A PokerNews Debate: Was Griffin Benger Justified in Attacking William Kassouf?

William Kassouf -- Griffin Benger

Fireworks exploded Sunday night as the cooler that spelled the end of speech-play impresario William Kassouf in the 2016 World Series of Poker Main Event aired on ESPN. While previous episodes showed most of his opponents had taken to ignoring Kassouf's often abrasive and certainly excessive table talk, Griffin Benger took a different tact in this fateful hand.

Benger opened with a raise and after Kassouf three-bet, his typical verbal probing began. Benger fired back with a fourth bet, staying quiet at first as Kassouf's chatter continued. Suddenly, Benger exploded. With all the confidence that two aces in the hole can bring, Benger finally fought back, unleashing a verbal tirade on Kassouf that, to some, seemed even worse than anything Kassouf ever said.

Benger classified Kassouf's endless table talk as rude, mean and verbally abusive. He called him a bully and a bad person, and from where I sit, it was about time somebody said what just about everybody in the room was already thinking. Benger may have seemed a bit angry and out of control, but every word was justified. It was about time somebody let Kassouf know the other 16 players left in the tournament were sick of his antics.

Chattering away when your opponent is faced with a decision is rude. Probing away at opponents who are ignoring you is borderline verbally abusive and Kassouf's filibuster-style of psychological warfare is at the very least unethical, if not plain mean. Employ such tactics and there's little doubt you are acting like a bully and might even be a bad person. Not to mention the fact Kassouf had begun to tank excessively on every street of every hand - Poker's truly unforgivable sin.

Holding aces, it likely didn't matter to Benger what Kassouf had, and in fact, the verbal tirade itself may have been a bit of theater, turning Kassouf's own speech play against him in an attempt to goad him into shoving all in with an inferior hand. Perhaps Benger even sensed what was happening and wanted to give Kassouf a taste of his own medicine on the way out the door.

In the end, Kassouf had kings and his chips were probably going in regardless; it was just nice to see Benger send him on his way with the message that his behavior throughout the Main Event was not appreciated and he was more than justified in doing so.

-- Marty Derbyshire

One of the most talked about topics in the poker world on seemingly any given day of any given year is the health of the game.

Is poker dying? Are the numbers down? How can we attract more players to the game? Are micro-aggressions driving people away? What's a micro-aggression anyway?

I digress, but there was nothing micro about the aggression showed by Griffin Benger in the most talked-about hand of the 2016 WSOP Main Event. He got heated and he threw some serious words at William Kassouf. Here were some of his choicer quotes:

  • "You're just an abusive person."
  • "What you're doing to me is verbal abuse."
  • "You're a bully; it's rude, it's mean."
  • "It's called being a bad person, you should really check yourself."
  • "Check your privilege."

He then proceeded to suggest that his life was better than Kassouf's. Compare that to some of what Kassouf said to Benger in the same hand:

  • "I have to find out where I am; I think I'm ahead at the moment."
  • "Just a Hollywood, right. How many miles from here to Hollywood?"
  • "Do you want me to go all in or fold? Talk to me."
  • "I'm not laddering. Play for the win, right? You doing the same or you gonna wait for the next pay jump at 15?"

Responding to Kassouf's line of quotes with Benger's quotes seems akin to using an Uzi to mow down a songbird that wakes you up when you're trying to sleep in on a lazy Sunday morning. Sure it's annoying, but was that response really necessary?

Again, we are just a couple of years removed from a major outcry about the amount of so-called button-clicking robots playing with sunglasses over eyes, hoods over heads, headphones over ears and invisible duct tape over mouths. People said it was bad for the game and would drive recreational players away. It killed the social aspect of the game and made poker more boring than it can already be at times.

Now, here comes William Kassouf and his motoring mouth. He talks and talks. He talks when he has the goods and he talks when he has napkins. He keeps things lively and he absolutely embraces and utilizes the social aspect of the game as part of his poker strategy. Isn't this what people wanted?

Sure, he can be repetitive and the constant drone of the same tired lines would wear on anyone. Tanking before folding king-high to effectively two all ins on a {9-Hearts}{4-Spades}{6-Clubs} is just bad etiquette; there's absolutely no defending that. But, his tablemates have the option of taking the Tony Gregg approach and simply keeping their mouths shut and letting their chips do all of the talking.

That's not what Benger did. What he did was come straight after Kassouf with more aggression than Vanessa Selbst would show at a table full of nits.

Now, a caveat. Kassouf is allowed his speech play by rule and Benger is allowed his as well. Maybe he figured Kassouf was the one Hollywooding with a mediocre hand and he needed to say something to try to goad him into sticking his stack in against the aces. If Benger said what he said as a ploy in hopes of inducing action from Kassouf, maybe it would have worked. We'll never know because Kassouf had kings. Benger was certainly straddling the line, but he didn't call Kassouf any names and he wasn't making a habit of creating a hostile environment at the table.

But, if Benger truly meant what he said, his accusations were a bit overboard. Talking during a poker hand doesn't make someone a bad person and Benger's quotes were objectively far more verbally abusive than Kassouf's. And insulting someone's life, as he did in the aftermath of the showdown, is definitely crossing the line.

Kassouf's antics might not be as pleasant as a songbird's, but Benger didn't need to use the Uzi here, either.

-- Mo Nuwwarah

  • Debate: Kassouf's antics might not be pleasant, but Benger didn't need to use the Uzi here, either.

  • Debate: Perhaps Benger wanted to give Kassouf a taste of his own medicine on the way out the door.

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