SB bets $425. Hero?

40 thoughts on “Episode 189: William Kassouf

  1. William Kassouf keeps saying he has not broke any rules. How about this rule:

    46. Any participant who taunts another participant through theatrics or gestures or engages in any form of inappropriate behavior intended
    to disrupt other players in the tournament will be subject to penalty in accordance with Rules 39, 107 and 108.

    He was clearly taunting his opponent.

    • I agree, but I’m sure he would argue (in fact, believe he did argue) that he wasn’t taunting. I’ve only seen the Matuson hand, but as I tried to point out to him, it’s obvious that his “you fold, I show” gesture didn’t serve any communicative value, as he’d already told her that at least ten times.

  2. This is the third interview with Kassouf that I’ve listened to and I think this one revealed the most about his character, although being the third time I’ve put up with his spiel it may have just reinforced my opinion on him.
    He seems unable to realise that his behaviour goes beyond what’s acceptable, repeatedly saying that others were allowed to speak when he wasn’t, and portraying himself as the victim.
    He also wrongly states that he has been supported by the majority on various forums (I think he said 90% support?), but the truth is he has rather thin support from a minority on the forums that I’ve visited.
    He has obvious sociopathic traits and his talk in this interview, repeating the same things while skirting the questions, gave me a headache.

    • My reaction precisely. At times I felt like I was listening to a certain U.S. presidential candidate.

      Nate and Andrew did an admirable job.

  3. Every single sport has rules that are meant to enforce the spirit of the law, for good reason. When I go play pickup basketball, I could choose to loudly berate whoever I’m guarding. I could commit some “grey area” pickup fouls, mock and taunt my opponent constantly, and just generally push the social boundaries to the point where everyone playing would become uncomfortable. This might help me win a single game, but the victim would probably just stop playing after a while. Eventually, I’ll acquire a reputation, and I’m going to have troubling finding a team to play with. In some strange universe where everyone (or even a tenth of the players!) played like this, basketball would acquire a nasty reputation and eventually pickup games would just dry up.

    That’s why we have both unwritten rules (social norms) and written ones (technical fouls) to enforce the spirit of the game. I loved hearing Nate and Andrew push Kassouf on this.

    Even if you’re only motivated to be nice for monetary gain – off the top of my head (thinking of old thinking poker podcast guests), pretend you’re a rich recreational player and consider the difference between this guy and someone like Chad Power at the table. Who are you sticking around to gamble with?

    • Well said. The problem with tournaments is that you don’t get to choose your opponents, except maybe in the very broad sense of “I’m never going back to the WSOP, there are some real assholes there.” But it’s not like being obnoxious can cost you action in the same direct way that it can in a cash game.

  4. It’ll be interesting see how the opinion of Kassouf changes after this weekend’s shows hit the air. As a TV producer I was delighted to have him on the show (and I do believe he honestly loves the game, enjoys the limelight, and is a good person). As a poker player, I would be depressed to discover his name on my table draw. The biggest issue, as I think you guys will see soon, is not his table talk — it’s his stalling. Nate brought this up in the intro to the podcast re: the tragedy of the commons, but it becomes an explicit issue on Day 7 because of how long he takes to make decisions: both because of his speech play and his general lack of respect for the tournament clock.

    When they’re down to 27 players, and one table (Kassouf’s) gets way fewer hands per level, that’s a distinct disadvantage. For hard numbers, digest this: Kassouf’s table played 26 hands during the day’s second level. By contrast, the secondary table played 40 hands in the same level. There’s a degree of variance in this for sure, but a large part of that was due to one single player’s obsession with eating up the clock in several ways: a) taking 15-20 seconds before looking at his cards; b) trying to engage in table talk to gain information; c) calculated attempts to put opponents on tilt by drawing out betting decisions/counting chips. The conversation around Kassouf has centered on (b), but it’s the other forms of stalling that indicate his worst breaches of poker etiquette.

    I don’t mind if he talks to me, taunts me, or tries to get a read. Just do it quickly, please. The clock is ticking.

    • Thanks very much for this comment, Zach. 26 hands in 120 minutes is waaaay low, even for the WSOP ME (which tends to run slower than other events in my experience).

  5. This was a great podcast! Guys, I’ve been listening since the first one, but this is a real standout, great job! It was refreshing to hear Kassouf have to reckon with people with real debate skills and an ability to not get rattled during his litany. I really wonder if there’s something of the autistic/asperger’s spectrum in his behavior; he seems to either not be able to feel the impact he’s having on others, or he really gets off on it.

    I’m really bummed that you got wrapped around the nationalistic axle, because the conversation really could have turned to WHY this gets to American players so much: it’s amazing how easily Kassouf tilts so many players, and that really should be discussed. In the eyes of the wider world of poker, we Americans look effete and delicate when we can’t take the ramblings of an almost-drunken Brit. If he gets to you and he takes your chips, then you deserve to lose them.

    Competition is competition. If some of his aspects of play really do hurt the game, then it should be straightforward to write the rule that defends the game from that (I think a timing rule is definitely something worth considering). Otherwise, it’s high time American players got thicker skins and learned how to deal with a little friendly banter–hell, Americans should learn to deal with a little UNFRIENDLY banter. Seriously, if he rattles you, he rattles YOU, and that’s on you. I’m afraid that if we keep going down the sunglasses and hoodies path, the game will continue to be much less fun, and much less viable as an occupation.

    • Nationalism? Are you serious? If it touches upon that, then its how americans live in a country where there is the rule of law, where the soccer players who reel on the ground grabbing their leg and play again 5 minutes later are held in extremely low regard. Basketball floppers like the argentinian idiot for the SA spurs also are not held in high regard by americans – because they prefer that they – AND THEIR OPPONENTS – follow the rules. His juvenile, repetitious comments and childish taunting have no place in a legit tournament.

  6. I am an avid listener of your podcasts and although I enjoy all of them this was by far my favorite so far. Talking while in a heads up pot should have no limitations (unless this talk is harassment; name calling ect.). I believe, from what we have seen on TV, he was just using word play to have his opponents question themselves. Thinking back, I believe a lot of Phil helmuths berating of players were far worse. Is it ok to berate only if you lose a pot? Phils antics IMO were more relative to “taunting” then Williams. But at the same time I do understand where the WSOP tournament director was coming from. This is an event they went people to continue to attend. Although I know one player won’t destroy the turn out, it could easily turn a certain type of player away.

    Could he have turned down the table talk slightly, absolutely. But if his table talk is continuing to help him win pots it’s hard to tell a player to stop, especially when the rule isn’t it specific words and just being interpreted by whomever is enforcing said rule.
    Thanks for the time and really asking difficult questions to William and not just letting him explain himself but to also put up a debate with him on the subject.

  7. I have listened to both this interview and the one from two plus two, as well as watching the WSOP shows. I have tried to like William for bringing some chat to the tables, but the more I hear the worse it gets. You did your best to ask interesting questions and challenge his views on some of the points he feels strongly about.

    But the non stop verbal diarrhoea is just draining, he repeats the same points again and again (which takes away much of impact from them) and I found myself shouting at the podcast in the car when he failed to answer a question; and just brought up how Casey was asking for his hand to be made dead, Jack said he had broken no rules etc.

    He just would not stop and has no idea that there should be a balance between talking to get information and a constant barrage to your opponent. Even the hands he is not in, where he is calling for cards, he seems to be trying to get tv time. Personally although it makes no difference, players calling for cards when not in the hand has always seemed disrespectable to me.

    I guess as a Brit I feel a bit embarrassed by his actions, slow players are frustrating at the best of times, but he seems to bring it to a whole new level. Compare him to someone like Sam Grafton, who talks a lot at the table, does not slow the game down and plays at a high level – that’s someone who gets a better balance of entertaining, but not annoying.

    Always enjoy the podcast and you get some great guests and it was probably right to have William on, but I for one hope his 15 minutes of fame has come to an end.

  8. I would be interested to hear y’all opinion on the difference between William’s table talk and Hellmuth’s eruptions. (Not talking about the stalling, just the banter.)

    • Hellmuth’s _eruptions_, as far as I can tell, are the behaviors of someone who just can’t control himself and really, really wants to win and really, really thinks he deserves to. Of course, he sometimes gets out of line and abusive, and deserves to be penalized for that. Will’s behavior is different along a few dimensions: he doesn’t seem to regret it, he seems to plan it out, and it’s much more frequent / consistent than Hellmuth’s. Also, importantly, his fellow players seem to get far less of a kick out of it.

  9. Also, from pokernews here:
    https://www.pokernews.com/news/2016/09/william-kassouf-penalty-pokernews-debate-25888.htm

    “116. Etiquette Violations: Repeated etiquette violations will result in the imposition of penalties assessed by the Tournament Staff. Examples include, but are not limited to, unnecessarily touching other participants’ cards or chips, body, or clothing, delay of the game, repeatedly acting out of turn, betting out of reach of the dealer or excessive chatter. Excessive chatter includes, but is not limited to, talking or conversation that causes a disruption of participants who are in a hand.”

  10. I feel like the issue really is one of the “cumulative effect” versus any particular thing he did. In that you can’t really point at one particular thing and say that is totally out of line but it all just adds up to the point there needs to be some pushback. Maybe there needs to be a rule where the player can ask for silence at the dealers discretion after some period of allowing them to talk heads up.

  11. Also, on the issue about Americans vs. Brits: towards the end of the podcast when Andrew & Nate asked him point-blank why he implied there was American bias against Brits, he started to go back to the Matuson table (where it’s true there may in fact have been nothing but U.S. players), but in the middle of the interview when he initially brought it up, he was talking about his Day 7 table (the second — and much more contentious — time Jack Effel was brought over). During this part of the discussion, Kassouf claimed he was “the only Brit at the table.” The truth, as you’ll see on Sunday, is that the player with the biggest bone to pick against him was Matt Moss, an English pro (who lives in Macau now).

    Kassouf also said there were no other Europeans, but he was seated directly to the right of Belgian tournament director Kenny Hallaert. Across the table sat his other vocal detractor, Canadian pro Michael Niwinski. Then, after a re-balance, another Canadian (Griffin Benger) showed up and had the most direct aggression towards Kassouf. So it’s interesting how in hindsight he’s put it together in his mind that it was 8 Americans ganging up on him, when in fact it was whoever was at his table that got fed up with his antics. For some, he may actually have been successfully getting them out of their comfort zone and on tilt; but for others, they played well against him but were just frustrated by his stalling.

    I love that there’s a polarizing figure in poker to get people to talk about key aspects of the game (speech play, tanking/stalling/clock management, rule enforcement, and nationalist attitudes), and I think it’s been good not just for our WSOP shows but for all the other discussion on Twitter, forums, and especially this TP interview — which was easily the best and most thorough of any Kassouf interview to date. The man is quite a character in his own right, but the debate surrounding him has revealed a lot about both who he is as a person and some of the most important issues facing the poker community today.

    • Thanks again for bringing your perspective and experience to this, Zach. I imagine there aren’t many tables these days, especially deeper in the event, that have as many as 8 Americans!

      I do find myself fondly recalling memories of Brits in Las Vegas quietly disapproving of “coffeehousing” at the table. (Some Googling suggests that as disapproval of the practice has faded, so has the term itself fallen out of use!)

  12. Great podcast as always. As sad as I am to see this year’s WCOOP in the rear view, it’s nice to have you guys back doing your thing. Kassouf is certainly an interesting character. As much as I agree with him that poker would be well served by encouraging more of the social/speech play behaviour at the tables, I can’t imagine that I would enjoy playing with someone like him.

    I like how much you guys pressed him, and found that Will incessantly repeating himself, much like many who realize they can’t intelligently defend themselves, was a naked attempt to trump the issue by talking in circles. It is funny to me (as a Canadian) that he fixates so much on Jack Effel’s exact words and the exact wording of the rules, when it is written into our law (directly descended from British law) that the spirit of the law overrules the details of the law when the two are in conflict. Regardless, I do hope to see him around the scene in the future, if for no other reason than to bluff him and show him nine high like a boss.

  13. Great podcast as usual but that guy was so annoying. His final monologue must have been 3,000 words- all 7 word phrases connected randomly and repeatedly. Awful. I just wish you would have cut him off after about a minute of that drivel.

    Keep up the good work otherwise.

  14. Just wanted to say what an excellent job Nate did. He was polite, never took the side of the “haters” or said they were correct, but pointed out very directly what he was doing wrong, and why he WAS actually breaking the rules.

    All that being said, WK still doesn’t get it.

    • Thanks! I’m glad that people seemed not to think that we brought him on the show just to ambush him or something. But it’s valuable to discuss the issues; as Zach says above, they’re pretty important ones in poker right now.

  15. Thanks for another excellent episode. And thanks for analyzing my hand! It honestly felt ages ago since I (horrendously) played that hand soon after I transitioned to 2-5 NL. When I heard my name come up and saw that it was my hand that was being analyzed my immediate thought was, “oh damn, this is going to be painful.” And it was. I did learn quite a bit since then (especially about bet sizing and playing with 300 BB stacks), but once again, you guys pointed out a number of other flaws, as well as lines of thought, that I failed to notice. Poker is hard!

    Thanks again for serving me a nice thick slice of humble pie. My ego aches, but I know it’s good for the soul.

  16. Great job, guys. You handled this admirably and were able to find a way to deal with a difficult subject matter and guest in a very classy way. So kudos to you both!

    After listening to this interview, I can’t help but wonder if Kassouf really has as much control over his so-called “speech talk” as he claims. From the way he spoke in the interview, it seems like this style of speech is much more a product of his personality and less a planned type of strategy. I’d be surprised if he really could tone this down at will.

    I can’t believe that he again in this interview referred to himself as a “victim.” The only victims where the poor players who payed 10k to end up sitting at a table being assaulted with an onslaught of words. I will never again be able to hear the word “coconuts” without cringing.

  17. It does seem that Jack Effel and the other WSOP floors did a very poor job of explaining to Kassouf what he was doing wrong.

    That said, it is hard to explain how his chatter is an etiquette violation — and Kassouf would quite possibly not understand a good explanation anyway!

    It reminds me of the US Supreme Court obscenity definition – “I know it when I see it”.

  18. There’s such a fine line between cheating/breaking rules and exploiting rules. For example “Angle Shooting”. Doing something that is not technically breaking a rule but is still against the spirit of fair play and honarable intentions.

    Example:
    I’m playing a Venetian tourney, on the river Player 1 take his stack of chips and pushes them forward. Player 2 says I call. Player 1 then says “oh I didn’t cross the betting line.” Technically this is true, however in the spirit of the game it was completely obvious he was angle shooting, floor was called and before the floor could rule the outrage of the other players convinced Player 1 to just concede his attempt at angling and give up the pot.

    I call that cheating. Some don’t. I don’t see any difference between William’s abuse of the rules and Angle Shooting in its many various forms. He knows what he is doing is against the spirit of the game but instead justifies it by “doing whatever it takes to win.” Sorry that’s just bullshit. He might as well be motioning forward with his chips, doing things like saying “I’ll make it……..check” and all the other random angle shooting bullshit people try if he’s going to talk ceaselessly and purposefully kill clock time every hand. Players like him are quite simply poor sports, and its really up to the players to call the floor the second the antics start and shut him down. Unfortunately like so many cases of rule abuse that’s an impossibility and he will continue to get away with it likely forever.

    • I don’t think he is aware (in practice, perhaps he is in theory) that the total affect of his behaviors is qualitatively different then any single act. He just thinks if each act is allowed (or at least would be let go if another player did them) and the other players can’t take it then what he is doing isn’t wrong. In his view, he is just doing a bunch of things that are individually allowed and if the total affect of those things puts another player on tilt it is their problem not his. Of course this is just my opinion.

  19. I think people covered it pretty well:

    – Nate and Andrew did a great job of holding his feet to the fire, but in a polite way
    – He embarassed me as a Brit
    – I found myself shouting out loud at the podcast
    – I don’t believe many of his justifications, his appeals to authority, or the mud he was slinging about everyone else involved
    – That said, the floor seem not to have covered theirselves in glory either

    This wasn’t an easy listen, but I think it marked your maturity as hosts really well.

  20. There may be a point worth further discusiion, in Kassouf’s arguments. Towards the end, he claims that in the UK, rules were changed recently to allow for free table talk unless is it explicitly abusive. If this is true, has a cultural difference evolved between UK and US, whereby in the UK you are freer to speak on the poker table than here? If so, is it possibly because on this side of the pond, a general approach has settled in whereby people can׳t deal well with being spoken to uninvited? Are we a less tolerant people than we claim to be? I’m not claiming that Kassouf’s actions are good for the game, but he may be right that in a UK context he would be well within the rules. Having said this, were I heads up with him, and he were speaking while I tank, I would request silence to think for a while. But I don’t think you should be penalized for acting like an ass. To each his own I say.

  21. Nate and Andrew, thanks for another good show. Your interview addressing Mr. Kassouf’s speech play and the discussion here highlights important elements of poker outside of the card-playing itself.

    “You can not declare to your opponent that you’ll (truthfully) fight him standing on one foot. It’s not fair to your opponent.” That’s the logic of the rule was used to justify protecting card players from “being taken advantage of” when one player deliberately exposes her own card to an opponent in a heads-up confrontation. What’s next: you can not declare that you made a big comeback, just got even, and this is the last hand you plan on playing? We must protect all players from having information being revealed to them!

    The purpose of the game is to cause your opponents to make mistakes based on the incomplete information with which they must decide. Imagine a rule which penalizes a player for giving his opponent more information. Who would want to discourage one’s opponent from revealing hidden information about her opponent’s hand?

    Are you ready for more entertaining poker coverage without suffering through diatribes or excessive celebrations . . . just take away this absurd rule and see how revealing information will make watching poker more entertaining. Cleverly revealing information may very well get an opponent to do something she should not do. But doesn’t that make our experience more fun? Isn’t better to be able to use a clever card show to make an opponent do something she is more likely to do after having more information revealed to her?

    Do we want the rules of play to created this sterilized environment? Do you know of a home game, a game in the back of a bar, or a game played around a campfire where exposing a card incurs a penalty? Who among us wouldn’t want our opponent to show us a card?

    Since we are playing a game based on concealing information, penalizing revealing information takes away from the spirit of the game. Prohibiting the turning over of one’s own cards decreases the entertainment of watching poker, and makes the game less fun and interesting. Why would we stand by and allow something that makes poker less interesting and less fun? Shouldn’t all of us want this rule changed?

    Banning talk in a heads-up pot is a similar mistake. If a person is interfering with a player’s ability to think, that player need only ask the person or the dealer to let him think, and that’s the end of the talking. If it persists then, we can talk about penalizing someone. We should focus on allowing these fun parts of poker to thrive, while taking much greater steps to penalize someone for unnecessarily delaying the game instead.

    Each of us should speak up when there’s a $270 river bet and the player with $300 remaining is thinking for more than one minute. Its ruining the game. Its deterring the people who like to gamble the most from playing. It taking the fun out of watching poker hands. Here’s where the penalty focus should begin: taking more than five seconds to look at your cards when the action is on you is an easy place to start.

    • Excellent comment & well said Mr. Lawyer. I’m not so super excited for a poker vision of endless dark hoodies & rainbow mirrored Ray Bans & earbuds. Will Kassouf was pretty grating. But I’ll take the good with the bad and say He’ll Yes to whomever wants to expose me a card.

    • I told Negreanu years ago after watching The Main Event Final Table for the final time, that they needed something like a chess clock for each player. They would be allotted a certain amount of time to act. When it is their turn, they hit the button, the sand falls, your time ticks away. When you act, you hit the button and the sand stops. If you run out of sand, i.e. time, you are eliminated. The stare downs, the phony thinking must stop. It forced me to stop watching poker altogether. Also, I have to mute Esfiandiari, whose inane comments tortured me to no end. The torture continues when one wonders how someone as limited in both approach and intelligence has done so well. There must be some time limit imposed, at least at the final table when it is more readily set up. Until that is done, they are down one person in the ratings.

  22. Given his acknowledgement that, any time an opponent would ask him directly to be quiet, he would, it seems that the natural counter to talking during every hand is asking him to be quiet every hand, no?

  23. The interview had great entertainment value. His rant at the end was breathtaking.

    Not much substance, but couldnt stop smiling as I listened.
    He’s smart, and cocky, and behind his smile he knows exactly how he affects people at the table. It’s a talent, but dang, so annoying.

  24. Finally got around to this one. I just finished it and I feel like I’ve heard it 5 times. I was so glad that after sitting through this for almost 2 hours, I found the little gem in the last 2 minutes. That made it all worth it.

  25. I like this guy even less after hearing his interview. He talks in circles and takes no responsibility for his actions. He is selfish. He doesn’t care how his actions hurt the game as long as it helps him. He tries to make everyone else look like the bad guy when he is the problem. He takes satisfaction in causing problems for everyone else. While he was entertaining in small doses on TV he is bad for poker.

    I couldn’t listen to the last 15 minutes because the guy can’t shut up and his talk is pointless. Did you ever consider giving him a 5 minute mute button penalty? Even a 20 minute mute for his first infringement would have been acceptable under the under utilized ‘integrity of the podcast’ rule.

    This was the best interview you guys have done. I was glad to hear you guys, particularly Nate, finally take a stand against someone who is clearly out of line.

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