‘Chainsaw Approved’: How this Top Pro has been chopping down his competition at WSOP

As his nickname suggests, Allen ‘Chainsaw’ Kessler has been chopping down the competition on the poker circuit for years now. He is no stranger to winning. He has amassed more than $4 million in tournament earnings. According to the Global Poker Index, he ranks 10th all-time in cashes’ with close to 400 worldwide. At the World Series of Poker (WSOP), Kessler has reached the money stage, or ‘cashed,’ more than 80 times. He has also reached multiple final tables. Certainly, one of the world’s best poker players, Kessler is also one of the unluckiest.

“I’m the only player in WSOP history with four 2nd place finishes and no bracelets,” he said, with a sense of pride while admitting to the dubious distinction.

Allen Kessler at poker table WSOP

Chasing the WSOP bracelet

In the poker universe, WSOP bracelets are the ultimate goal. The Pennsylvania native must feel like he’s been close to the moon but never quite stepped foot on it. It’s not easy to navigating the fields at the World Series of Poker, sometimes thousands of players deep, because of all the landmines and traps along the way. You have to stay focused, play well, outlast increasingly skilled opponents, and survive your all-in ‘coin flip’ situations. It’s not easy. Now, imagine the agony of doing that four times, only to watch another player get all the accolades and slip-on the bracelet. Excruciating.

Don’t feel too bad for him though. Kessler is living the dream and travels the world playing poker 52 weeks out of the year. He never stops. In 2010, he cashed 10 times at the World Series, more than any other player, and recorded his largest win ever, $276,485, in the $10,000 Seven Card Stud Eight or Better championship. In a field of 170, he outlasted 168 players only to lose the heads-up battle with veteran pro Frank Kassela. Other career highlights include 12 cashes at the World Series of Poker Europe and 91 cashes on the WSOP circuit, where he has captured three rings. Kessler has even been named Heartland Poker Tour’s ‘Player of the Year’.

With that kind of success, a coveted WSOP bracelet can’t be too far away, can it? According to Kessler, no.

“I think it’s gonna happen. They’ve fixed the structures again this year and I think that will benefit me. It’s only a matter of time,”

The Chainsaw

The nickname ‘Chainsaw’ was given to him by Canadian pro Gavin Smith. He used the label to describe Kessler’s tight style of play. Also how he’s able to chop down his opponents in the heat of battle. Smith, a Guelph, Ontario native, who was tragically found dead in his Texas home at the beginning of 2019, knew a thing or two about poker. He won a WSOP bracelet in 2010 and was named the World Poker Tour’s ’Player of the Year’ in 2005.

The nickname stuck. Since then, it’s evolved into something so much more. The term ‘Chainsaw Approved’ is flaunted by tournament directors across the United States as the gold standard when it comes to the way events are structured.

“If I okay a structure and use the hashtag ’Chainsaw Approved,’ it’s like having a gold label stamped on it, the gold standard of tournament structures. When somebody sees that, they know it’ll be a great event, with a fair structure.”

Analysis or Nit Picking?

After studying business management at both Penn State and Temple University, it wasn’t long before Kessler was applying that knowledge in casinos. He has an aptitude for it. Poker isn’t his only game of choice either. He also enjoys slot machines and video poker, which he utilizes for not only the relaxation it provides, but for the special casino bonuses offered.

“It’s mostly all my own money that I’m investing to play, and it’s not cheap, so I make a point of looking things over, of analyzing the structure sheets, because I want to know whether it’s a good tournament or a bad tournament to play in.”

Kessler lives in Las Vegas now, and continues to apply the same work ethic in gambling halls as he did in the halls of higher education. He is a prolific researcher and enjoys delving deep into all aspects of the tournament game. When he spots an issue with an event or a particular structure, he is quick to point it out and offer up solutions. He will even take to social media and his more than 31,000 followers with ideas and analysis. Do players get enough chips to start? Do the blinds increase too quickly? Is there enough play? These are the types of questions Kessler is trying to answer. He devotes many hours to it.

“A lot of these tournament directors will decide to skip certain blind levels, like 250/500 for example, or even 2,500/5,000, and think nobody will notice, but I do. When you skip those levels, it affects things a lot. At blinds of 2,500/5,000, you’re usually right near the money. Why would you want to skip a level at such an important phase? Or, at the beginning of the tournament, why would you want to go from 200/400 to 300/600 when you only have 15,000 chips? There should be a 250/500 level in there, especially when you’re playing only 30- or 40-minute levels. Why would you skip levels when players aren’t deep in chips at that point?”
These are the kind of things Kessler notices.

WSOP Problem Solver

Kessler’s undeniable knowledge about the design and layout of tournament poker was never more evident than in 2015. He made headlines at the World Series of Poker for helping long-time tournament director Jack Effel implement some vital format changes to all limit tournaments midway through the summer. It was a unique situation, and Kessler saved the day.

Effel Credits Kessler,” screamed the bold print at Bluff magazine. The article described how Kessler proposed an alteration to improve play later in tournaments. When it proved popular and others rallied to support the cause, the WSOP brought the rule change to fruition. It was a successful change.

“It was an unprecedented move. Usually, structures are set in stone once you get to the World Series, but they went with exactly what I had suggested midway through. It was unheard-of. Organizers do care about this stuff. You just have to be civil about it, clearly explain the problem and then provide a solution on how to fix it.”

Derrick Oliver

Derrick Oliver

Derrick Oliver Dewan is the founder of High Roller Radio and has interviewed a number of the world's top poker players and gamblers. A former radio and television broadcaster, Derrick was brand manager for Poker Pro Canada magazine and has written for a variety of publications, including the Toronto Star & Windsor Life.

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