Should poker have a shot clock?
Imagine you've made it all the way to the final 20 players of the $15,000 World Poker Tour Championship in April at the Borgata in Atlantic City, N.J. Every time you made it through another day, you had to text your boss back home to let him know your desk/cubicle/workstation would be empty the next day because you've somehow managed to survive yet again.
Your boss understands and supports you because he knows how much you love poker. You talk about it at the office a lot. You're always watching the WPT and WSOP broadcasts and you've even taken weekend trips to New Jersey to play online poker. That's how you qualified for this event, a satellite on partypoker.com. The $15,000 buy-in is a huge chunk of money to you and you couldn't possibly afford to walk up to the cashier cage and give them that kind of cash.
So here you are, just 14 players between you and the six-handed TV final table. Finally, your friends and family would be able to see you on TV, watching you chase your dreams and playing for life-changing money.
An hour into the day a tough spot comes up. A player who you recognize from TV -- say, Vanessa Selbst -- has decided to three-bet you. You look down again and stare at your Ah-Kh. What should you do? You could call, see a flop, and go from there. You could move all-in and hope Selbst folds whatever she has. Or, if she calls, you're hoping for a race against something like pocket jacks.
You've seen Selbst play on TV enough to know that she's really capable of having almost anything in this spot. She sees you, the amateur, the "recreational player" in today's vernacular, and knows that each move up the payout ladder means a few less mortgage payments or car payments for you and the family. To her, an $8,000 jump isn't much. Is she just trying to accumulate chips? Is she using all of that to make it seem like she's weak? Could she already have you crushed?
You're pondering your decision and you can feel your heart thumping through your chest when all of a sudden the dealer interrupts your thoughts.
"Sir, you have 10 seconds to act; nine, eight, seven, six ..." In five seconds your hand will be folded. The chips you've already invested in the pot will be gone and with them will go a good chance at winning this tournament and the million dollar first-place prize money.
"Four, three, two..."
You can hardly breathe as you run every option through your brain one last time. "One. Sir, your hand is dead."
And you watch in silence as the dealer pushes the pot to Selbst.
This isn't a scenario that is possible right now, but it sure looks like the World Poker Tour is going to make this a reality. During the LAPC, the World Poker Tour polled players about adding a shot clock. According to WPT announcer Mike Sexton, 80 percent of those polled were in favor of giving players a limited time to act on each street.
The rule change is meant to eliminate any excessive tanking, something we see all too often during poker's biggest events. Tanking is one of the more common complaints of the past couple of years among tournament regulars as players who take excessive time on each street. Players not involved in the hand suffer as well, as a slow-acting player can greatly reduce the number of hands dealt during an entire day.
Based on a blog Sexton wrote, it looks like players will be given 30 seconds to act on their hand before it is declared dead. Each player will be given two (or possibly more, based on player feedback) "time buttons" at the start of each day that a player can use to get another 60 seconds to contemplate their action. Once those two buttons are gone, players will not have the ability to add more time until the next day, should they survive.
There has been plenty of discussion about this proposal, but none of it has focused on the one issue that seems most important. One of the pillars of the poker world has been the fact that an amateur has the ability to sit down and play with the world's best and be afforded the same opportunity to win. This rule, as it is designed now, actually arms the pros against the amateurs.
Look back at the scenario where you're facing Selbst's three-bet. If you have a time button, you're faced with another decision while the clock is ticking. Should you use it now? Would it be more valuable later? What if you have only one? Even worse, what if it's later in the day and you've already used both of them? Does this increase the likelihood that Selbst is bluffing?
Poker is a game of making decisions; that's part of its appeal. But there has been growing discussion in the past year about making sure that the experience players -- in particular, recreational players -- have is a great one and free of anything that will cause them to consider not coming back. The shot clock idea creates more pressure points for pros to take advantage of and could leave amateurs with a pretty sour taste in their mouths.
The problem of excessive tanking isn't a new one. There is already a way to handle these players: Call the clock. The problem lies in the fact that calling the clock has a stigma attached to it. Do it against somebody you're in a hand with and you're seen as a jerk for not letting your opponent think his options through. It's "unsportsmanlike," in some eyes. Call the clock on somebody at your table when you're not in the hand and you're going to spend the rest of the day dodging daggers from the player you called the clock on.
Players need to take responsibility for the pace of play at their table. When a player is abusing the right to think about his actions on each street, call the clock. Conversely, if the clock gets called on you, don't take it personally, but heed the warning and speed things up a bit. If a player is continually taking too much time, the floor person can get involved and issue a warning. In the past few years, Daniel Negreanu has warned people he'll be playing with that if they're tanking too often, he'll call the clock. Other players need to step up and follow suit before time runs out.
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