Aussie gambler Matt Kirk and Czech casino mogul Leon Tsoukernik each have their own versions of what happened in the wee hours of one May 2017 morning inside the high-stakes Ivey’s Room at the ARIA Casino & Resort in Las Vegas, Nevada.
The truth, or at least what we can gather from various court filings and third-party accounts, is that both are guilty of making some rather unethical decisions. Now, until either is willing to accept responsibility for their own actions, the high stakes poker community ought to think twice about inviting either them to play in any upcoming private games, high-stakes televised cash games, or heavily publicized high-roller events.
It’s time to send the message that none of this is acceptable to poker as a community.
Kirk Vs. Tsoukernik: The undisputed facts
The undisputed facts in the case are clear. Kirk and Tsoukernik stayed up late to play heads-up in Ivey’s Room. Tsoukernik got stuck, and borrowed money from Kirk in order to stay in the game. He borrowed in increments of $500,000 twice and $1 million twice. All this was confirmed by text between the two. By the end, Tsoukernik had borrowed $3 million from Kirk and lost it all back to him. Tsoukernik had been drinking.
The various suits and counter-suits filed now center on this last fact.
Apparently attempts were made to broker a deal and settle the debt after the fact. Kirk did recover $1 million of the money, but ultimately sued Tsoukernik to try to recover the rest.
In October, a Clark County District Court Judge threw out all but two of ten claims Kirk filed against Tsoukernik. The judge seemed to agree with Tsoukernik, calling it an unenforceable gambling debt.
However, the judge did leave the door open for Kirk to go after Tsoukernik and the money on claims of fraudulent inducement and unjust enrichment. In other words, if Tsoukernik was simply freerolling Kirk with no intention of ever paying back the money he borrowed, he could be at moral fault and responsible for the debt.
Tsoukernik’s $10 million counterclaim
Kirk’s lawyers continued to pursue the matter on those grounds. Earlier this month, Tsoukernik fired back with a $10 million counterclaim against both Kirk and ARIA.
Tsoukernik now claims he was taken advantage of by Kirk and the casino. He alleges they over-served him to the point where he was visibly intoxicated, impaired, and induced to play for big money.
In fact, he claims they got him so drunk, the dealer had to assist him in counting his chips, and he misread his cards. According to the counter-suit, he also says Kirk was aware of how drunk he was, but continued to play anyway. And finally, when he tried to get up and leave, other gamblers prevented him from doing so.
Tsoukernik is seeking $10 million in damages for defamation of character and emotional distress. He claims his reputation as a gambler has taken a big hit.
This is a claim that would make perfect sense were it not for 2016 €1 Million Monte-Carlo One Drop Extravaganza winner Elton Tsang stepping up in the interim and accusing Tsoukernik of stiffing him on a $2.4 million debt after a private high-stakes game in 2016. Apparently Tsoukernik’s reputation as a gambler who pays his debts was already in question.
Ethics, morals and the high-stakes poker community
Ultimately, it’ll be up to the courts to determine legal responsibility in the case. However, the rest of the high-stakes poker community needs to decide for itself where it stands morally and ethically.
On one side, Tsoukernik made a choice to drink and gamble. Anyone who does that should be held responsible for their own decisions and actions. The drunk defense does not belong in poker.
Plus, if he freerolled Kirk, knowing he never had any intention of paying the debt, his behavior is morally inexcusable, and his reputation as a poker player and a gambler deserves the hit it is taking.
On the other side, if Kirk was aware Tsoukernik was too intoxicated to play and took advantage of that fact, he is at least guilty of a breach in ethics.
There’s not a poker player in the world who hasn’t sat down in their local poker room on a Saturday night with hopes of taking advantage of a spewy drunk. But there’s a limit to how much advantage one should take. If poker truly is a community, the members of that community have a responsibility to each other to draw a line and say when enough is enough.
It’s easy to see where both Kirk and Tsoukernik are in the wrong. Now, it behooves the high-stakes poker community to stand up and do something about it. As a community, these poker players need to let the world, and each other, know what kind of moral and ethical ground it stands on.
Poker is a community
Tsoukernik’s King’s Casino recently hosted the World Series of Poker Europe. During the event, it was announced the $1 Million Big One For One Drop Event would be returning to the World Series of Poker (WSOP) in Las Vegas in 2018. The WSOP immediately publicized that Tsoukernik was the first player to register for the event.
The WSOP’s relationship with Tsoukernik sends the message it could care less about the ethical issues here. Others may want to send a similar message. If so, they can invite the wildly swingy Kirk to play in an upcoming high-stakes televised cash game. It’ll certainly make for good TV.
However, they can also choose to send a different message. They can stand behind the idea that poker is a community and leave them both out.