#260: “Check Your Pockets”

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Last Tuesday, William Kassouf made a public statement about the events surrounding his expulsion from the Grosvenor Casino in Leeds. In it, William says that he was drunk and he made an error of judgement which he greatly regrets and, as a result, he and his sponsor have mutually agreed to part ways.

My personal view is this statement was a whole lot of nothing. No clarification. No admission of what he did. Just empty words, deliberately vague, carefully constructed to mitigate his actions and a laugh out loud attempt to cling onto some ownership of the termination of his sponsorship deal.

Let me be clear. William is not my cup of tea. I never liked his ‘banter’ at the table and I do believe his time-wasting is an affront to good poker etiquette. That said, I always liked William off the tables and I was happy to have him on ‘The Chip Race’ as a guest. He knew ahead of time Dara and I were going to take him on with regard to his stalling, his at times excessive table-talk (particularly when his opponent is in the tank facing a decision) and his buying of a highroller title in Prague. He fought his corner and we had a good-natured debate.

It’s an understatement to say that William has been a polarising figure in poker for several years and while his antics have undoubtedly garnered him large numbers of fans, he’s also made a decent number of high profile enemies. The recent events give those enemies all the ammunition they will ever need to castigate him but what about his fans? Will they stay loyal? Will they forgive? Honestly I hope not. I believe that what he did is unforgivable.

According to William, he had some drinks – too many – and a result, if sources are correct, he stole money from his friend. It has been reported that he used a technique known as ‘palming’ to discreetly take his friend’s hundred pound chips off the table, a move that requires pick-pocketesque sleight of hand and distraction, the latter something William is used to using to maximum effect at the poker table.

Think about that. After a few drinks, William’s moral compass goes so out of whack that he not only steals but steals from his friend. I can understand a fundamentally good person not making the best choices after a few drinks but I can’t imagine a fundamentally good person getting drunk and deciding to put their hand in their friend’s pocket and robbing their wallet. Because in essence, that’s what William did. It’s also noteworthy that he stole his friend’s money using a deft technique that absolutely requires practice, begging the question, when has he practiced palming chips and why has he practiced palming chips? Also, since William is claiming that intoxication was a factor, it’s therefore fair to point out that William has been drunk before. So has he stolen money or chips before? It’s certainly rare that somebody gets caught the first time.

Most of all, I’m saddened by what has happened. Poker struggles with its public image and a public figure doing something like this feeds into the image of poker players as dishonest, untrustworthy degenerates. The vast majority of poker players are inscrutably honest but William has given the public a brush with which to tar us all. He has served a blow to all professional players, many of whom struggle to convince their friends and families that what they do is skillful, legitimate and above board.

While I appreciate that there are some out there who believe in second chances and unfathomable to me, others who think what he did ‘wasn’t that bad’, I cannot give credibility to those views nor do I believe any professional gambler should. William, I assume, will be free to play poker going forward but I believe he should be shunned for what he has done. I know that might seem harsh or even puritanical. Some might say this piece is kicking someone while they are down. All I can say to them is, in my book, stealing from friends is the lowest of the low and anyone who does that is a pariah. I don’t think we can afford to have any other opinion as a community as anything less puts us on a slippery slope to an amoral abyss. Anything else is telling the world that when you’re around a poker player, you need to check your pockets.