Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Travel Report: EPT13 Malta, Day 6 -- Star Turn

Day 2 of the European Poker Tour Malta Main Event played out today. There were 468 starters in the €5,300 buy-in event (including the few who late regged at the start of play today), and from that group 90 have made it through to Wednesday’s Day 3.

One player who didn’t get to tomorrow was William Kassouf. He started today at the feature table and garnered a bit of time on EPT Live, but busted relatively early in the day in a three-way all-in. Despite the involvement in the hand of another short stack, Vladimir Troyanovskiy, who was in there with pocket deuces, the hand nonetheless uncannily recalled Kassouf’s 17th-place bustout from this summer’s World Series of Poker Main Event, as he once again ran pocket kings into an opponent’s pocket aces (this time Brian Altman was the winner).

I’ve now had a chance to see this week’s ESPN episodes of the WSOP Main Event which carried things down from 21 players to the final nine, setting up the restart that finally comes this Sunday. Many here in Malta have seen them by now, too, or at least the end of Episode 13 featuring Kassouf’s knockout at the hands of Griffin Benger (who went on to make the final nine).

Heard some table talk about the hand and situation surrounding it today, and while it’s all just a tiny anecdotal sampling it does seem as though many are “siding” with Kassouf (if this must be set up as an either/or-type debate, which it shouldn’t be), finding his behavior not nearly as objectionable as that of some of the other players who played with him on that Day 7 this summer, Benger included.

I mentioned a few days ago meeting Kassouf and finding him a friendly, likeable dude. He’s certainly drawn attention to himself in tournaments here with his table talk and gregarious demeanor, but over the course of a long eight- or 10-hour day of poker the “Kassouf experience” it isn’t quite the same as the distilled, highlight reel version shown on ESPN. He’s silent for significant periods when not in hands, and frankly when he does talk it doesn’t seem all that remarkable other than by the contrast he provides with the majority of players who these days choose to remain silent when they play hands.

There was one funny moment late on Day 1b, I recall, when an older French player said to Kassouf that “each ante is... like a movie to you.” The table broke up in laughter, and Kassouf grinningly responded “and you are part of the production!”

Kassouf is obviously very comfortable in the spotlight amid this “star turn” he's found himself taking our strange little poker world. Others have made that observation to me this week, in each case punctuating it with some version of “more power to him” for doing so.

At the start of the ESPN episode that concluded with Kassouf’s knockout and the genuinely startling, emotional eruption by Griffin Benger that preceded it, Lon McEachern and Norman Chad in their introduction once again highlighted Kassouf as the central character of the drama. In fact the show started with a whole montage of Kassouf moments interspersed with an awkward-seeming sit down between him and WSOP Tournament Director Jack Effel.

“Will Kassouf is the most polarizing player of the 21 remaining,” said McEachern, and in his rejoinder Chad ticked off a list of adjectives to describe the British pro: “Too disruptive, too disrespectful, too distasteful, and too damn slow,” said Chad.

Once again making the disclaimer I’ve made before here that all we get is what we see in these sculpted, abbreviated versions of reality shown in each WSOP episode, I can’t say I agree with Chad’s list. Sure, in certain hands he’s been shown to have played “too damn slow.” Whether his play is “disruptive” or not is debatable -- as I’ve said, watching him perform here in Malta, that does not at all seem to be the case. Meanwhile “disrespectful” and “distasteful” seem even further off-base, although I suppose differing views can exist.

The Benger-Kassouf hand was incredibly interesting to watch, though, particularly because Benger had only briefly been covered at all during any of the episodes -- and never playing with Kassouf -- making his transformation in the hand from a silent statue to a raving maniac all the more astonishing to see. Kassouf’s reaction was fascinating as well, as was both players’ trumpeting before the community cards came that it didn’t matter how the hand ended, each felt as though he’d “won.”

If his pocket aces were to be cracked by Kassouf’s kings, says Benger, “it doesn’t matter -- he’s still miserable, I’m happy.” Meanwhile Kassouf says “you can’t take it... you let it get to you, you’re losing it.” Both knew the cards had essentially played themselves in the hand, but they were continuing on with another, different game in which the result of the hand wasn’t relevant.

If you haven’t seen it, someone has carved it out and posted it on YouTube. Even without having sat through the many weeks’ worth of previous episodes, it’s something to see:

In the end, I think neither of the two deserve much criticism here. It was an unusual moment for sure, and poker would be way too stressful to tolerate were it always played this way. But obviously it isn’t, which is why the hand was remarkable.

Back to business here in Malta for tomorrow’s Day 3. Check your privilege if you like, but also check the PokerStars blog.

Photo: courtesy Neil Stoddart / PokerStars blog.

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