WSOP 2016: William Kassouf: The king of speech play seen and heard deep on Day 5

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William Kassouf: Easy to spot despite the camouflage

It has come to the time in this tournament when the ESPN cameras are sweeping along media row, catching nothing so much as a blur of illuminated apples on laptop lids with crooked spectres hunched the other side. "Content" must be thin on the ground. This is not just any old media, but the "poker media". A sorry bunch indeed.

But, yes, cameras are now swarming through the World Series of Poker Main Event tournament room. The content hunt is on. On the three feature tables, which are now separated from the remainder of the tournament room by a rail of advertisements and a channel of spectators, it means a silence has descended. But out in the field, the presence of a camera can bring dormant species to life.

William Kassouf is out in that field, sitting with around 4.2 million in chips, and if these camera crews are serious about getting themselves some content, they should deploy a full roving team to follow Kassouf's every move.

It's difficult to believe Kassouf needs introduction anymore, but there are still some people out there who haven't stood within 50 yards of him. Anyone ever within that radius will know this Brit: He's the guy who managed to get Vanessa Selbst to tilt off her chips to him at EPT London, and who has become a minor YouTube sensation thanks to his speech play at poker tournaments.



"You've got to enjoy it," Kassouf says during a break in play. "Speech play is a big part of my game. I don't just do it for the cameras, I'm doing it on the outer tables, any table, any player. I do it to get information from my opponents. I think there's a lot to gain from speech play."

william_kassouf_portrait_wsop_2016.jpgDespite having had only three hours sleep last night, and no breakfast, Kassouf says he is "buzzing" today, and is in very familiar voice. In between taking pauses to check his Facebook and Twitter page, where messages of support are pouring in, he is engaging every player at his table in conversation--if they're willing. Tony Gregg is largely stoic and silent, but Louise Francoeur and Jason Les are chatting along.

"It's not everyone's cup of tea," Kassouf says. "People don't like to give away tells. But the way I look at it, if I'm not asking the questions of my opponents, if I'm not speaking to them, then I'm not going to get the extra information that I want for myself."

He adds: "How you play poker depends on your personality. I'm a sociable, outgoing guy, always having a good laugh. Some people might not approve of my speech play but there's no malice involved. I don't come to berate any players, insult anyone, so if anyone thinks of it that way, they've got it totally wrong."

The televised hands against Selbst have brought Kassouf some notoriety across the UK and even to the United States. "When I come to Vegas, people say, 'Hey, you're the guy who tilted Vanessa Selbst. Good job, man, good job.' A lot of Americans relate to the Vanessa hand because they've seen it on YouTube. It's got 1 million views on YouTube, so a lot of Americans relate to it."

The world may end up seeing a lot more of Kassouf if his tournament continues as it has over the past few days. Despite the chatter, Kassouf says he is fixed on making a deep run and atoning for previous disappointment.

"It's going great here," he said. "I thought, 'This is the one.' I've come here to win. Vegas. The biggest poker arena in the world. World Series of Poker Main Event. It doesn't get bigger than this. I thought, this is my year. I wanted to make up for a few years ago when I actually made Day 4 but didn't cash...I lost to a one-outer half an hour before the money, but I'm certainly making up for it now."

There are strange times in the United Kingdom at the moment, with an uncertain political landscape and a currency reacting in shock to some recent upheavals. It means it's expensive in Las Vegas for a tourist from Britain--but only if you see the United States as a place to lose money. Kassouf does not.

"I've believed in myself from the start when I thought I'd buy in for ten thousand dollars like a boss, even with the pound/dollar rate being really bad," he says. "It's costing me nearly an extra thousand pounds to buy in this year compared with last year. But the way I look at it is that I came here to win. So if I win, I take dollars home and my dollars are worth a lot more in pounds. I've come this far."

On his rail stands his friend Alex from the Grosvenor Victoria Casino in London, where Kassouf plies his trade at home. "If he wins, it would be great for poker," Alex said. "He is number one. Nobody does it like him."

Kassouf politely asked not to be bokked--"It's just day five. We're not day 7 yet"--but allowed himself to ponder how a deep run will be greeted back home.

"Hopefully I'm going to do it for the Brits," he said. "Everyone's rooting for me back home in the UK. They're going crazy. It would be sick. It would be sick. I'd love it."

The unedited Kassouf

I talked to William Kassouf for four minutes at the first break in play today. Actually, that's not true. I asked him one question -- whether he now gets recognised in poker rooms -- and he talked to me. Here's what he said:

They do, all over the UK. They've known me for a few years and they know me more now, when I go round the circuits to EPTs, etc. When I come to Vegas, people say, "Hey, you're the guy who tilted Vanessa Selbst. Good job, man, good job." A lot of Americans relate to the Vanessa hand because they've seen it on YouTube. It's got 1 million views on YouTube, so a lot of Americans relate to it. It's got a lot of exposure online. It was a good situation at EPT London, twice, in back-to-back years against Vanessa. I've got nothing against her myself. I think she's a fantastic player, superb player, but I think she let the speech play and banter get under her skin in a six-day tournament and busted. That's what made for good TV. Because it was her. It was me being the local guy who qualified for £500 instead of £5,000.

I've got quite a few videos on YouTube, Facebook, having banter and that. I just enjoy playing poker. It's going great here. I thought, 'This is the one.' I've come here to win. Vegas. The biggest poker arena in the world. World Series of Poker Main Event. It doesn't get bigger than this. I thought, this is my year. I wanted to make up for a few years ago when I actually made Day 4 but didn't cash. That was back in the day when it was $19,500 for a min-cash, rather than what it is now, paying out 15 percent of the field, for $15K. That was pretty brutal. I lost to a one-outer half an hour before the money, but I'm certainly making up for it now.

You've got to enjoy it. Speech play is a big part of my game. I don't just do it for the cameras, I'm doing it on the outer tables, any table, any player. I do it to get information from my opponents. I think there's a lot to gain from speech play. It's not everyone's cup of tea, people don't like to give away tells. But the way I look at it, if I'm not asking the questions of my opponents, if I'm not speaking to them, then I'm not going to get the extra information that I want, myself. For me personally, with the speech play, I seem to get more information from my opponents whether they're strong, whether they're confident, what kind of holding they have, whether they want me to call or raise, why they're betting so much, why they're checking, are they trying to bluff me here, are they trying to trap. By engaging in conversation, I think I get more reads and more tells from my opponents. And it's more the psychological aspect of the game. That's what I enjoy, not the gamble, all in and call and winning coin flips, because I seem to run really bad in coin flips. But yeah, playing the whole psychological aspect of the game, post-flop, getting into my opponent's mind and reading them for what they have and trying to psyche them out, effectively, give them the speech effectively when I want them to call, and vice-versa. Represent the nuts when I've got nothing, and when I've got nothing, represent the nuts.

There's a long way to go, but it's been a good start to the day and hopefully I'm going to do it for the Brits. Everyone's rooting for me back home in the UK. They're going crazy. It would be sick. It would be sick. I'd love it. But I've believed in myself from the start when I thought I'd buy in for ten thousand dollars like a boss, even with the pound/dollar rate being really bad. It's costing me nearly an extra thousand pounds to buy in this year compared with last year. But the way I look at it is that I came here to win. So if I win, I take dollars home and my dollars are worth a lot more in pounds. I've come this far.

How you play poker depends on your personality. I'm a sociable, outgoing guy, always having a good laugh. Some people might not approve of my speech play but there's no malice involved. I don't come to berate any players, insult anyone, so if anyone thinks of it that way, they've got it totally wrong. Some people don't appreciate it, they don't like it, it gets under their skin, they tilt and they donk their chips off to me. That's their prerogative. But as far as I'm concerned, I'm doing nothing wrong, playing within the rules, keeping poker fun, enjoying the game. I'm getting the added benefit of getting reads from my opponents from doing it, so it's not just for show. I've been successful over the years with a lot of speech play. It's good for me, it's good for the game, and hopefully I'll spin it up and it'll be great for the game if I do reach the final table.

I've only had three hours sleep. I'm buzzing. I don't eat breakfast, I don't do breakfast. I'm used to going to sleep 6 or 7 in the morning and waking up 1 in the afternoon, as poker players do. I've been going to sleep here 5 or 6 in the morning, I went to bed at quarter past six this morning, and I was up a few hours later. Three hours sleep, no breakfast. I'm buzzing."


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WSOP photos by PokerPhotoArchive.com.