Griffin Benger and Will Kassouf had very different experiences following the hand that became the most talked about moment of the 2016 WSOP Main Event.
“I knew right when it happened it was going to be a big thing,” said Benger nearly one year later.
Both Benger and Kassouf are back in Las Vegas playing the $10,000 buy-in WSOP Main Event again and hoping to repeat their huge runs from 2016.
Last year Benger ended up finishing 7th and Kassouf 17th, earning $1.25 million and $338k respectively. But it was the hand that eliminated Kassouf that caught the attention of sports media all over North America and the world.
Long story short, Kassouf had been getting under all of his opponents’ skin with his trademark deluge of chatter.
Benger picked up pocket aces and Kassouf looked down at pocket kings. After a raise, re-raise and four-bet Kassouf was contemplating his options and continuing his rapid-fire speech.
That’s when Benger lost his cool. You’ve probably seen the clip but check it out here if you haven’t.
Did Benger Cross a Line?
The hand got a lot of attention right away but things hit a fever pitch when it was televised the following October in the weeks leading up the November Nine final table.
A lot of the discussion revolved around who was in the wrong and whether Benger crossed a line when he told Kassouf he was a bad person and that Kassouf was abusing him with speech play.
“People either really passionately hated me or really passionately supported me,” Benger told PokerListings.
“But to be perfectly honest I got far more negative than positive and probably rightfully so.”
Benger said there was nothing calculated about what he said. He wasn’t trying to goad Kassouf into playing the hand. He had simply reached the end of his rope after hours of listening to him.
Benger said he knew he was going to take a lot of heat but that he was surprised by how much people’s opinions affected him.
“I think people really make assumptions about what kind of person you are based on one outburst they see on TV,” he said.
“I was just laughing at it at first because I thought it was so ridiculous and I didn’t think it could really affect me. But after a while you just realize you’re ingesting all this negative stuff about yourself and it just sucks. It’s not a fun feeling.”
Benger said that although he would probably do things differently if he had the chance, it’s in the past and he can accept it for what it was — someone in a high-pressure situation who lost his head.
The Will Kassouf Brand is Born
Kassouf had a different experience following the hand and its airing on television months later. He says he received enormous support from people all over the world on social media.
And although Kassouf was eliminated in 17th it’s arguable that he got more media coverage and recognition from the WSOP last year than anyone — maybe even more than eventual champion Qui Nguyen.
Even before the clash with Benger, Kassouf had gotten a ton of TV time for the penalty he received during a hand against Stacy Matuson.
“It’s been sick since going deep last year,” Kassouf told PokerListings. “I still reminisce about it.”
As a result of his time on TV Kassouf has enjoyed lots of opportunities in the last year.
He was invited to play in a special grudge match against Stacy Matuson and landed a sponsorship deal with 888poker. He’s also developed a large social media following and is guaranteed tons of attention at every tournament he plays.
“Whether you like me or don’t like me, it made for good TV and people were talking about it,” said Kassouf.
“I’ve had marvelous support from people back home, friends and family, and people all over the world on social media.
“It’s been through the roof and I deal with it all myself. I respond to every single message. I feel as if they were there for me so I want to be there for them even in a small way.”
Kassouf Defends EPT High Roller Deal
In addition to the big scores by Benger and Kassouf in the 2016 Main Event, both players had success in the months following the November Nine.
Benger won the Irish Open in March of 2017 for over $215,000 while Kassouf took down the last-ever EPT High Roller event which played out in Prague.
Kassouf satellited into the €10,000 buy-in tournament and made a deal with Canadian pro Patrick Serda when the two got heads-up.
Kassouf was criticized for the deal which saw Serda take more money in exchange for Kassouf taking the trophy and the official win in the record books.
He caught heat for it since the two didn’t play out the heads-up match to determine the winner.
“He was more interested in the cash and for me and the Will Kassouf brand it was way more important for me to cement it and get that trophy,” said Kassouf.
“And it wasn’t any old trophy. It was the last ever EPT High Roller. It was a good deal for both of us so who’s got the right to step in and say it’s a bad deal?”