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If you have been watching ESPN’s coverage of the 2016 World Series of Poker, you have probably heard about the controversial penalty received by William Kassouf. Kassouf was one of two players featured during the fourth episode due to their combative chatter at the poker.

Early in the program, Kassouf received a one-round penalty for his antics during a hand against Stacy Matuson. While some believe that he was deserving of the penalty received, others believe that WSOP officials are abusing their authority in issuing said penalties.

Regardless of which side you’re on, it certainly presented one of the most interesting pieces of drama that we’ve seen in a while during a Main Event broadcast.

Kassouf vs. Matuson Compelling Drama to Open Episode

I’ll give producers some credit on opening Episode 4 with the big confrontation between William Kassouf and Stacey Matuson. On a board of 5d-3h-2c-8h-10s, Kassouf had bluff-shoved with 9h-6c. Matuson held Qs-Qd and was at risk for her tournament life.

On the river, Kassouf was talking up a storm and clearly hoping that Matuson would fold. According to Norman Chad, the two were involved in an earlier hand and Kassouf check-shoved on the river with a Straight Flush and started talking up a storm. Matuson folded pocket aces in that instance.

When camera picked up the action, Kassouf had just told Matuson that there was over 600k in the pot and that he “wanted her to call.” This can be considered to be “influencing the action” and the dealer told him he wasn’t allowed to say this.

Afterwards, he starts saying, “You don’t want out with a whole camera crew watching. This will be embarrassing.” Afterwards, he was told to stop speaking and then started talking on three different occasions and gestured once before WSOP TD Jack Effel stepped in. Mitch Garshofsky then calls the clock on Matuson.

Kassouf then decided to make another gesture to say, “You fold, I show,” and Jack Effel warned him. After Matuson folded, Kassouf taunted a bit while raking the pot. Effel then took him aside and told him that Kassouf was “100% taunting” and then announced that Kassouf was on a penalty.

Kassouf wanted to continue defending himself but Effel told him “you’re done explaining” and told him he would get another round if he kept up. Norman Chad believed that the penalty was a bit severe, and there are some that back his stance.


Was Matuson Angle Shooting?

Something that sticks out just as odd to me during all this is the fact that Matuson seems to be advocating for Kassouf to have his hand killed for his excessive chatter. After he tells her that she didn’t want to bust out with the whole camera crew watching, she starts asking, “how come his hand still live” due to all of his talking and trying to influence action.

While one can understand her frustration over him not receiving a penalty for his chatter, there’s nothing in the rules that would allow a dealer or tournament official to kill his hand short of possibly a disqualification. However, this definitely was nowhere near to the point of a DQ.

As such, it almost seems that Matuson was trying to angle-shoot to have his hand killed. Did she really believe that the rules allowed to have the hand killed? It seems odd that someone that runs a dealer school would ask for to have a hand killed in this situation. Is there some random casino rule that allows for such an instance that I don’t know about?

Was Mitch Garshofsky Right to Call the Clock?

Next, was Mitch Garshofsky correct in asking for a clock during this situation. This one is a bit dicey because it is easy to argue both sides. As Lead Tournament Supervisor Charlie Ceresi said, she was at risk for her tournament life and they are all playing for $8 million. (Technically, they were playing for $1 million as the tourney paused in July, but that’s semantics.)

One can also side with Garshofsky that she had taken a long time to make a decision despite the fact that so much was at stake. He did make a valid point that she seemed less interested in her cards and more about getting Kassouf in trouble.

Also, Matuson was not the only person there trying to make the final table. At the point, this happened there were still about 170ish players left in the Main Event. If they were down to the final 50 or so, then yes, I can see giving someone excessive time to think because the money is getting serious.

Who Was Right – Kassouf or Effel?

The question remains, was Effel correct in assessing a penalty to Kassouf? It depends on how you interpret the rules. Under rule #113 for the 2016 WSOP Tournament Rules:

Table Talk / Disclosure: participants are obligated to protect the other participants in the Tournament at all times. Therefore, whether
in a hand or not, participants may not:
a. Disclose contents of live or folded hands.
b. Advise or criticize play at any time.
c. Read a hand that hasn’t been tabled.
d. Discuss strategy with an outside source while involved in a hand.
e. The one-participant-to-a-hand rule mentioned in Rule 111 will be enforced.

Notice that I highlighted 113b regarding Advise or criticize play at any time. One could argue that Kassouf did this on multiple occasions when he told her that he wanted her to call 100%. He also stated how much was in the pot, seemingly to imply that she had pot odds to call.

Now let’s look at rule #116 for Etiquette Violations:

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.

Again, one could argue that his excessive chatter caused a disruption. If multiple officials had to get involved, that seems to clearly indicate a disruption.

Based on the rules, it would seem clear that Effel was in the right to give a penalty for rule violations.

Decision of the Tournament Director is Final

I know both Charlie and Jack on a professional basis and have known both since 2006. Both are fantastic at the job they do and they are typically fair in their decisions. While I may not always agree with their decisions in the past, they do their best to be fair at all times.

Looking at this situation, I think that Charlie tried to be more than fair towards both players and in the end, it was Kassouf’s refusal to cooperate that led to his penalty. Table talk is a part of the game and had he listened when Charlie told him to stop talking, he may have gotten away with a warning.

However, not only would Kassouf not listen to Ceresi but then he pressed his luck against Jack Effel. Jack is a fair TD, but he isn’t the person to push around. Kassouf kept pressing the issue despite being told multiple times to stop talking and it resulted in a penalty.

The decision of a floor person is binding. You can appeal to the Tournament Director, but once he makes a ruling, that’s it. Kassouf wanted to do whatever he could to get her to fold and refused to stop talking and received a penalty.

Ultimately, it had very little impact on Kassouf as he served his penalty and went on to finish 17th.

And Was There More to This Than What We Saw?

From experience and speaking with certain pros in the past, ESPN doesn’t always show or tell everything that happens at the table. For example, back in 2006 when Jeff Lisandro threatened to take Prahlad Friedman’s head off, what the camera’s didn’t show is that over an hour had passed since the ante incident and when Lisandro went off.

I was at a table with Lisandro during the 2007 WSOP and he shared that Friedman had given him flack over the “missed ante” for over an hour before Lisandro threatened to pummel him.

There’s a chance something similar happened in the Kassouf-Matuson incident. Check out this tweet from pro Justin Pechie:

Knowing this, does that change your view of the situation? If he was taunting her for a while leading up to the televised hand, that could have played a factor into the decision of the floor.

We did not hear what was told to the floor before he showed up. Odds are he wasn’t just randomly passing by but rather was called and the cameras followed due to the drama.

Since there appears to be more to this story than what was shown on TV, we may have to take what happened with a grain of salt rather than accepting what was shown in a bubble.

James Guill

James Guill began his poker career in 2006, spending two years traveling the US tournament circuit. Since 2008, he has covered the game extensively for some of the biggest names in the industry. When not writing about the latest poker news, he can be found hunting for antique treasures in Central Virginia.