PokerStars issues live-poker behavior ‘refresher’ in wake of EPT Prague head-butting incident

Haley Hintze
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Posted on: December 16, 2023 8:23 am EST

PokerStars has published a refresher for players who participate in live poker events in the aftermath of an unfortunate head-butting incident that occurred at the end of a recent confrontation between two players at the EPT Prague series.

Michele Nizzardelli and Ghattas Kortas were the two players involved in the highly unusual incident, which occurred on Day 1B of the EPT Prague main event and marred an otherwise highly successful festival. As recapped by veteran PokerStars Blog writer Howard Swains, “According to eye-witness reports and confirmed by tournament staff, some on-felt needling escalated into a physical confrontation after Nizzardelli eliminated Kortas from the tournament.”

Both players had been involved in questionable incidents at the table that day in addition to their verbal sparring, according to EPT officials. When Nizzardelli’s A-K outraced an all-in Kortas’s pocket tens, Kortas responded by knocking Nizzardelli’s hat off his head as he began to leave the area.

Shoving ensued, and then Nizzardelli head-butted Kortas. Kortas had already busted, and Nizzardelli was soon removed from the event as well, his chips pulled off the table by floor staff.

“Needless to say, a head-butt is far, far beyond the line of acceptable action — be it on the street or a sports field, let alone at a poker event,” Swains reported. “Nizzardelli, who still had chips at the time, was duly disqualified from the tournament without refund and escorted from the premises. He has subsequently been banned from PokerStars live events.”

Kortas was sanctioned as well, though Swains and PokerStars did not detail the punishment he received.

Lessons learned and shared

While correctly noting that such incidents are “vanishingly rare” at EPT stops, Swains used the incident as a stepping-stone to explore more prevalent forms of player misbehavior. “[D]espite the sometimes confrontational nature of poker, it actually might be surprising that in a room containing hundreds of players, most of whom are tired or in an emotionally elevated state, we almost never see this kind of thing,” he wrote.

Verbal abuse is far more common, he added, and it was verbal sparring turned physical that led to Nizzardelli’s ban from live EPT events. According to Swains, the EPT is “keen to police” such abusive behavior.

“We take this aspect of the game very seriously,” said Julien Liarte, the EPT’s Business Development Manager. “We want to ensure our staff and our players feel safe and comfortable at our events and we have a zero-tolerance approach when it comes to transgressions…. It goes without saying that any violence is absolutely unacceptable, but verbal abuse is also not tolerated at all.”

Physical confrontations at poker tournaments remain quite rare

Recent incident aside, poker tournaments, especially well-run ones, remain the live venues where physical confrontations are least often threatened. Most such incidents have historically taken place in cash-game settings, perhaps because a pair of mutually antagonistic players can remain in close quarters for many hours, allowing tension to build and build.

Which isn’t to say such confrontations never occur on a tourney floor. One such incident from 2020 occurred in a Balkan Poker Circuit event at King’s Casino in the Czech Republic, where a confrontation quickly morphed into an outright brawl and some minor injuries occurred. Verbal threats of violence, as most players know, occur far more frequently, but almost never result in an actual physical incident.

Swains and EPT Tour officials pointed to the tournament rules and to the EPT’s security policy, which is available online and which already bans abusive and threatening behavior. The referral came with a pointed reminder that disqualification from an event, as happened with Nizzardelli, also means the forfeiture of any tourney payouts earned, Not controlling one’s emotions at the table could result in a significant financial loss for those involved.