Cleaning out the Tankers

3 years ago
Cleaning out the Tankers: How do we stop slow play in poker?
26 Oct

I’m a chess player first and a poker player second, and as anyone who has played chess competitively knows, waiting for your opponent to make his move can last from between one second and, well, almost forever! At least it can seem that way at times – 10 minutes, 20 or much longer ‘tanking’ being commonplace –but what about poker? What’s an acceptable length of time to make your decision and play?

The ‘Will Kassouf story’ this past week or two on ESPN has raised the debate once again, the Englishman taking forever on the most simple of decisions in what was a seemingly deliberate ploy to get under everyone’s skin. In chess if your opponent is thinking, you can use the time to think too, or wander about the playing hall, get a coffee, go for a smoke, whatever.

In poker, it doesn’t work that way if you’re in a hand with the likes of Kassouf. He’s constantly talking at you, and the opportunity to think clearly about anything is simply not there, unless it’s beating the living daylights out of him you’re thinking about – and apparently that’s illegal!

And there is actually a ‘time limit’ of sorts set in stone in poker – the tournamentblind levels go up every two hours (or less, of course, depending on how big the event is) – excessive tanking can reduce everyone’s effective stack if the table is playing 12 hands an hour or so.

Last year Daniel Negreanu weighed in on the debate after Jordan Cristos defended his own horrendously slow play:

"If everyone acted the way Jordan Cristos does in tournament poker, it would cease to exist. Not only would it destroy the structures where you get only 10-15 hands an hour, it makes the game boring for amateurs, which also eats into a pros profits.”

Negreanu added in his blog post:

"Jordan talks a lot about respecting the game and respecting the players, but his actions show absolutely no respect for other players’ time or what is best for the game or the community.”

The Canadian star spelled out the main problems with those prone to taking too much time.

"Let me try and explain it for you. No one is saying that it's inappropriate to take your time when decisions are crucial. However, when you are under the gun, first to act, and go into the tank, most everyone agrees that this is crossing a line! When someone 4-bets you before the flop and you take more than two minutes to respond, most everyone agrees that this is excessive tanking.”
"When I play with players who consistently act within a reasonable amount of time, I don't call the clock on them when they occasionally take a few minutes to make a decision. If there is a habitual tanker like yourself, then you have lost that privilege and courtesy. If a player took 20 minutes per decision, I would imagine even Jordan Cristos would think that is crossing the line? So there is a line, there has to be, and the vast majority in the poker community that Jordan Cristos claims to respect think he is crossing it far too often.”

So what can poker do about the time-wasters?

Call the clock!

Firstly, as mentioned and many people agree with, call the clock! Do it repeatedly and quickly against the deliberate tankers. Negreanu finished his ‘letter to Cristos’ post by saying:

"In the future, when I call the clock on you repeatedly, it isn't personal. I'm just doing what's best for me, the structure, the other players at the table, the poker community, the broadcast, the fans, and ultimately YOU.”

WPT Executive Tour Director Matt Savage believes that players are too shy about calling the clock on those who slow-play.

"Call the clock[/quote] it is an option and they should feel free to do so without fear of repercussions in any tournament I am a part of. Many people don't know that there is a Tournament Directors Association rule on the books that the clock will be reduced by 10 seconds each time the clock is called on the same player."

Veteran pro Allen Kessler said:

"A simple time, approximately two minutes, should precede calling the clock. My idea, which I posted on Twitter, would solve the whole issue - the floor man would come to the table and ask the dealer if the player had enough time. Then the floor would say 'you have one minute to act on your hand, if you elect to fold your hand will be shown to the table.' At that point the player could muck or have the clock started. This would solve most of the problem as often the tanking is with uncallable hands."

The Shot clock

Shot clocks, which limit the time per decision for players, are already in use – the WPT and Aussie Millions both among those using them recently, and they seem to have the support of the majority of players.

Cristos’ friend Matt Stout actually called the clock on him eight times one day, progressively quicker each time, but doesn’t believe a ‘shot clock’ is the answer. “A lot of people think that a shot clock is the answer, but I don't think it is,” he stated last year when the debate erupted.

"I don't think that an online tournament specialist like Jordan Cristos, who has been playing poker for a living for several years, should have the same amount of time to act on his hand before the flop facing no action as a recreational player making a decision for his entire stack on the river at his first major final table.”

And as Erik Fast pointed out in his Cardplayer article last year:

"The downsides of a shot clock include the logistical problems involved with implementing them into the game and the initial cost for the casino or tour. Dealers and floor staff will need to be trained to handle the additional job responsibilities. The additional time pressure might dissuade amateur players, some argue, and conversely might rob expert players of the time they need to make their best decisions.”

So, what do you think? Should there be a shot clock? Or more penalties for the habitual and deliberate tankers? Comments below as usual!

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Andrew from Edinburgh, Scotland, is a professional journalist, international-titled chess master, and avid poker player.Read more


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