Last year, the World Series of Poker (WSOP) introduced a shot clock. However, it was only for high-roller events. It’s time for the WSOP to go for it in a bigger way and add a shot clock to more events.
Unfortunately, the combination of tanking and other annoying behaviors has made poker increasingly less popular. So, if the audience the WSOP attracts isn’t ready for a shot clock now, poker’s time has simply passed.
But, I’m not ready to throw in the towel yet. I tend to think that, with a few small changes, poker’s popularity can endure.
A bit of poker history
There is some backstory to this issue. Back in 2015, an epidemic of excessive tanking was ruining tournament poker in the US.
More and more players were taking an increasingly large amount of time with each and every decision. They’d go deep into the tank every time it came to them. And they’d emerge only after several minutes for even what others would consider automatic decisions. Heads-up pots became staring contests.
All the tanking inevitably made its way to TV broadcasts, turning off casual viewers and longtime poker fans alike.
The poker economy suffered because fewer people were attracted to what the game had become. Poker was an incredibly exciting game offering anyone and everyone the chance to win millions.
Suddenly, it became a deeply cerebral pursuit more akin to chess. The last time millions rushed home to watch chess on TV or went to a casino to play it was precisely never.
All the time chewed up by tankers ate away at tournament structures as well. It pushed the hands per hour and level way down.
Closing in on the bubble at most tournaments intensified the problem. Stalling one’s way into the money was suddenly seen as a common-sense strategy.
Excessive tanking was everywhere in poker. The only takeaway from endless Twitter debates between top pros and the most egregious time wasters was that a tanker is going to tank. Somebody needed to do something about it.
WPT shot clock success
So, in 2017, the World Poker Tour announced it would be using a 30-second shot clock during all Season XVI Main Tour events. They started using it one full table off the money bubble and kept it in play until a winner was crowned.
Of course, players also received time extension chips they could use for tough decisions in the latter stages of a tournament. No one wanted to punish players for taking the time to make a decision with big money on the line.
Of course, a handful of players continue to annoy the rest of the field by taking the full 30 seconds they are allotted on every decision. However, those exceptions aside, the WPT’s implementation of a shot clock two years ago has to be considered a success.
How can one tell excessive tanking at WPT events isn’t a thing anymore? It’s no longer a trending topic on poker Twitter, that’s how.
Actually, most high-roller tournaments around the world have been using a shot clock for even longer than the WPT. It has helped end the bubble stalling that plagued these events as well.
Calling the clock at the WSOP
However, WSOP management continues to hesitate with making the change. The tournament directors have, instead, tried to find alternatives that required no investment of capital or training.
For instance, in 2017, the WSOP did change its rules to allowing participants to call the clock on others much quicker. Plus, they gave tournament staff the power to call it on any player who is guilty of excessive tanking.
In the past, players had to wait at least 2 minutes before they could call the clock. The dealer called for the floor, and the floor asked if the player had a reasonable amount of time.
If the answer was yes, that player got a 1-minute clock with a 10-second countdown. Now, the clock can be called on a player who is consistently tanking at any time. Plus, the length of that clock is between 10 and 40 seconds.
Of course, many players still acted as if calling the clock on others was somehow a breach of etiquette. As a result, some players were again seen stalling on the bubble and tanking excessively.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
The use of something as simple as an oven timer from the dollar store can help return a sense of urgency, action and excitement to the game. And frankly, the game could use it — particularly if the industry surrounding it wants to grow the game’s popularity again.
Shot clocks have proven they can get rid of the excessive tanking, bubble stalling and yawn-inducing staring contests that have previously plagued tournaments. Hopefully, the WSOP can make it happen this year.