Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Judgment Calls

Been watching the 2016 World Series of Poker Main Event coverage on ESPN again which finally got going a week-and-a-half ago. There have been four episodes thus far, picking up the action on Day 4 (post-bubble) and now already around halfway through Day 5 with just 140 players left.

This week’s episodes featured a ton of table talk, thanks largely to Alex Keating being on the feature table where he was engaging everyone fairly constantly, and William Kassouf drawing the cameras’ attention at other tables.

A bit of buzz this week over Kassouf’s performance, in particular in a couple of hands with Stacy Matuson. Both involved Kassouf pushing all in and putting Matuson to a test for the rest of her stack, and in both cases -- after an avalanche of disorienting chatter from Kassouf -- she folded (once correctly, once after being bluffed).

I remember when these hands happened back in July, in particular the one following which Kassouf was actually given a one-round penalty by WSOP tournament director Jack Effel for “taunting” (as Effel described it).

Following it online at the time over Twitter and then via the hand report on WSOP.com, an admittedly partial view of the affair. Seemed perhaps as though Kassouf must have crossed some not-so-obvious line somewhere with his behavior, but it was hard to say.

The way things were shown on ESPN revealed more of the interaction, but it remains incomplete evidence for those of us who weren’t there. Indeed, even the two hands featured between Kassouf and Matuson are only partially shown, with the action only being picked up postflop when the “speech play” (as Kassouf refers to his table table) began in earnest.

It’s interesting following some of the belated back-and-forthing about it happening thanks to the ESPN coverage finally being shown (here, some two months later). Deservedly or not, Kassouf is clearly being set up to fill the “villain” role for ESPN right through to the final table which starts in late October.

Hard for me to make any profound judgments about those Kassouf-Matuson hands, though, or about how the WSOP staff chose to respond to them. From afar I want to say everything we witnessed is “part of the game” and shouldn’t be proscribed, but who knows, really? Just too much we can’t see or be sure about here -- including a lot of obviously relevant context -- although that doesn’t make the speculating any less interesting.

Kind of like how poker works -- we know what we can see, and have to guess about a lot else.

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