Matt Kirk

Who is Matt Kirk and Why Did He Sue Leon Tsoukernik?

Australian poker pro Matt Kirk, a.k.a. “Aussie Matt”, brought a civil suit against 43-year-old Czech casino owner Leon Tsoukernik on June 5, 2017.

Filed in Clark County, Nevada, the suit alleged that the King’s Casino owner failed to repay $2 million of the $3 million that Kirk loaned him to continue in a high-stakes heads-up cash game at the Aria in Las Vegas.

Who is Matt Kirk?

As mentioned, Kirk is an Aussie poker pro. This 30-year-old pot-limit Omaha (PLO) specialist with a reputation for playing like a maniac—who plays No-Limit Hold’em “for fun” because he’s bored— has many in the poker world talking about him.

Kirk visited his first casino at the age of 18 and then joined the under-the-table games Down Under. After a short while, he moved on to very high-stakes home games. His ridiculously high 95% VPIP rate against many of the best poker players in the world certainly is a cause for discussion, and Kirk appears to enjoy the attention.

Matt Kirk Leon Tsoukernik lawsuit

The $2M Czech

This incident began on the night of May 27, 2017 with a friendly, million-dollar heads-up game between Matt Kirk and Leon Tsoukernik at the Aria before the start of the Aria’s Super High Roller Bowl.

In the initial game, Kirk lost $1.5 million to Tsoukernik—and paid him—thus establishing a “prior relationship” between the two men that Tsoukernik used to his advantage in obtaining a subsequent loan—or series of loans—from Kirk.

However, in the famous rematch on the night of May 27, the allegedly intoxicated Tsoukernik borrowed $3 million from Kirk—in four separate loans—which he was to repay following the match. At the time of the lawsuit’s filing, Tsoukernik had only repaid Kirk $1 million. In his suit, Kirk maintained that he had records of the loans via text messages and also Aria video evidence from the Phil Ivey room, where the gentlemen were playing.

According to a TwoPlusTwo forum, Kirk retained the services of famed Las Vegas attorneys David Chesnoff and Richard Schonfeld in suing Tsoukernik to recover the remaining $2 million, plus court costs and attorney fees. Kirk’s attorneys prepared the lawsuit on June 5—just two days after Tsoukernik paid Kirk $1 million—and filed it on June 16 — a mere week after Kirk initially loaned the money. 

aria poker room front desk

In court

Kirk’s attorneys contended that Tsoukernik committed fraud and introduced into evidence a text message Tsoukernik allegedly sent to Kirk 12 minutes after confirming receipt of the $3 million loan that said “Not valid. 0 now”—thus demonstrating Tsoukernik’s intent to never repay the loans.

Initially, District Judge Linda Marie Bell dismissed eight of Kirk’s ten claims—the ones that were listed as “breach of contract” or “breach of implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing”—on the grounds that the damages Kirk sought amounted to little more than an “unenforceable gambling debt.” However, Bell did not dismiss the case outright, thus enabling Kirk to pursue his claims on the two remaining grounds of “fraudulent inducement” and “unjust enrichment.”

As far as fraudulent inducement, it appeared that Tsoukernik entered into the agreement with Kirk with fraud and/or malice, not intending to repay the loan if he lost the game.

Kirk claimed that Tsoukernik represented that he would, in fact, repay the loans at the game’s conclusion and that Tsoukernik “expressly requested” the loans and also “expressly represented” that he would repay the money at the end of the game but then refused to do so. Thus, the money Kirk allegedly loaned unjustly enriched Tsoukernik.

In addition to the text messages, Kirk’s attorneys contended that video surveillance of the game also demonstrated the nature of the transaction and potential witnesses.

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What Rob Yong had to say

Nottingham, England, poker club Dusk till Dawn owner Rob Yong offered his personal account of his role in brokering the arrangement between Matt Kirk and Leon Tsoukernik.

Kirk allegedly told Yong that he regretted lending Tsoukernik the money when Tsoukernik was obviously intoxicated but that Tsoukernik threatened to never play him again if Kirk stopped playing that night.

Yong then suggested that Kirk offer a goodwill discount to Tsoukernik—$2 million cash and a heads-up game for the remaining $1 million. The men met, Tsoukernik allegedly agreed, and the two gentlemen shook hands.

However, according to Yong, approximately 20 minutes later, Kirk—while on the phone—told Yong that there was no deal and that Tsoukernik had to repay the full amount. When informed of the change in plans, Tsoukernik was understandably upset.

A few days later, Yong was allegedly called to witness a settlement between the two men wherein the $1 million Tsoukernik had already repaid to Kirk allegedly constituted a “full and final settlement” in the matter.

Kirk later informed Yong that he was going to use the $1 million repayment to “destroy” Tsoukernik and inform every poker website and magazine in the world. He expressed displeasure that Tsoukernik spoke down to him, scolded him like a child, and told him that he should learn a lesson about never loaning money to drunk people. Kirk was justifiably angry, yet he took the $1 million and decided he would still pursue the remaining $2 million.

Matt Kirk lawsuit scales of justice

The defendant fights back

Tsoukernik’s lawyers contended that the alleged debts were void and unenforceable and urged for dismissal of the case in its entirety. On November 8 Tsoukernik filed a countersuit against Matt Kirk and the Aria.

In his claim, Tsoukernik alleged that the Aria over-served him alcoholic beverages, rendering him too intoxicated to accurately count his chips, thus having to rely on Kirk and the dealer to do so. Tsoukernik also claimed that he misread his hands, thus rendering the game “unfair, dishonest, and non-competitive.”

Tsoukernik also alleged that the Aria was financially backing Kirk and may have shared in Kirk’s winnings during the game.

A habitual offender?

This isn’t the first time Tsoukernik has been on the receiving end of failing to repay huge cash game debts accusations. Back in 2015, he allegedly welched on a €3 million debt from a high-stakes private game held during the EPT Barcelona. Here, Canadian pro Elton Tsang accused Tsoukernik of failing to repay a $2.4 million loan Tsang extended to him.

Tsang also alleged that his efforts to collect were met by Tsoukernik’s “associates” attempting to intimidate him to stop collection efforts on an “invalid debt.” Tsoukernik denied Tsang’s allegations, asserting that the losses were invalid due to a “strange and not fair” game. 

What are your thoughts on the Matt Kirk-Leon Tsoukernik “incident”? 

Until next time.

Note: Want to upgrade your poker skills? Get free preflop charts here and start playing like a pro before the flop. Download now!

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About the Author
Natalie Faulk

Natalie Faulk

Natalie Faulk is a Las Vegas-based freelance writer/blogger and the author of several books. She is an avid low-stakes (for now) poker player and huge Vegas Golden Knights fan.

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