Editorial: Poker Has a “Tanking” Problem

images (1)17 minutes. A single hand of poker actually took 17 minutes to play out. Not only that, but the clock had to be called on three separate occasions… On a single STREET! I understand that this update from the PokerStars ANZPT Queensland Main Event is an outlier, but it’s not that much worse than the current norm, considering we’ve seen two tables with hand discrepancies of 25 and 18 at the WSOP. This most recent situation simply demonstrates just how far off the rails players have gone with tanking, not to mention the incredibly tilting pace of play thanks to the slow, deliberate, actions employed by a growing number of tournament players for the most mundane decisions.

Here is the thing; not only does it bother me personally, it’s bad for the game. It’s bad for players in the game who have to deal with less hands per hour and the torturous pace, and it hurts poker’s chance to once again be a television darling. As televised poker has given way to cupcake baking competitions in recent years the game is in desperate need of some new life, and in my opinion the next step in the evolution of the game is the live stream – face the facts, the general public is pretty much over the edited down WSOP and WPT episodes that show just the big hands.

So, if players are going to make a hand of poker last five, ten, or seventeen minutes, we may as well call it a day right now, because poker on a live-stream will never appeal to the causal viewer if this is the case.

Let’s use a little anecdotal data (and a trip down memory lane for me) to show just how over the top the stalling, the “Hollywood’ing,” and deliberateness of players’ actions have become.

Playing in a casino I used to get in about 25 hands per hour. This means every hand was taking, on average, about two minutes to play out. Even in slow games we would still hit about 20 hands per hour, or about three minutes per hand. That’s three minutes to shuffle, deal, bet-raise-fold, and stack chips: three minutes! So what the hell happened? How is it that it now takes three minutes… for players to muck their hands pre-flop?

I actually blame the WSOP and WPT for this phenomenon. Those edited down episodes that were so riveting were also only showing difficult decisions and big hands; while players on TV had something to actually think about –an actual important decision– the people watching poker on TV in their living rooms didn’t get to see all of the other decisions that were happening in seconds. They were shown a poker game that required nothing but deep thought and careful and cautious decision making; they never got to the see the hands that went fold, fold, fold, raise, fold, fold in less than 30 seconds.

Some blame also needs to be placed at the feet of tournament players, who have become so deliberate with their movements and actions that they appear almost non-human, as robotic as the poker bots cited by the conspiracy theorists on NVG. It’s bad enough that they stopped talking at the tables and now spend all of their table time with sunglasses and headphones on, but now they’re going to slow down the game to a snail’s pace so they take precisely the same amount of time whether they are playing a hand or folding? Are you kidding me?

Here is my advice for poker players: Act with alacrity. Alacrity means you don’t have to rush, but you also don’t need to count to three; look at your hole cards; pull them back exactly one inch from your chip stack; place a chip on top of them; count out your standard raise; put those chips on top of the chip you are using as a card protector; replace them in your stack after counting to five; and kick-in your 4/7 offsuit. Just fold your hand!

For every player guilty of these deliberate actions when there is no need (you’re really not giving away any usable information by folding your hand in a timely manner) a table is likely losing two hands per hour. That’s two hands every blind level that are not being dealt and the only reason is that these players don’t want to give anything away –which they’re not really doing in the first place.

If poker really wants to reclaim its spot as a legitimate TV program this part of the game has to be quashed. It’s one thing for a player to take a couple minutes when they are faced with a truly difficult decision, but when the decision is folding 4/7 offsuit from under-the-gun it shouldn’t take more than three seconds start to finish.

I don’t know if a shot-clock is the answer, but at this point I’d be willing to try it. I’d even be open to something like we see in golf, where all the players in a group are warned for slow play regardless of who is at fault. So how about if we implement a rule that says: Any table falling under 20 hands per hour will be put on the clock: With each player at the table given 20 seconds for all pre-flop decisions, 30 seconds for all decisions on later streets, with the option to call time twice, which gives you an extra minute.

By punishing everyone at the table, even if it’s just one or two players causing the problem, we might see poker players start self-policing the game, and players that are overly slow and deliberate start to become pariahs, or at least reprimanded by their peers. Like the military, punish everyone for the mistakes of one or two, and let the players work out the issues among themselves.

If we really want to reinvent poker on TV, and draw new players into the game, we absolutely need to eradicate poker’s “Tanking” issue.

Steve Ruddock is a professional poker writer and blogger for 4Flush.com and a variety of other big name news sites. You can follow Steve’s Twitter @SteveRuddock or his Google+ profile here.

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