The subject I am going to write about in this column is a rather sensitive one, with the risk of getting new “enemies.” I think it’s about time someone speaks up about some of the bad things going on in tournament poker today. Ever since I started coming to the United States to play tournaments in the late ’90s, I have been annoyed by the amount of time some of the pros take to make their decisions.
Six of the members of Team Martinspoker went to Los Angeles to play in the later events of the L.A. Poker Classic at Commerce Casino. In the $2,500 no-limit hold’em event, two of the guys, William Thorson and Tobias Persson, made the final table. I watched the whole final table, and saw a Southern California player, in my opinion, make a mockery out of poker. I have great respect for him as a poker player. He is no doubt one of the toughest players out there, but his behavior does not belong. Lots of young players who look up to him were in the crowd, and I sincerely hope they won’t start copying him. When it was down to fivehanded, they played 14 hands an hour! A clock was requested on this player no less 11 times! Average decision-making time was more than two minutes. I am a big supporter of letting players take their time when facing a big decision in no-limit hold’em. The nature of some hands (pot size, and so on) just requires great contemplation. But, if someone raises four times your big blind and you have 7-3 offsuit, what is there to think about? Sure, you could argue that by taking your time, you might eventually pick up a weak tell and act on it accordingly. I just think it is bad poker etiquette.
The obvious reason for this kind of mannerism is to put opponents off balance; that is, psychological warfare. Lots of players also find it rude to call a clock. Especially if you are involved in a hand, you don’t want to give up a tell. I think tournament directors should be more observant, and players need to get warned.
At Bellagio in October, one guy slowed down the Bola88 game enormously. Jack McClelland was called to the table for a clock four times. He then warned the player and instructed him that if a clock was called again, he’d have 30 seconds to make a decision on every hand or it would be declared dead. I applauded, and was very impressed.
Celebrations after winning a pot is another thing that has gone way overboard. There is nothing wrong with a fist pump now and then; after all, we are only human and should once in a while be allowed to show emotions. There is a difference between being charismatic and fun to watch and repeated screaming, dancing, high-fiving with the spectators, and even verbally insulting fellow players. The latter is a total disgrace. And walking away from the table after moving all in is something that has come to be common practice. If you play live poker, should you not be able to see your opponent when you make your decision? Or, would you like players chasing each other down and making conversation away from the table? Profoundly, I find it ridiculous and bad poker etiquette.
In the L.A. Poker Classic main event, another weird thing happened. With 46 players left and 45 places being paid, we went hand by hand. It was announced that if two players went out in the same hand, both, regardless of chip count, would share 45th place. Slowing the action down was a strategy used at some of the six remaining tables. The reason was obvious. By not acting immediately and taking extra time, someone at another table might go broke first. Always being the last table to act would be a huge benefit. How long did it take before we lost one player? 25 minutes? 45 minutes? No! It took one hour and 35 minutes of play to knock the 46th player out. We lost almost one level of play. During this time, we might have played 20 hands!! Although I don’t have any solution to what should have been done, there has to be some way to deal with this problem.
How often do you hear players apologizing for their mistakes at the table? My experience is, virtually never. I must admit I am not the best in that department, but I am trying hard. A lot of the decisions made by tournament directors are obstructed by rude conversation, and arguing between players and dealers. Most often, the accused violator is aware of his/her mistake and could easily apologize respectfully to the other players. Poker should become an even more gentlemanly game than it is today. In the L.A. Poker Classic main event, this scenario took place: Juha Helppi was on the button and playing a pot against Erick Lindgren. After betting the flop and the turn, Juha got check-raised with a board of 9-8-6-5 and two diamonds. He opted to call with a mere pair of eights. Almost before the 7diamonds hit the board, producing a straight and a possible flush, Juha announced he was all in. Oops! He forgot that he was on the button and had acted out of turn. A ruling was asked for. Juha’s bet did not stand, according to California rules. He took his bet back, and Erick, who had two pair on fourth street, decided to check, and so did Juha! They split the pot with the straight on the board.
You could clearly see how Erick was robbed of his play. If he went all in on the river, Juha’s decision would have been a much harder one, calling with a split pot as the best possibility. The normally so calm, collected, and smiling Erick Lindgren was furious. Juha very easily could have apologized. I am not saying he acted out of turn intentionally, but could you blame Erick for having that thought cross his mind?
Poker is booming and getting more and more exposure. Every one of us is responsible for promoting our job, passion, and hobby in an honorable way. The so-called name players should be especially thoughtful.
I hope everyone does not think I have been too harsh and judgmental. I love to focus on positive things, but sometimes even the negative factors have to be highlighted.