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Best of Howard Stutz

Gaming Guru

Howard Stutz

Kassela hopes to repeat success in this year's WSOP

31 May 2011

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- Frank Kassela is a throwback among poker players.

He didn't learn the intricacies of the game from a computer screen in the comfort of his own home, like many of today's Internet poker prodigies.

Instead, Kassela, 43, picked up his poker skills at casinos in Tunica, Miss.

The lessons paid off.

Kassela earned the World Series of Poker's Player of the Year honor in 2010, winning two events and almost $1.26 million by cashing in six events.

He attributed much of his success to a change in his style of play, as well as growing self confidence in his game and experience in live cash games.

Kassela didn't sign an Internet poker sponsorship deal last year. The only logo he wore for the television cameras during the World Series of Poker advertised his poker blog.

In the wake of last month's indictments by the U.S. Department of Justice that shut down much of the Internet poker world to American gamblers, Kassela's approach now seems like a pretty sound idea.

"I'm one of the clean guys," Kassela said. "I'm one of the few guys without any Internet poker skeletons in my closet.

"I'm not going to talk about the other skeletons in my closet."

Kassela hopes to match his performance from 2010 when the 42nd World Series of Poker begins play Tuesday at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino. He'll take a seat at the opening day featured event, the $25,000 buy-in Head's Up No-Limit Hold'em Championship, which is limited to 256 players. It's one of at least 30 games he plans to enter during this year's 55-event tournament.

Kassela certainly has the bankroll to back up his action. He has won almost $2.3 million in tournament poker since 2003, including more than $1.5 million at World Series of Poker-sanctioned events.

Last year, on his way to Player of the Year, Kassela reached three final tables.

Before 2010, Kassela's best World Series of Poker finish was second place in a circuit event at the Grand Casino Tunica in Mississippi.

His championship bracelets last year came in Seven Card Razz, a Seven Card Stud Hi-Low Split and an Eights or Better world championship event. Kassela also finished third in the No-Limit Hold'em (Six Handed) event that cost $25,000 to enter.

After finishing 674th out of the 7,319 players who entered the $10,000 buy-in No-Limit Hold'em World Championship Main Event, Kassela still had to wait until November to see if he earned the Player of the Year title.

Michael Mizrachi, who made the final table of nine players in the Main Event, would have earned a share of the Player of the Year honor if he had won the world title. Mizrachi, who had won the $50,000 buy-in Players Championship, busted out in fifth place at the Main Event to give Kassela the crown.

"I think it's as significant an honor as any title at the World Series of Poker," Kassela said. Player of the Year is based on points earned for cashes in bracelet events. The winner collects a prize worth $20,000.

His career earnings are impressive, considering Kassela, who moved to Memphis, Tenn., in the early 1990s, only began playing poker as a way of making his Tunica gambling excursions with friends last longer.

"We would go down with a group of people and my friends would play slots or craps," Kassela said. "I'd go to the poker room because back then, I lost my money a lot slower."

Kassela's poker skills increased following his divorce in 2000.

"I had a lot of time on my hands," he said.

By 2003, Kassela considered himself a professional poker player. He moved part time to Las Vegas in 2002 and became a full-time resident in 2007. Lately, Kassela, who is remarried and has a young child, can be found playing cash games in Strip casino poker rooms, such as Aria.

His financial insight also sharpened. Kassela owns three businesses in Memphis that provide promotional products to the federal government. In Las Vegas, he owns Scrubtastic, a supplier that sells nurses uniforms and hospital scrubs to the medical industry. He also has a Scrubtastic outlet in Plano, Texas.

Kassela's typical day surrounds his business and poker. He'll wake up at 6 a.m. to manage his businesses. Around noon, he'll head over to Aria or another casino to play cash games for a few hours. Kassela might return to the casino in the evening if there is a "hot" cash game to be played.

"I've been fortunate," Kassela said. "My businesses have been successful and I've done well at poker."

Before April's federal government crackdown on Internet poker, Kassela had several online accounts, which he would use to practice certain games, such as heads up no-limit hold'em, which casinos don't offer.

"I think everybody had online accounts," Kassela said. "But it wasn't the most important aspect to my game."

Since Chris Moneymaker won the World Series of Poker's Main Event in 2003, most of the recent champions learned their games on the Internet.

Kassela isn't sure how the recent demise of Internet poker in the United States will impact the World Series of Poker attendance.

He thinks some players could stay home because their gambling funds were cut off. Others might view the World Series of Poker as one last chance to make a stand in the game, "before being faced with the prospect of finding a job in the real world."

"That's the $64,000 question," Kassela said. "Both answers are viable."
Kassela hopes to repeat success in this year's WSOP is republished from