Four months later, Kassela gets his due

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By Garrett Roth

Winning a World Series of Poker bracelet is considered to be one of the greatest accomplishments in a poker player’s career. Capturing two bracelets cements them as an elite champion of the game. Become WSOP Player of the Year and you’re in the same stratosphere as Daniel Negreanu, Allen Cunningham and Jeffrey Lisandro.

Frank Kassela accomplished all of three of these amazing feats at the 2010 WSOP, which is incredible when you consider how his poker career began in Memphis.

“I moved to Memphis in 1993, just around the time they opened the first casinos in Tunica, Miss.,” he said. “Back then, groups of us would drive an hour down there and basically just goof around. Most of them would play slots or blackjack, but I would usually just play poker. We had some seven-card stud games back then, but the big games were $20-$40 limit hold’em, PLO and triple-draw lowball.

“Back then, you had to play the game that people wanted to play, whatever the action was that night. We usually had the $20-$40 LHE game going, but Wednesdays and Saturdays we would play $5-$10-$25 PLO and a couple nights a week we would get the triple-draw game going as high as $300-$600.”

But he didn’t play his first tournament until the 2000 WSOP Main Event, and he’s come a long way since. From 2003-09, he had tournament earnings of more than $1 million. Those years of grinding tournaments prepared him for one of the most impressive breakout years of any player in history.

He started his remarkable journey by winning Event 27, the $10K stud/8 world championship for $447,000. He followed that victory two weeks later by winning Event 40, the $2,500 razz title for another $215K. But in case you thought he was only a stud player, Kassela then placed third in the largest buy-in no-limit hold’em tournament in WSOP history, the $25K six-max, Event 52. He cashed for a cool $556K.

“The first bracelet was worth half a million dollars and winning your first bracelet is a big thing,” he said, “but I love razz, so to win the razz bracelet was really cool to me. Me and Mike Sexton were talking and he said that if you win the razz, it’s the only event you can walk away and call yourself the “razz champion” for the year since it’s the only razz tournament they run each year.”

The $25K event was a whole new territory for Kassela, who had no intentions of playing the tournament unless he started the WSOP with a run of success.

“I’m not a very good hold’em player,” said Kassela, who said he has been focusing on PLO and NLHE cash games of late. “To throw that kind of money out for the $25K was tough for me. It was probably one of the most stressful tournaments I’ve ever played and I have played the $50K (Players Championship) every year, except this year. The biggest difference, though, was that the $50K has a broad range of games, which I’m more comfortable with. I’m not as comfortable of a no-limit player, especially six-handed. It turns into a hyper-aggressive form of hold’em and it’s really stressful. It turned out to be a great tournament and I think if Shawn (Buchanan) doesn’t suck out on me, I have a really good chance, heads-up, against Dan (Kelly) to win my third bracelet.”

Buchanan had made an all-in move with an open-ended straight draw and just one card to come. Kassela called with two pair and Buchanan got there as Kassela missed a golden opportunity for his WSOP hat trick.

Kassela also had to fade an incredible run by 2010 Ante Up WSOP Player of the Year Michael “Grinder” Mizrachi, who could have tied Kassela for the POY title if he had won the main event. Given his prowess in various forms of poker and Grinder’s fifth-place finish at the November Nine, Kassela, who now lives in Las Vegas, is a well-deserved recipient of the WSOP Player of the Year title.

“It was a great performance by me, but I think Frank Kassela deserves it,” Grinder said right after he was eliminated from the main event. “He won two bracelets and I’m proud of him. And I’m happy that he won it. He’s a great guy. It would have been cool if both of our posters were up, but that’s not the case. But I wish Frank Kassela well and hopefully next year I’ll have as good a performance as I did this year.”

— You can email Garrett at roth@anteupmagazine.com and follow him on Twitter @GarrettRoth.