Seventeen players remain on Day 7 of the 2016 World Series of Poker Main Event. Former chip leader William Kassouf losses a pot with pocket aces that drops him below the chip average for the first time since the start of the day. The talkative Brit is down, but not out. 20 minutes later, Griffin Benger opens, Kassouf three-bets, Benger four-bets, and Kassouf goes into the tank. Speech play gets a few more minutes of camera time and then Benger combats Kassouf’s commentary with brute force.
Seven days of tension had boiled over. Instead of “monkey nuts,” “coconuts,” “nine-high like a boss,” and other lines destined for novelty poker shirts, there was “rude,” “bully,” “verbal abuse,” and an instruction to “Check your privilege.”
Kassouf five-bet shoved with kings, Benger emphatically called with aces. A tournament-defining pot played out with Benger pumping his fists at the crowd, while Kassouf was silenced for the first time since the ESPN cameras picked him up on Day 5.
In today’s usually high-thinking, low-emotion game, Benger vs. Kassouf doesn’t happen. Hands play out with tactical precision and eery silence, not verbal warfare. They conclude with players adjusting their chairs and stacking their chips, not doing a victory lap with a puffed out chest. For a moment, an analytical game became barbaric. For a moment, poker was sportified.
When you watch the hand live, your imagination starts to wander. What if every hand of poker was like this?
Then you watch Benger pace around the table, while Kassouf short circuits as he tries to figure out a way to save face. Benger shouts about how Kassouf is cooler than he is and how the outcome of this hand doesn’t matter. Meanwhile, Kassouf is left wondering if there are any kings about. There aren’t. The aces hold and later that night, Benger confirms his spot in the November Nine.
After the third or fourth time you watch the hand, you snap back to reality. Thank god every hand of poker isn’t like that.
You realize those are Benger’s emotions talking. That he is caught in the moment, again. You realize Kassouf created speech play for this exact moment. That it almost worked, again. You realize the Main Event is filled with exciting and passionate moments every year, but that as long as the WSOP Main Event continues, we may never see anything like Benger vs. Kassouf again. You also realize, we may never want to see anything like that again.
Benger opens the fateful episode highlighting his clash with Kassouf with a voice over.
“The eliminated become footnotes, those who advance can write history.”
The line is simple, but not entirely correct. Those that advanced did continue to write history, but unlike the other 6,728 players that were eliminated before the November Nine, William Kassouf is not a footnote. For better or for worse, Kassouf was the tournament’s defining personality and for better or for worse, Benger vs. Kassouf defined the 2016 WSOP Main Event.