The Big Issue: Does poker need a shot clock?

It’s in the headlines again, but does the game of poker need a shot clock or should we police ourselves? Dave Woods investigates…

Time is a funny thing. When you’re sat on a winning football bet with 90 seconds to go, it’s interminable. You feel every second. On the flip side, when your team’s on the brink of losing and desperately need a goal to salvage their season, it flies.

Now take this onto the poker table. You’re playing a major event and there’s a player on your table who tanks every single hand. He tanks preflop, he tanks postflop and it’s dragging the number of hands that you’re getting to play down.

Selfish? Now put yourself in the mind of the tanker. He’s an amateur player and he’s never been this deep in a big tournament before. Winning it would change his life. He’s been told that he shouldn’t rush any decisions and he’s desperately trying not to make a mistake. Now he’s starting to feel bad because the table’s obviously hating on him.

The age-old argument about tanking in poker reared up again recently after a tweet from pro player Jordan Cristos about the WPT structure. TD Matt Savage called him out about excessive tanking and before you could say, ‘Clock!’, it blew up into a full-on debate.

Clock!

The rules of poker are pretty simple. Every player in a tournament has the right to call the clock after a ‘reasonable amount of time.’ The trouble is that no one really knows what a reasonable amount of time is. And, a lot of players don’t like to call the clock on anyone, at any time.

There’s no doubt that excessive tanking harms the game. So, do we need a shot clock? It’s been tried before in ‘speed’ formats and it’s never caught on. The big problem is execution – does the dealer need another layer to his job? Plus, some decisions naturally take longer than others. Negreanu has long pushed for a shot clock and followed up the Twitter storm with a blog. He says he’s in favour of taking time over complex decisions, but there is a line that’s unacceptable. It would obviously be unreasonable to take 20 minutes per decision, but where is the line?

Negreanu’s answer, in the absence of an official rule, is to let players take as long as they want – within reason – on their first tank. If they keep doing it, he will call the clock at two minutes, and then decrease by 15 seconds each tank until he gets to 30 seconds. In some extreme situations he’ll go below that.

It’s the perfect solution – if you’re confident enough to keep calling the clock on players, and you’re as even-handed as Negreanu. A lot of players – especially amateurs – just don’t have the composure or the knowledge to do this. And should it be the responsibility of the players to police? Most players would prefer to concentrate on their game than a clock.

There’s no reason to stick with rules if they’re not working – goal line technology in football has improved the game. Saying that, I don’t think a shot clock would be good for poker. Excessive tanking doesn’t happen a lot. When it does there is a system in place for dealing with it. The real issue is the stigma attached to the clock. It’s not (or shouldn’t be) personal. Decide for yourself what a reasonable amount of time is. Give players the benefit of the doubt. Give them a free chance to tank. Then, if they keep doing it, call the clock. And keep calling the clock. It’s your game – take charge of it.


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