WSOP 2017: Controversies? We've had a few

On this day last year, the World Series of Poker Main Event bubbled over. The simmering cauldron that was William Kassouf vs. The Rest of the World finally hit boiling point in what is likely to remain one of the tournament's most dramatic hands.

Kassouf had been getting under people's skins throughout the tournament, and had served at least one penalty for excessive chit-chat. The Kassouf controversy was a long time in the making and the Day 7 meltdown its obvious crescendo.

This year, Kassouf was knocked out on Day 2 and broadly speaking we've not had any controversy to match his of last time. The tournament has progressed as smoothly as you might expect with 7,221 players attempting to divvy up $68 million.

From our vantage point beside the television stages of the Main Event, we did, however, witness two flash-points this week. The first featured Albert Daher and took place on Day 4. The second happened on a secondary feature table yesterday, and concerned an alleged marked card.

Rabbit-hunting at the dog and pony show

Players in the Brasilia Room were drifting off for their tournament break at the end of Level 17. Albert Daher, a Lebanese pro and EPT/WSOP regular with $1.4 million in live tournament cashes, was involved in a heads-up pot that had played through the official end of the level. Nothing was abnormal about that.

What then was surprising was the sound of a WSOP dealer suddenly raising his voice and shouting: "Hey! He touched the deck!" We quickly glanced towards the commotion and it looked like the dealer in question had grabbed at Daher's arm and was trying to cling on to it. This wasn't unprompted: Daher's arm it seemed was reaching at cards.

Bob Smith, the experienced WSOP and WPT tournament supervisor, was patrolling the section and quickly came over to assess the situation. It soon became clear what had happened: Daher's opponent in the hand had put out a big bet at some point before the river card and Daher had folded his hand, but had apparently then asked if he could "rabbit hunt".

In poker, "rabbit-hunting" is the practice of rifling through the unused deck, seeing what cards would have come out had the hand played on. On the surface, it's largely harmless--players in home games do it all the time to see if they would have hit their draws, etc., and it does not affect the winner of the pot.

But it's not permitted in organised poker on the basis that the rabbit hunt would give the hunter information not ordinarily available. What if, in the course of the rabbit hunt, you saw a card that an opponent was representing? You would then know that he or she was on a bluff. It's unfair and is outlawed.

Daher, it seems, had been told he couldn't rabbit hunt, as per the rules, but temptation got the better of him and he did it anyway. Hence the reaching into the deck, hence the arm-grab, and hence Smith's intervention.


Albert Daher: Rabbit for dinner

Smith put on an absolute masterclass of drill-sergeant stricture. He immediately issued a one-round penalty to Daher, firmly delivering his sentence despite protestations of innocence. "This is the Main Event, sir," Smith said. "This ain't no dog and pony show."

Daher drank his medicine and was eventually knocked out in 544th for $22,449.

Making a mark on the secondary feature table

There weren't many more than 30 players left late on Day 6 of the Main Event and action suddenly paused on one of the secondary feature tables. Marcel Luske, Pedro Oliveira and Bryan Piccioli were in heated discussion with the dealer and a tournament supervisor about what we would soon determine was an alleged marked card.

The card in question had been dealt to Randy Pisane in the small blind. According to Oliveira, who talked to PokerStars Blog this morning, Pisane took possession of the card and then almost immediately said, "I think this card is marked."


Randy Pisane: In possession of bent goods

Oliveira was sitting next to Pisane, in the big blind, and said that he too could see a clear mark. One of the corners was crudely bent. Oliveira then said to the table that he assumed the card in question was an ace, and Pisane pointedly neither confirmed nor denied that that was the case. At that stage, he still had a live hand.

Luske, Oliveira and Piccioli said that the hands should be dead. They said the cards should be returned to the dealer, the deck taken out of play and a re-deal should take place. "It's a disadvantage to him," Oliveira said, pointing to Pisane. "Everyone knows he has an ace."


Pedro Oliveira: The voice of reason

Pisane also wanted a re-deal, despite having what everyone had now realised was indeed an ace. "How could he play with one card exposed?" Oliveira said, adding that the best-case scenario, should Pisane be made to play the hand, is if he had another ace, would move all-in, and get no action. "If he made any other raise, I would call and play post flop against him knowing one of his cards," Oliveira said.

The table sought a ruling, but the first indication was that they should play on. This was not deemed satisfactory, and another TD came over. He issued the same ruling, namely that they should carry on. "Where's Jack?" one player said, and Jack Effel duly arrived quickly to make a final call.

"The good thing here is that there's been no action," Effel said. He then said it should be declared a misdeal. This hand would go no further. This was the ruling that everyone at the table had sought, and they were all now happy.

But who had marked the card, and how? PokerStars Blog talked to Luske this morning too, and he said he thought it was clearly accidental. He used a wooden coffee stirrer to indicate the extent of the damage, snapping off the tip to show how bent the card was. He speculated that it may have been the result of an overenthusiastic baccarat-style squeeze.


Marcel Luske: A stickler for the rules

Oliveira also said that the card was so extremely damaged that any attempted cheat had made a really bad job of it. It was completely obvious, even to reporters standing on the rail. Oliveira also said that he thought it must be accidental.

All of that said, however, there's one fact that is difficult to avoid. The card was indeed an ace--the A♣ to be precise. Crude? Definitely. Accidental? Those closest to the action said yes. An ace? Well, it's a one-in-13 chance.

(Unfortunately, they were not using RFID cards on that table yesterday, otherwise the A♣ could have been tracked in the previous deals.)

WSOP photos by