Chan vs. Hellmuth
Moneymaker vs. Farha
Brunson vs. Ungar
Those are just a few of poker’s most famous heads-up battles, and on February 2, Will Kassouf and Stacy Matuson may very well join them. That’s because they’re set to engage in a heads-up grudge match (live broadcast on 888poker Twitch channel) during the 888Live Kings Festival at King’s Casino Rozvadov.
Aside from bragging rights, a one-of-a-kind trophy will be awarded to the winner.
The Gloves are Off!
The bout will be best of three, start them with 5,000 in chips, and subject players to a one-minute shot clock, though players will have a time bank of 10 minutes to utilise in each match.
Here’s a look at the structure, which will feature 12-minute blind levels:
The bout, which originated from the unpleasantness the two experienced during the 2016 World Series of Poker Main Event, is the result of Matuson issuing a 19-second video challenge on Instagram.
“So, the secret’s out,” Matuson wrote under the video. “[Kassouf is] the one who pulled every trick to make me fold and bluffed me during the WSOP and there was loads of controversy! Made national TV on ESPN and has been talked about a lot in the poker world. Now is my time to meet him [in the] first week of February to play heads up for cash and a trophy. Wish me luck, and yes, I'll have my headphones just in case.”
In the video, Matuson states “this is a trophy you can’t buy,” a clear reference to Kassouf’s December win in a €10,000 High Roller Event in Prague for $555,619. She added, “Let’s see who the real boss is.”
It was a controversial win for Kassouf, who struck a deal with second-place finisher Patrick Serda. As part of the arrangement, Serda got more money while Kassouf, who was down 4-1 in chips, took a lesser amount in exchange for being declared the winner.
Challenge Accepted: Let the Battle Commence!
Kassouf accepted the challenge and posted a response video of his own:
“Hey Stacy, just seen your video,” he said from the Bahamas. “Don’t think I’m a boss just because I bluffed you in any pot, I bluffed you with nine high like the BOSS that I am. I’ll let my results speak for themselves. I look forward to playing our heads-up match at King’s Rozvadov on the 2nd of February.”
In a follow-up interview with PokerNews Kassouf elaborated on the match.
“I take it with a pinch of salt,” said Kassouf. “I’m a fun-loving, easy-going kind of a guy, always up for a challenge and a good laugh. She challenged me to a heads-up match; I’m not one to back down or shy away from it … I think she sees it more as revenge.”
One of Poker’s All-Time Greatest Grudges
The bitterness and resentment have been stewing for months, occasionally stirred by poker fans taking sides. Some thought Kassouf’s antics were all a part of the game, while others thought he stepped over the line.
The hand that inspired it all took place on Day 5 of the 2016 WSOP Main Event. ESPN had broadcast a hand between Kassouf, a former UK lawyer, and Matuson, who runs a dealer training academy in Florida.
With 630,000 in the pot and a board reading, 5-3-2-8-10, Kassouf moved all in holding the 9-6 and Matuson, who had 490,000 back, had to decide what to do with her QQ. That is when Kassouf launched into his highly controversial speech play.
“You don’t want to bust out with a whole camera crew watching, yeah? This would be embarrassing," said Kassouf. “You don’t put me on this hand.”
Kassouf continued his unrequited chatter until tournament officials put a stop to it, at which point he silently antagonised his opponent, or some think. After another player called the clock on her, Matuson ended up folding the best hand.
She busted a short time later with cracked aces, leaving her to wonder what might have happened had she picked off Kassouf’s bluff.
Kassouf a Rising Star
For better or worse, Kassouf has become one of the most popular players in poker since his WSOP on ESPN appearance. He’s even been recruited to be a celebrity bounty in this year’s World Poker Tour Bay 101 Shooting Star. Some love his table talk, while it seems even more people love to hate him.
“I think ESPN portrayed me as a villain to make the viewing more interesting,” said Kassouf. “I don't see myself as a villain as all those that know me and the vast majority of people that have played with me enjoy the banter and speech play on the tables.”
Since finishing 17th in the WSOP Main Event for $338,288, Kassouf has hit the tournament circuit hard. In December, he won $555,619, the largest score of his burgeoning career, in the aforementioned Prague High Roller. Entering 2017, Kassouf has $1,275,105 in tournament earnings.
Meanwhile, Matuson is a long-time player turned poker dealer trainer who finished sixth in the 2005 WPT Ultimate Poker Classic in Aruba for $100,000. If you recall, Poker Pro Freddy Deeb won that tournament for $1 million. Matuson has a total of $191,583 in tournament earnings.
The Poker World Reacts
The poker world is split on the grudge match. Some think it’s merely a publicity stunt, while others are looking forward to the next chapter in the drama. For those in the latter group, they’re already choosing sides.
“I think William Kassouf will win ultimately,” said Ashley Hine. “But we know he has a much wider range than Stacy Matuson. I will say, though, whoever wins I love them both. Stacy is a much more ABC player and makes correct folds when pressured on specific situations whether bluffed or not. Love both of them, though, and excited to see the heads-up match.”
Dan Hamm echoed those sentiments: “I hope Stacy Matuson gives him a taste of nine-high like a boss. This will be good for poker. Bring ear plugs, Stacy.”
Cory Zeidman, a WSOP bracelet winner with $646,063 in live tournament earnings, is also on Matuson’s side. “Stacy will win when she catches Will trying to showboat,” he stated. “He will be more concerned with looking like a boss and will make costly mistakes. Go, Stacy!”
For Dylan Berry, he’s on the opposite side. “I think Will Kassouf will win,” he said. “He’s already in her head, and the match hasn’t even started.”
WSOP bracelet winner and well-known poker player pro Gavin Smith also weighed in. “I don't like a side, but if forced to bet I would take Will,” he said.
Who do you think will win the grudge match? Let us know on Twitter @888poker.