PokerStars Festival London: Andrew Christoforou on the WSOP and, of course, Will Kassouf
At the World Series of Poker Main Event in Las Vegas last year, nearly 7,000 people tried to answer the following question: How on earth do you deal with Will Kassouf? All but one of them failed to come up with any adequate response, some even melting down amid a flurry of expletives.
The sole exception--seemingly the only man with the chops to challenge Kassouf and keep his sense of humour--was another Londoner by the name of Andrew Christoforou, who is playing here this week at the PokerStars Festival.
Christoforou is a long-time sparring partner of Kassouf's from games in the Victoria Casino on Edgware Road. The pair have heard one another's banter many times before and it was Christoforou's genial yet exasperated approach to Kassouf that won many admirers and staved off all-out transatlantic warfare.
"Oh bloody hell, shut up!" Christoforou said during one such televised encounter. He offered a weary shake of the head as Kassouf continued to needle. Then: "Leave it." And: "Hurry up...I don't need camera time."
Christoforou managed to console Jeff Hakim and Kenny Hallaert as they let their frustrations be known--"I know you lot are fed up, I'm fed up as well"--before he spoke for everyone when he shouted to the tournament staff, "Can I get a table change, please?"
Lon McEachern, in the ESPN commentary booth, said, "Everyone should take lessons from Andrew on how to handle Will Kassouf."
As Kassouf was basking in the limelight, Christoforou was riding his own roller coaster at the WSOP. He only decided to play on the eve of the event and told nobody from home of his intentions. He flew to Vegas, registered late on the last starting flight (he actually landed two hours after play began) but then steadily amassed a stack of close to 20 million as the November Nine loomed.
Christoforou says that first thoughts of making the final table emerged on around Day 3. However, following a misstep with Ace-King to lose a chunk, he ended up running a squeeze play with A♥9♥ into Gordon Vayo's aces and fell in 18th for $338,288. It still smarts with him today.
"It was the worse £250,000 ever to hit the bank in my life," Christoforou says. "It's hard. I really did think that I was unbeatable for seven days. I played phenomenally. Everything was going right, my head was just on it. And it all collapsed on the last day, which is when you didn't want it to happen. My head went."
If you ever want to know what it might be like to get knocked out at such a close-but-no-cigar stage of a tournament of that significance, Christoforou can tell you. "It was electric, but the last three, four hours were just horrific," he says. "I just remember saying 'All-in,' and I don't know why I said it. It was that kind of moment. I'd just had enough. It became a blur. I said 'All-in' and I thought, 'Shit, what have I said? Please god he ain't got aces.' And he had aces."
By that point, Kassouf had become the story of the tournament, for good and bad. Although he clearly relished the pantomime villain persona, some unfounded rumours had also started circulating about Kassouf overstepping the mark and making another player cry. It wasn't true, but as the big money drew closer, there was a clear rift in the field. It was Kassouf versus everyone else and Christoforou thinks Kassouf got the rough end of the deal.
"I don't think he did anything wrong at all," Christophorou says. "I completely supported him. He's done nothing at all. He doesn't ever attack a character, he doesn't get personal...He actually rubs me down a bit more because he knows me."
He also hit back at the whispering campaign against Kassouf, which included a couple of opponents apparently deriding him for playing lower buy-in events. It struck a nerve with Christoforou, who proudly insists that he is not a professional either and believes that recreational players are critical to the success of the game.
He says: "They were like, 'You play $100 tournaments.' Well what's wrong with that? Does that mean we can't play the World Series? How are you going to get 7,000 people a year. Surely not even 10 percent have a million in earnings.
"If I'd have watched that and not been there this year, I'd have felt intimidated to go there and play, because they were criticising the level of play. So what are you saying? What are you saying to everyone else? There's 6,700 players, you think they're all high roller pros? They're not, right."
It is for this reason that Christoforou took particular relish in seeing Qui Nguyen, another amateur player, go all the way to the title in November. "My take on it is that he saved poker," Christoforou says.
Christoforou is now settling back into life back in London, where he is the owner of a chain of fish and chip shops and still plays poker recreationally. The ESPN crew took a particular shine to the idea of Christoforu as the no-nonsense British restaurant impresario, and he sees nothing wrong with that.
"That is me," he says. "I'm very happy. I'm not a pro. I've been playing a long time and I know my way around the table, but I'm not a pro and I don't have to earn a living out of this."
He added that he is keen to return to Vegas next summer to prove that it wasn't a fluke. He will also take a cheering section, adding that the lack of a rail this summer maybe damaged his chances.
"I needed someone to tap me on the shoulder and say, 'Look, you've got 20 million chips, you're fifth or sixth in chips in the World Series Main Event, calm down,'" Christoforou says. "I didn't have a rail much, except for Will. And you wouldn't call that a rail."
But he'll happily play all day long with his old sparring partner Kassouf and thinks the game as a whole will reap the benefit of their exposure last summer.
"I think it was a good year for the WSOP," Christoforou says. "I think it was a good year for poker. That really set people up and hopefully people will go into it, go into any tournament, and know that they can talk."
You can follow live updates of Day 1A of the Main Event and Day 2 of the High Roller with our friends at PokerNews.