Doyle Brunson Small 91112

Doyle Brunson

It has become one of the most pressing issues in poker, whether an automatic clock is needed to halt endless periods of inactivity in tournament poker.The problem arises when players deliberately take several minutes to make decision. Other players will respect an opponent with an important choice to make, but when the delay is because a player is trying to increase their chance of outlasting another (and winning more money), then the disgruntled begin to speak up.

Two of those disgruntled players happen to be among the most high profile in the game, Daniel Negreanu and Doyle Brunson.Both command great respect and have sizeable followings online, where both have highlighted the issue. Despite not always agreeing on matters poker, politics and life in general, the pair agrees that something must be done.

Specifically they want a “shot clock”, like that used in basketball, in which each team is permitted a certain amount of time before they concede possession. A more obvious comparison is online poker, where each player has a set time before their hand is declared dead.

Negreanu tweeted as much after watching coverage on ESPN of this year’s World Series of Poker main event final which turned into a three-handed marathon.

@RealKidPoker: If there was any doubt about the need for a clock in poker this is exhibit A. This is painstakingly tilting for casual viewers….October 30 2012

Writing on his blog, Brunson, a two time winner of the event, echoed Negreanu.

Daniel Negreanu Small 301112

“At least we agree that something has to be done about the slow play in the poker tournaments. It makes almost unwatchable TV and is very boring. A shot clock is the answer and the only question is how long can a player wait before he acts? I think one minute is plenty of time.”

It’s an issue that was discussed at length in an article on the PokerStars Blog during EPT Sanremo in October. In it, Neil Johnson,

PokerStars Live Events Specialist, detailed how the problem is one regularly discussed by tournament staff. Johnson, though, doubts that a shot clock is the ideal solution.

“The biggest hindrance to it from an organiser’s perspective is that the only way to run a shot clock is to put the dealers in charge of it. And that’s not saying anything bad against the dealer, but no tournament organiser I know wants to be putting the dealer in the position to kill a hand…The only people killing hands should be floor personnel. I want dealers watching the game, not staring at their lap at a little clock to see if a hand should be killed.”

As the article details, Johnson advocates a third way, a more rigorous use of existing rules requiring no additional duties for the dealer while allowing players to take time if a genuinely needed.

“There are a number of things that have happened in the last ten years in poker: asking to see an opponent’s hand has become very poor etiquette; calling the clock has become very poor etiquette,” Johnson said. “But the guy Hollywood-ing with jack-five, or even having a tough decision with pocket nines, is still eating my clock, which I’ve paid for…Some of these chronic two-minute guys, I would start hitting them with a clock. There’s nothing sacred about that. This is about players taking back their tournament.”

So could it be that the easiest solution is to let players play and call the clock if they suspect someone of slow play? It’s either that or a clock of some kind forcing players to act. The latter might not be all that bad if Brunson’s experience is anything to go by.

“We had a tourney in Lake Tahoe that had a 20 second clock,” writes Brunson, “and it was the most fun I’ve ever had in a tournament.”