The Poker Shot Clock Debate
Last week, while the 2012 WSOP Main Event participants battled it out for millions at the final table, a debate erupted on Twitter led by Daniel Negreanu over the need for a shot-clock in poker.
Prompting the debate was the slow, methodical playing style of eventual second place finisher Jesse Sylvia. Since the final table was broadcast on a slight delay on ESPN, viewers were subjected to long stretches of time awaiting Sylvia to make decisions. Sylvia was not solely responsible for the boring TV, most other finalists had their fair share of tough decisions which required considerable time to think before acting. Someone calculated that the average hand during three-handed play was taking three minutes and thirty seconds to complete. It made for bad TV.
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Daniel Negreanu, never one to be shy about his opinions, sparked a debate on Twitter saying, "If there was any doubt about the need for a clock in poker this is exhibit A. This is painstakingly tilting for casual viewers."
Steve O'Dwyer countered by noting, "they're playing a once in a lifetime 3 handed game for obscene life changing money, everyone should relax and give 'em a break."
Clock or No Clock
So which is it? Do live poker tournaments need a rule that prevent players from taking too much time on decisions? Or is the current status-quo where players are permitted an indefinite amount of time on decisions until an opponent requests a one minute countdown satisfactory?
Negreanu and others who complained about the laborious nature of the WSOP final table have a valid gripe. It makes for painstakingly boring television when the average hand is taking over three minutes to complete. No-limit hold'em tournaments are extremely boring when they're not extremely exciting. So the question becomes: should ESPN continue airing live coverage of the WSOP or stick with the edited-for-TV footage that erases the tedious nonsense no one wants to watch? And if they do continue airing live coverage, should a "decision clock" be implemented to force players to act more quickly?
The answers to this are yes, and yes. Live televised poker tournaments are fantastic for the game. Watching a pre-recorded poker tournament where the outcome is readily available with a Google search if not already common knowledge can't hold a candle to the excitement of watching players battle for life-changing sums of money in real-time. However, something needs to be done to speed the proceedings up.
Justin Pechie chimed into the Negreanu-led debate saying, "poker is who can think the best, not who can think the best in 60 secs." However, Justin is wrong. Poker is about who can think the best in sixty seconds and as an online poker player, he should know.
The modern game of poker challenges players to make difficult decisions in a very narrow window of time, often while they have other tables running. This is the new reality of poker: a fast-paced, high-intensity activity where those with sharpest analytical skills and ability to make decisions on-the-fly excel. Ironically, the players who seem to have a knack for taking forever to make decisions in live poker are the players who first cut their teeth in online games. What are they waiting for?!
Thanks to online poker, a huge majority of poker hands played throughout the world are played under the stipulation that players receive only a few seconds, or if they're lucky, a couple of minutes to make their decision. This system works. It's time to apply the same dynamic to live poker to help the game establish a higher-intensity appeal for players and fans alike.