It is early in the 2017 poker calendar, so there have been few things that have grasp the attention of the poker world. There’s discussion as to whether the PokerStars Caribbean…whoops!…the PokerStars Championship Bahamas was a success or not (when you have a premier high roller in Paul Newey dissing the offering, you might have a problem) and there’s the Aussie Millions Main Event, which begins Sunday in Melbourne. Beyond that, there’s not much else other than the latest state in the States of America to tease its citizens with online poker regulation. That must be the only reason that the news regarding Stacy Matuson and William Kassouf has gotten so much attention.
After their public tête-à-tête during the 2016 World Series of Poker Championship Event – in which Kassouf, utilizing what has become his increasingly irritating habit of talking every hand up like it’s a decision whether to fire nuclear weapons or not, badgered and berated Matuson during a key hand late in the event – the poker community has drawn up battle lines as to which side they were on. For those who thought Kassouf was out of line with his actions, they’ve found a pleasant person to support in Matuson, who has been around the poker world for some time and built up some goodwill. For those who believe that Kassouf was just “playing the game,” it was an opportunity to cry about how the game of poker has gotten too “politically correct” (sound familiar?). So, what is the logical next step? That’s right…a heads-up match!
Matuson, who will be at the 888Live festival at the King’s Casino in Rozvaodov, Czech Republic to start February, challenged Kassouf to a best-of-three heads up match while she is in the country. Kassouf, who never met a camera he didn’t want to suck up to, accepted the challenge. Here’s the question, however…do we REALLY need to see Matuson and Kassouf play?
It is one of the most boastful things – and usually it never happens – when there’s a dispute online regarding the play of a hand, someone feels their manhood has been assaulted or they are just generally a jerk. “HU for rollz” has arguably become the most typed sentence in an online poker chat room box – exceeded only by the insincerity of “nice hand” – and it usually ends when one player or the other loses their table stake or they are knocked out of the tournament. In live events, it rarely reaches this stage because…well, in public you act like an adult.
To be honest, Kassouf has come off like a massive tool during and since the WSOP. Prior to the 2016 event, his “best achievement” had been a sixth-place finish at the 2009 Irish Open (a $133K score). EVERY OTHER FLAG Kassouf had on his Hendon Mob resume prior to the 2016 WSOP were in the four or five-digit range, with the largest one a $32K win on the Grosvenor UK Poker Tour in 2014. So it isn’t like Kassouf was lighting up the European poker scene prior to his “moment in the spotlight” in Las Vegas last summer. (Add in his “bought” win in the final High Roller event at the European Poker Tour event in Prague in December and the “tool factor” rises to immaculate levels.)
Matuson shouldn’t escape scrutiny here, either. What purpose does it serve her to keep this “rivalry” going on? She’s well respected in the poker community, she pretty much had the “people’s support” on her side after the WSOP and, by being the one to make the challenge, comes off as the aggressor in the situation rather than the aggrieved. She could have just sat back and waited until the next time her path crossed with Kassouf, bust him there and get even more attention and glory…instead, she chose to unnaturally push the issue now.
Finally, what does it say about us in the poker community? We continually state we want the game of poker to be taken seriously as a “mind sport” or whatever your particular vernacular would be, but then we support things like this (and other “prop betting”) that make those in the game of poker look like sideshow freaks rather than accomplished members of society. We want to get more women in the game, but then we promote someone such as Kassouf who denigrated a woman at the table AND FURTHER REWARD HIM by letting him buy championships and probably go even further into his “speech play” in this heads-up match than what he did previously. We want to hold ourselves to a higher standard but it seems we always end up sinking to the depths of depravity.
This carnival act – along with the vitriolic heads up battle that is forthcoming between Cate Hall and Mike Dentale (and there’s some TRUE animosity between that twosome) – isn’t something that poker should be promoting. Sure, it’s entertaining in that “train wreck” sort of way, but it does nothing to advance the game or the people that populate it. Thus, when the Matuson/Kassouf and Hall/Dentale matches are being streamed online, I won’t be watching. And, if you’re a TRUE poker fan, you’ll ignore the circus also because we really don’t need this to be the focus from those in the “mainstream” world.