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The Main Event has seen its fair share of controversies since its inception, and to get you ready for this year’s iteration, we’ve decided to cover the biggest controversies we’ve seen at the WSOP Main Event.
Arguably the most iconic Main Event controversy is “ante-gate,” where fresh-faced Prahalad Friedman accused poker veteran Jeff Lisandro of not anteing in the 2006 Main Event. Tensions were running high, as there were only five tables left – and every chip counts. Prahalad believed that he saw Dustin Holmes throw in the 5K chip, but Lisandro claimed that the chip was his.
While Holmes quickly moved on and threw in another 5K chip, Prahalad would not let it go, insinuating that Lisandro was robbing his opponent. Lisandro managed to stay cool for a little while, but eventually, Prahalad’s constant badgering got to him. Prahalad even appealed to the tournament director, which sent Lisandro over the edge.
Lisandro got up to confront Prahalad, giving us the iconic line, “I’ll take your head off buddy,” as Jeff has clearly had enough of Prahalad’s antics. Eventually, the feud between the two subsided, and Prahalad finished 20th in the tournament with Jeff finishing 17th.
Oh, by the way, the video showed that Jeff did throw in the 5K ante, not Dustin!
With 11 players left in the Main Event, every decision you make could be the difference between you winning millions of dollars, or having to console yourself with a couple of hundred thousand. You cannot afford to make any mistakes, so the last thing you’d want to happen is a dealer mistake that costs you 5 million chips.
Well, that’s exactly what happened to Dario Sammartino in the 2019 Main Event. Dario raised to 1.7 million chips with TT, only to be shoved on by Nick Marchington for 22.2 million chips total. The dealer erroneously told Dario that Nick had 17.2 million chips, which Dario called. However, it was soon discovered that Nick had an extra five million chips that were not accounted for.
The dealer called the floor, as Dario argued that Nick’s extra 5 million may have altered his decision. However, Jack Effel stated that the call must stand for the full amount, citing a rule that says, “Poker is a game of alert, continuous observation. It is the caller’s responsibility to determine the correct amount of an opponent’s bet before calling, regardless of what is stated by the dealer or participants. If a caller requests a count but receives incorrect information from the dealer or participants, then places that amount in the pot, the caller is assumed to accept the full correct action & is subject to the correct wager or all-in amount.”
While it’s harsh on Dario, rules are rules, and his situation provides a harsh lesson for anyone else hoping to make a deep run in the Main Event.
Rule #1 of poker – always protect your hand. Unfortunately for Estelle Denis, she missed this lesson in poker school and had the unthinkable happen to her during the 2009 Main Event. Estelle shoved her remaining 142K over JC Tran’s 32K raise, before the dealer, for reasons unknown, took Estelle’s cards and pulled them into the muck.
Estelle, rightfully outraged, asked the dealer what they were doing, only for the dealer to ask if she had “protected her cards?” to which Estelle responded by saying she was all in! The floor was called and Estelle told the floor what her cards were. The tournament director told her that if they could find her cards on the top of the muck, she could have them back.
However, her cards were not found, and Estelle was forced to forfeit the 32K that Tran raised, but was able to keep the rest of her stack.
Estelle continued to steam after this ruling saying, “It’s a joke, I had two aces!”
A similar occurrence happened three years later at the 2012 Main Event, but this time the blame was squarely on the player involved. Gaelle Baumann opened from under the gun, and the action folded around to Andras Koroknai in the small blind. He shoved, the big blind folded, and the action was back on Baumann.
However, before she could make her decision, Koroknoi casually threw his cards into the muck! Koroknoi had not seen the raise from Baumann and assumed that he was shoving blind vs blind, so once Gavin Smith folded in the big blind, Koroknoi released his hand. Andras quickly tried to retrieve his hand from the muck, but he was not able to identify his cards.
The floor ruled that Koroknoi would not be forced all-in with a dead hand, and would instead have to forfeit the amount of Gaelle’s initial raise – a similar decision to the previous entry on our list. Gaelle was furious, as she had pocket kings and would have loved to have been all-in.
In a cruel twist of fate, Koroknoi ended up knocking out Gaelle on the final table bubble, preventing her from becoming the first woman to make the November 9.
There’s no doubt that the star, or villain, of the 2016 WSOP Main Event was Will Kassouf. His on-table antics garnered the attention of millions of people watching the Main Event, with some loving his table talk; while others, not so much.
One thing that became clear while watching the coverage is how little his tablemates enjoyed it; which was likely part of Will’s plan – tilt your opponents until they can’t stand the sight of you, then win all their chips. He became known for excessive tanking, during which he’d engage in speech play with his opponents.
During the last two tables of the Main Event, he and fellow poker pro Griffin Benger had been verbally sparing, but things came to a head in this infamous hand. Griffin raised black aces to 875K from under the gun, and the action folded to Will with two black kings. After Will’s customary tank, he 3bet to 2.3 million.
While Griffin decided what to do, Will started engaging in his provocative speech play, before he faced a 4bet to 5.6 million. What followed was a 2-minute+ tank where Will constantly talked at Benger, who remained silent. However, Griffin eventually had enough, saying that Will’s “just an abusive person,” and that Will was “verbally abusing” him. Griffin went on to call him a “bully” “rude” and “mean,” before repeatedly telling Will to “check your privilege.”
Will eventually shoved, Griffin snapped him off, and to the relief of much of the audience, the aces held, and Kassouf was eliminated.
It was the 2005 Main Event, and Mike Matusow was one of the most recognizable faces in poker. With 27 players left in the Main Event, Mike and Sheik were at the same table, so something was always going to happen between the two! Mike, with a mountain of chips, raised, received a call from Michael Kessler, and Sheik had to decide what he wanted to do with his last few chips.
Eventually, he folded, but when the flop came A98, Sheik smalled the table, with one of his chips bouncing off the table. Commentator Norman Chad highlighted how unethical Sheik’s actions were, as he’s giving other players information about his hand. Mike also took umbrage with Sheik’s actions, saying, “You know, we’re in the middle of a hand, you need to shut the fuck up.”
Insulted by Mike’s comments, Sheik calls over the tournament director Jack Effel, who says they will deal with the incident after the hand has finished. As soon as Mike wins the hand, he jumps up to say “You cannot talk about a hand in between a hand, we’re playing for a lot of money, and you jumped off your chair like you threw away part of the pot!”
Sheik seemed to look as if he knew he made a mistake and quietened down after Mike’s rant. However, due to Mike’s swearing and Sheik’s actions at the table, both received a 10-minute penalty. Sheik would go on to finish 11th in that year’s Main Event, with Mike finishing 9th.
Everyone in the poker world knows that Hellmuth always has something to say about a hand or one of his opponents, but in the 2018 Main Event, it ended up costing someone their tournament life.
Hellmuth was in a three-way hand early on Day 2c; he held the 7h7c on a board of Ts4d3d. Campbell, with the Ad9d, checked, Kuzmin, with the Kd2d made a continuation bet of 3K, and Phil made a min-raise to 6K with his pocket sevens. The action then came back to Campbell, who shoved his last 29,600 chips.
This sent Phil into an expletive-filled tirade, but Kuzmin hadn’t yet acted on his hand! It’s clear by Phil’s reaction that he doesn’t have a hand he can call with, so now Kuzmin doesn’t need to worry about Phil behind – which he may have done given Phil’s min-raise. Donnie Peters in the commentary booth said “This is so wrong by Phil and this is where Phil deserves penalties,” as his actions are clearly influencing the action of other players in a multiway hand.
Kuzmin eventually made the call, which put Campbell in a dominating position as he had the higher flush draw, but a black deuce on the turn eliminated Campbell from the Main Event.
The last controversy we’ll be covering today is not widely known in the poker world, but we think it should be highlighted nonetheless. Everyone who enters the Main Event knows that they have a chance of appearing on the featured table, with big names more likely to find themselves in the spotlight, as they’re who the audience wants to see.
However, people were wondering why there was zero coverage of Phil Ivey during Day 3 of the 2018 Main Event. Ivey is probably the biggest name in the poker world and reportedly had stacks of chips, so it seemed crazy that he wasn’t on at least one of the three featured tables that the WSOP had at the time. It seemed impossible that a player as big as Ivey with as many chips as he had wouldn’t be featured for the viewing public, which lead some people to believe something underhand was afoot.
It’s not known to this day whether Ivey specifically asked not to be put on a featured table or if it was a failure of the organization, but the viewing public missed out on one hell of a spectacle.
So there we have it! Those are the biggest controversies we’ve seen in the WSOP Main Event. Which one do you think is the worst, and will we have any new entries to this list over the next few years? Let us know in the comments below.
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