David Lappin sounds off on snooping the satellite bubble

Haley Hintze
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Posted on: July 7, 2023 6:11 am EDT

One of the facts of life when it comes to playing in poker tournaments is that when the bubble looms, the action slows. Dramatically. It can be even more dramatic when there’s more than just a min-pay at stake. In satellites to larger events, stalling on the bubble can reach mind-numbing extremes. And if it’s a mega satellite to the WSOP Main Event, when the difference is collecting a $10,000 seat or heading to the rail empty-handed, it can become a tense, touchy situation where certain rules are supposed to apply but most often, stalling and rubbernecking has to be subjectively policed by experienced tourney directors.

That’s where Ireland’s David Lappin enters the tale. Lappin is a Unibet brand ambassador, and along with fellow Unibet pro Dara O’Kearney, he can also be found hosting the popular “The Chip Race” podcast. Lappin, who also writes some but views himself first and foremost as a poker pro, was deep in one of Wednesday’s $1,100 Mega Satellite tourneys, with WSOP Main Event seats for the top 10 percent of finishers.

As the bubble loomed, a situation occurred that ruffled Lappin’s feathers a bit, and he took to Twitter with a report:

Lappin also had words about the long-standing policy, at the WSOP and elsewhere, that players remain at their own tables, especially as hand-for-hand action approaches:

Lappin elaborates on the situation

Lappin took time during a break from his Main Event Day 1D seat to speak with PokerOrg, and opine on the matter he did. Here’s just a bit of what he had to say.

“We ended up having quite a long bubble. With 765 players, we had 76 prizes — 75 seats and about $3,000 for 76th. And with about 90 left on the clock, the usual thing happened where people start stalling a little bit, you know, you can tell that the pace of play on all tables is is slowing down.

“That certainly happened at my table as well. But nothing egregious, you know; people take an extra 10 seconds over a decision and you’re like, okay, whatever. Some people obviously take the piss and spend minutes and then they are worthy of maybe being looked at a bit more closely.

“And to be fair to the tournament staff here, they sort of spotted a few people doing that and said to them, ‘Look, I can see you’re stalling quite a few hands. I’m keeping an eye on this, you know. We can’t have this and I will give penalties.’

“And then I think maybe [with about] five left I was under the gun. I had seven big [blind]s. I had ace-four offsuit. I can’t remember the suits. And it’s, it’s kind of a legit spot, because the calling ranges are very narrow for all the players on the table, meaning you’re probably not really meant to call it off. Maybe like with queens. A-J, A-x is a pretty nasty spot there if it’s for a big percentage of your chips.

“And, yeah, it was a reasonable situation to consider, and I think I took about 25 seconds. And I mucked and the tournament director came in over my shoulder, took my hand out of the muck and looked at it. I had never in 20 years had someone ever pull my cards from the muck and look at them. And I went, ‘Excuse me?’ And he went, ‘Just doing my job, sir.’ And I went, ‘Okay,’ so I let the hand play out.

“Ironically, Jesse Sylvia ended up tanking for three minutes; I’m sure he had a reasonably tough decision. And [another] player took a couple of minutes before folding, and then I think the big blind might have taken a minute before folding. So the hand actually took about six or seven minutes. But I only took 20 seconds after beginning with my hand that was looked at.

“And I called the floor. I just said to the dealer, ‘Can we get the floor back over here, please?’ And I asked, ‘What’s going on?’ You can’t be pulling my hand out of the mock. And he said, ‘Well, if you didn’t have a real decision there, sir, I would have penalized you.’ And I said, ‘Well, firstly, you don’t get to tell me what I do with my hands. If I’m really considering a hand I shouldn’t be, that’s my prerogative as the player to play badly in that spot.'”

Lappin maintains that the TD erred by not attempting to separate the actual strategy involved from the stalling. “Your judgment on strategy should not come into your decision on that. We’re getting to a situation where floor staff can presume to know what the correct strategy is. And if you deviate from it, then [the floor] makes a judgment that you’re behaving unethically in some way. And I don’t think we can open that door.

“So that was strange for me. I said to him, ‘Look, in 20 years, I’ve never had anyone pull my hand out of the muck. As you saw, I had a spot, I had a real decision in this situation. But also, why did you pick me because, like, a 20-second tank is not even a real tank under the gun.’ Actually, I think no matter what my hand was, given the situation, everybody’s entitled to 20 seconds, have a quick think and, you know, judge the situation. And he was not in agreement. So I just thought that was a strange one.”

Lappin squeaks past the bubble

Despite the mini-tempest, play continued, and Lappin did qualify for the Main, but just barely. He was down to less than a single big blind’s worth of chips with the blinds looming when the bubble first, and seat in hand, he managed to bag 137,400 chips on yesterday’s Day 1D as well.

While reiterating his belief that the satellite TD’s actions were “draconian,” he also thinks it’s a little draconian to not allow players to move about a bit and keep an eye on other situations with so much on the line. “I do appreciate that you don’t want to an unruly situation where everyone’s getting up every hand to see if people are bubbling, busting, or whatever. But at the same time, players are entitled to all the information.”

What can be done amid one of the nagging realities that has impacted tournament poker for years? Lappin’s not short on ideas. “It’s a fair issue, because it is problematic, obviously. Satellite structures are such that you are incentivized to stall; it’s actually making money when you make a decision to take time. And that’s not really proper poker.

“So the obvious thing to do, which is what I suggest, is go hand-for-hand earlier. As soon as you get a sense that it’s happening on tables, you have to go hand-for-hand. And in fairness, they [the satellite TDs] did do that eventually, but not before this happened. I think they did ultimately make good decisions at the end.”