When you put thousands of competitive poker players in one convention hall, all playing for a piece of a multi-million dollar prize pool, there is bound to be some clashes and controversy.
That’s especially true for an event as pressure-packed as the World Series of Poker Main Event where there is so much on the line. If a player makes the wrong move at the wrong time their dreams of standing beside heaps of cash while brandishing the Main Event bracelet will be dashed (at least until next year.)
With so much at stake, the pressure to perform is at an all-time high. Not just for the players either, the dealers and floor staff have crucial decisions to make and if it’s a bad one the fate of those in the tournament may be at risk.
So, keep your focus, keep your cool and keep your cards protected or you might end up on a list of five of the most controversial moments from the WSOP Main Event.
Koroknai kills his hand
Deep into Day 5 of the 2012 WSOP Main Event, France’s Gaelle Baumann opened a hand with a min-raise from under the gun. It folded around to Hungary’s Andras Koroknai in the small blind and he shipped his remaining stack. Poker pro Gavin Smith, in the big blind, folded and the action was back to Baumann. It looked like, with roughly only 100 players left, that this was going to be a big moment. And it was, but for the wrong reasons.
Koroknai, not having seen that Baumann was in the hand at all, thinking he was only shipping blind on blind – tossed his cards in the muck.
Once he noticed the situation he quickly tried to retrieve his cards, but it was too late…he couldn’t positively pull the cards and so he was essentially all-in with a dead hand.
The floor was called and after some confusion the ruling came back that Koroknai would not be forced to forfeit his stack, just the chips that amounted to a call of Baumann’s initial raise. Some would argue that it was Koroknai’s responsibility to know the situation, some argued that it was clearly not an angle so elimination from the tournament was not a valid solution.
Baumann, denied the opportunity to play the hand out, was reportedly holding pocket kings. In a cruel twist, Koroknai eventually eliminated Baumann in 10th place, making her the stone bubble for the 2012 November Nine.
Watch your hands
Speaking of the accidental mucking of hands, Estelle Denis was faced with a nightmare scenario during the 2009 WSOP Main Event while sitting in the nine seat.
Two-time bracelet winner JC Tran put out a bet of 32K. When the action was on Denis, she shipped her remained 142K in chips, ready to see if she could get a much needed double up. The dealer then, inexplicably, casually reaches behind the shove and swipes Denis’ cards and pulls them into the muck. Denis, shocked, alerted the dealer who asked her if she “protected her cards?” to which she replied that she was “all in!”
Beside herself, Denis gets up and tells the floor person what her cards were. If he was able to retrieve the cards from the top of the muck, she was going to be allowed to continue. Unfortunately for Denis, the cards the floor pulled did not match her described hand.
The ruling was that she was forced to forfeit the 32K that Tran raised and her hand was dead.
“It’s a joke,” said Denis. “I had two aces!”
On the bright side, Denis still finished in 203rd place for $36,626.
Check this out
During the 2016 Main Event, William Kassouf had gotten under the skin of just about everyone in the Amazon room. His constant tanking, his non-stop “speech play” and regular rotation of one-liners had helped the London based pro become the centerpiece of ESPN’s coverage. He was one of the most controversial characters to hit the Main Event in years.
Despite having taken a penalty earlier in the Main Event, Kassouf was in full form when he got involved on the feature table with Toronto poker pro and part-time poker commentator Griffin Benger. The hand was a massive cooler for Kassouf as his pocket kings were about to run into Benger’s aces. But before the money got in the middle, Kassouf spent a good deal of time fishing for info from Benger who sat silent and motionless.
Kassouf, relentless, continued to prod, looking for Benger to crack.
Eventually Benger did crack and the pair engaged in a verbal spar for the ages. One where Benger accused Kassouf of verbally abusing him and also, likely regretfully, demanding that Kassouf to “check his privilege.”
Kassouf shoved, Benger snapped. Both parties continued to jaw at each other. The board ran out insignificant as Benger’s aces held and Kassouf hit the payout cage in 17th place for over $338,000.
Mike’s in the middle
Mike “The Mouth” Matusow, at the height of his powers, in the 2005 WSOP Main Event was in the midst of a verbal sparring match with poker pro Shawn Skeikhan. Sheikhan faced with a preflop decision decided to get out of the way and when the flop was laid out, slammed the table – indicating that he would have smashed the board.
Sheikhan, turns to talk to the rail to which Matusow, exclaimed “You know, we’re in the middle of a hand. You need to shut the **** up!”
Tilted, Shiekhan called over tournament director Jack Effel and wanted a penalty slapped on “The Mouth.” When the hand was completed Matusow leaped from his chair and started in on “The Shiek” which brought back Effel. Effel told both players they were in the wrong and handed down a 10 minute penalty to both.
The incident led to a rivalry that would last the entirety of the Main Event. With both players taking turns verbally abusing each other while taking down important pots. In the end, though, Matusow held the hand that eliminated Sheikhan, when he turned the nut flush against a drawing dead Sheikhan.
Sheikhan finished the Main Event in 11th place for $600,000 and Matusow followed him out of the tournament two spots later in 9th place for $1,000,000, the largest cash of his career.
“I’ll take your head off!”
One of the most famous controversies comes from the 2006 WSOP Main Event when a young Prahlad “Poker Is Fun” Friedman mixed it up with six-time bracelet winner, Australian poker pro Jeffrey Lisandro.
When a 5K ante was missing preflop, Lisandro insisted he’d put his in. Friedman, on the other hand, thought he saw the player on his right, Dustin Holmes, put the ante in.
At first, it was a casual mention by Friedman, then the accusations stepped up. From simply not believing Lisandro to insinuating that because Lisandro was more insistent than Holmes, that Lisandro was basically robbing the ante.
Lisandro kept his cool…for a minute or two. The next thing you know Friedman is up talking to the floor pleading his point that “he’s been in poker long enough” to know what Lisandro was up to. Having enough, Lisandro stood, raises his voice and tells Friedman, “I’ll take your head off!”
Showing his keen power to recall events, Friedman complains that Lisandro just threatened to “knock his teeth out.” The floorman stepped in between like a referee separating two combatants and eventually both were ordered to not speak of it again.
Friedman was wrong, by the way; the cameras clearly saw Lisandro ante.