“It’s going to be fucking famous,” said Griffin Benger, 2016 November Niner, former #1-ranked player on PocketFives, of the hand that saw him eliminate possibly the most talked about and maybe even most-disliked player of the 2016 World Series of Poker Main Event, William Kassouf.
To many of the poker fans who have been tuning in to the 2016 WSOP on ESPN broadcasts over the last several weeks, Benger is the hero. To others, he’s the heel.
Kassouf was the focal point of coverage over the final four weeks of 2016 WSOP coverage on ESPN. Beginning with his one round penalty for taunting Stacy Matuson and continuing through to his endless table talk and needling before having an entire table turn on the one-time lawyer, Kassouf had drawn the ire of a good number of viewers at home while some found him an entertaining part of the broadcasts.
All of that came to a head on Sunday night during ESPN’s final WSOP broadcast before the final table.
Down to just two tables remaining in the 2016 WSOP Main Event, Benger and Kassouf found themselves seated together at the feature table on the ESPN main stage inside the Amazon Room.
From UTG Benger raised to 875,000. Action folded to Kassouf in the hijack and, as he was prone to doing on seemingly every hand he was in, he took his time with his decision before he re-raised to 2,300,000. Once action was back on Benger, Kassouf began the table chatter that helped make him one of the most unforgettable characters in WSOP Main Event history. Benger remained quiet, ignoring Kassouf and instead responded with another raise, this time making it 5,600,000.
At this point Kassouf went into the tank and again, began talking.
“It’s one of these coolers again, really? Back to back? If you got it, you got it, right? A big hand here. I don’t think I can pass. If you got me beat, you got me beat. It’s poker isn’t it?,” Kassouf said. “I can’t call; it’s either all in or I pass. What do you want me to do? You want me to go all in or fold? Talk to me. You don’t say anything, I might have to ship it here.”
Kassouf continued, “Do you want to gamble? I’m not into that. I’m here to win it. I’m not laddering. Play for the win, right? You doing the same? Or you’re going to wait for the next pay jump at 15? $90K is $90K, right? That’s the Main Event for the next nine years.”
At this point Jerry Wong called clock on the talkative British pro.
This finally caused Benger to stir and speak for the first time in the hand.
“You’re just an abusive person, man. It’s not funny. It’s not a game. You’re being abusive to me,” said Benger. “You’re being abusive. It’s called verbal abuse. What you’re doing to me is verbal abuse.”
Kassouf, with action on him, attempted to defend himself, but Benger had heard and seen enough.
“You’re a bully. It’s rude, it’s mean,” Benger said. “It’s not called speech play. It’s being called a bad person. You should really check yourself. Check your privilege.”
Kassouf looked to the floor person for some assistance and again Benger stepped in.
“He’s not your dad. He’s not going to help you. Stop, no one is going to help you,” Benger said. “The bet is 5.6 million chips. That is what the bet is.”
This seemed to give Kassouf the information he needed and the talkative British pro moved all in for 13,450,000. Griffin snap-called and happily turned over his hand.
The board ran out . Kassouf was eliminated in 17th place. Benger went on to make the November Nine.
The confrontation wasn’t a long time coming as Griffin hadn’t played much with Kassouf prior to Day 7, but he had heard stories about his behavior at the table and his treatment of other players, most notably Matuson on Day 5.
“I’d never played with him before. I’d heard peripherally and overheard some of the controversies towards the feature table about what he was doing it was just, it really sickened me,” said Benger. “The thing that made him so dangerous as far as what kind of person he was at least pretending to be, was that he’s someone that is really, really good at bullying. When he suddenly feels any bullying back, he creates this victim mentality kind of barrier where he’s just like, ‘Why are they freaking out? I’m just doing my table talk thing.”
Benger may not have known that the hand was coming, but he was preparing for a bigger confrontation with Kassouf from the moment they were seated together.
“I needled him at one point, when he first got to the table because I wanted to be combative. I felt really sort of like, there’s this expression that I always hear that I always like to say, ‘Demons run, when good men to go war’. That’s what I felt,” said Benger. “When I got to the table, I wasn’t going to let him run amok with his thing.“
“He was counting out chips, and then looking like he wanted to four-bet and he was taking his time over it, ‘I really have got a big hand here’ and everything. I was looking at the TD and said, ‘you know how many miles from here to Hollywood?’,” said Kassouf. “I knew he was Hollywooding, he’s not really going to four-bet me or come over the top. He’s only pretending that he has got a big hand, but he hasn’t. I know he’s going to four bet, I know he’s got a big hand. I’ve got a monster hand. I’m hoping he’s got ace-king or queens, one of the two.”
Kassouf’s read was incorrect and Benger was more than thrilled to show his hand on poker’s biggest stage.
“It felt really good (to turn the aces over). I don’t like this expression, I feel like it triggers a very vitriolic thing, but he got what was coming to him. I really feel that way, I genuinely do,” said Benger. “I really hope that’s not the way he lives his life normally, because he’s really fucking good at, pretending to be at least, a bad person and I sincerely hope that’s not the way that he lives his life. I’m sure he said ‘That’s not the way I normally am’ or whatever and that it’s his schtick, but it’s not okay.”
Benger’s read on Kassouf apparently extends beyond the table as Kassouf, moments after busting, defended his actions not only in that hand, but also throughout the 2016 WSOP Main Event.
“He kept on saying I was being abusive. I was just doing my standard speech play to get a read off him, to give off tells for myself that I was weak, that I only had jacks or queens which I want him to think I have,” said Kassouf. “
Benger realized his actions in the hand may have also shown a side of him that many aren’t used to seeing, one that might not make him any fans.
“Yeah, my dark side came out a little bit. My friends call my dark side ‘Gator’. So they said Gator got out of the cage there, out of the swamp a little bit,” said Benger. “It’s not really something I like to do very often.”
Benger also knew that this hand would be the highlight of the broadcasts and be something that poker fans and fellow players are talking about for a long time, even if, absent the table talk, the hands really just played themselves.
“I think it might become the most famous World Series hand ever. Think of one that’s more famous? Connor (Drinan) running aces into aces? Shit happens. This one, with the context and the build up…,” said Benger. “I don’t think I outplayed him. I think he got coolered.”
Kassouf left the Rio, knowing full well that the coverage of his play and this hand was going to be something that left the poker world talking and while he obviulsy would have loved a run into November, he was comfortable with the way it ended.
“I won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but that’s the way I play. I play within the rules. I thoroughly enjoyed my experience. I’ve been here pretty much ever year,” said Kassouf. “It’s my first cash in the WSOP, so I’ll take that. I’m the one who’s going home laughing, rather than all these other Americans. I say, ‘Well played. Thanks for coming to all the 6,720 out that have parted their way with $10,000. Thanks for that, to boost the prize pool’.”