Vogelsang calls clock after 25 seconds

Last Sunday, I had a little altercation at the table with Dutch poker player and eye-candilicious fashionista Tom Vogelsang who called “clock” on me 20-25 seconds into my decision when we were bubble-adjacent, just three spots from the money in the €2,200 ($2,380) FPS Paris High Roller. In doing so, he broke my concentration as I was contemplating a very difficult spot with massive ICM implications. In my opinion, it was a rude, classless, and unsporting thing to do to a player at a key moment of a tournament right at the end of a grueling 14-hour day.

I immediately argued to her that this was “ridiculous”

Suffice to say I was irate. The floor person was called to our table to adjudicate and I immediately argued to her that this was “ridiculous.” She asked the dealer how long it had been to which he replied: “30 seconds.” She replied with “ok so not enough time then” and walked away. I composed myself and weighed up the spot.

The table chip leader had opened in the Hijack, as he had done any unopened pot for roughly an orbit. I was in the Cut Off with 26 big blinds. I saw in my peripheral vision that there was a player eliminated on an adjacent table. That meant that there were 190 players left with 188 paid. From the moment that the floorperson walked away, I took approximately 30 seconds before shoving all-in.

Vogelsang folded his button and immediately jumped out of his chair, laughing with another player at the table, saying: “he just did that to make a point.” I was even more furious. A comment like that is totally out of line, a knucklehead remark at best and an angle-shot at worst, as it could influence action. The blinds folded, as did the original raiser, and I called for the floor.

Heated words and a nosey-Parker

When the floor came over, I gestured to Vogelsang and, as reported by PokerNews blogger David Salituro, said: “Three from the money, a difficult ICM spot, and this dickhead calls the clock after 20 seconds.”

The floor person dutifully attempted to play the role of peacemaker, but there was no calming the situation down. Plenty of back and forth between myself and Vogelsang ensued, and I told him in no uncertain terms that he was in the wrong. The floor implored us to stop arguing so I said to him: “You were completely out of line, but if you apologize, then it’s over.”

He refused to apologize, at which point Parker Talbot weighed in from an adjacent table. The following exchange ensued between Talbot and myself:

“It’s never wrong to call the clock!”

“Stay out of it Tonka!”

“People don’t call the clock enough. I think it’s absolutely fine to call the clock whenever you want.”

“Pipe down Crystal Meth Santa!”

Which brings me to the question that I would like to try to answer in this piece. Is it absolutely fine to call the clock whenever you want, or are there circumstances when it is not okay?

The orbit before

Context is everything in poker and gratuitous stalling is certainly a thing, so in the interest of transparency, I want to go through what had taken place in the previous orbit during which we went from 210 players remaining to 190.

let’s just say a noticeable slowing down of the pace of play was occurring

Our table played nine hands in the 23 minutes leading up to this altercation, not particularly quick, but also not particularly slow for that point in the tournament. There were a couple of bigger stacks opening up their games as well they should, and pretty much the rest of our table was comprised of medium stacks (in the 15-30 big blind range). Quite a few of the medium stacks, myself included, were starting to take 10-12 seconds before folding pre-flop. There was certainly nothing egregious, but let’s just say a noticeable slowing down of the pace of play was occurring.

The fourth hand of that orbit (with roughly 202 players remaining), I was UTG1 and took about ten seconds before limping. Vogelsang raised one seat over and when the action got back to me, I tanked for one minute before shoving my 23 big blind stack. He folded.

Two hands later (with roughly 197 players remaining), I was in the big blind. The Cut Off opened, the Button three-bet, the Small Blind folded, and I went into the tank. I had just over 27 big blinds and I am happy to admit that I was light with the Ace-Five of diamonds. The thing is, however, there was a dynamic between the opener and three-bettor and this was a cool spot to potentially pick up ten big blinds without showdown.

Huge risk premium

Given the context, my shove would look really strong and it is the type of hand that has decent equity if I do run into Kings or Queens. It’s even possible that the original raiser would have to fold pocket Queens. As I mulled this over (and, in part, summoned the courage), Vogelsang called the clock. I had been contemplating the spot for roughly 100 seconds and so had no objection. Unable to pull the trigger, I folded halfway through the floorperson’s countdown.

it is nonetheless super-difficult to figure out optimal lines under severe ICM pressure

For the next two hands, I pretty much snap-folded pre-flop and then came the hand in question. There were 191 players remaining and we were 3 places away from a €3,300 ($3,570) min-cash. Decision making in poker is massively complicated by risk premium, which can turn the strategy on its head. I would consider this area to be a particular strength of mine thanks to my background in SNGs and satellites, but it is nonetheless super-difficult to figure out optimal lines under severe ICM pressure.

When I looked down at my hand, I was genuinely unsure what to do with a hand that is a slam-dunk three-bet induce under normal circumstances, but in this situation becomes a shove or fold. I’d have really appreciated a minute of uninterrupted think time, but unfortunately my tablemate had other ideas.

The stalling problem

There is a growing concern in poker that savvy players are taking the piss around bubbles, occasionally grinding the game to a halt, and that something has to be done to stop them. I empathize with tournament directors who have to police stalling and players who believe it both ruins the fun and is unsporting. It’s certainly problematic that the rules around this situation are arbitrarily enforced, half-policed by the players themselves at the table, half-policed by staff.

Shot clocks have become a bigger part of poker and their implementation during bubble time has become more popular. Matt Savage introduced a shot clock with time extensions system to the WPT World Championship when we were 30 players from the money last December and while I thought it was a bit severe, particularly for recreational players/qualifiers, it certainly made for a fast pre-bubble period.

On the $25,000 buy-in and higher circuit, shot clocks have been a mandatory inclusion for some time and that makes total sense in an environment where you want to sportify all aspects of the game. I would not, however, like to see a similar development in fields with a high amateur participation. Nonetheless, I acknowledge that their absence creates a problem.

It is not always okay to call the clock

I’m going to extrapolate here, but from what he said, I believe that Talbot’s position is that the way to solve that problem is to destigmatize and actually encourage clock-calling. I certainly think that players should call clock more than they currently do. However, I think that they also have a responsibility to do so judiciously. For example, a player facing a three big blind decision on the river in Level 2 of a tournament should be hurried along, whereas a player facing a river over-bet check-shove for their tournament life with 11 remaining deserves some leeway.

How much leeway? Well that is for the players in conjunction with the floor staff at the table to decide. Does that mean some amount of discretion? Yes, it does. I also would add that, of those players, there is a hierarchy of importance with the players with a live hand who have committed chips to the pot taking precedence over an observer. That is not to say that an onlooker can never call clock, but just that they should probably wait a little longer than they would if they were in the hand.

I do think that some punishment is apt.

Coming back to my hand, was Vogelsang entitled to call clock on me after 20-25 seconds on the virtual bubble of a tournament? Absolutely not. Given I was not perilously short and had put my stack at risk six hands prior, it was especially contumelious. Should there be penalties for players who behave like that? Perhaps that is going too far, but when you add his comments of “he just did that to make a point” right after he folded, I do think that some punishment is apt.

In summary, it is not always okay to call the clock and I think that this situation proves that. The moment that I shoved all-in, it should have been immediately clear to Vogelsang that he was in the wrong and the right response should have been to immediately apologize. Instead, he compounded his error with a reckless comment.

I guess when God was giving out good manners, Tom Vogelsang was in the queue for high cheekbones.

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