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An action clock in poker tournaments has been a topic of discussion for years, but the issue heated up in the past year enough to prompt the WPT to give it a try. The result was positive, and the majority of players who participated in the tournament gave feedback that indicates a willingness – and eagerness, in some cases – to use the clock going forward.

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TOC Experience

Last month, the World Poker Tour hosted its first Tournament of Champions at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood, Florida, just after the season finale events took place. The TOC was an event that offered many extra prizes like a 2016 Corvette, as well as $100K in added prize money and no rake. Season 14 champions were entered in the tournament by the WPT, and all past champions were allowed to buy in for $15K. There were 64 players in total, and Farid Yachou won the top cash prize of $381,600, the car, and numerous other gifts.

Beyond the tournament and its lineup of pros and prizes, one thing was the talk of the game: the action clock. The tables at the event were fitted with a flat, electronic clock that was operated by the dealers. Every player was given 30 seconds to act on a hand, and no decision meant the hand was folded.

Players were nervous about how it may affect the game. Dealers were likely anxious about operating the clock for each player in each hand and balancing that with other responsibilities. Despite the practice and information provided before the TOC began, it was unclear as to how it would work out.


Overall Success

WPT Executive Tour Director Matt Savage had to make sure that the process went smoothly if there was any hope of using the clock again.

After the TOC, we asked him about the experience: “The Protection Poker ‘Action’ clock was definitely appreciated by the Champions Club members in the WPT Tournament of Champions. I heard so many positives from the players, and even those who had concerns were still in favor and stated how well it worked during the event.”

Commentator Mike Sexton was excited about it. “I was thrilled to see how much the players enjoyed using it at the Monster WPT TOC. I’m hoping the action clock will be used in numerous upcoming events.” Savage confirmed that there is hope for more players to use the clock. “There were discussions with the WPT casino partners at the recent WPT casino summit, and we hope that some of them will give the action clock a chance to work at their properties.”

Jonathan Little, who played in the TOC, told Poker Update, “I enjoyed playing with the action clock. While it is a bit unnerving when you were put to a difficult decision, the pace of play moved at a much faster rate compared to when there is no action clock. All in all, I think it was implemented well and was a success.”

Pros and Cons Still on the Table

The WPT is obviously on board with the action clock, but it seems that casinos must agree to the change for future tournaments as well. And player feedback is going to be key to the ultimate decision about where and how often to put the clock to use.

With the discussion continuing in the poker community, where could we turn for a completely thorough and detailed analysis of the action clock from a player’s perspective? We asked Darren Elias, who played in the TOC and has nearly a decade of experience in live tournaments.

“As for the positives about the clock, it really eliminates stalling altogether and any kind of extended Hollywooding where a player wants to pretend he has a decision to save face. With 10 players left in the TOC and eight making the money, we were at two tables of five. This is normally a situation where the short-stacked players play incredibly slow in an effort to sneak into the money, and in the TOC, this simply wasn’t possible. The players could stall for 30 seconds each hand if they wanted, but then they had to fold. It was incredibly refreshing to be playing at such a pace in this stage of the tournament.  

“The clock is also great because a few players in every tournament are very slow with even the most mundane decisions, and it speeds them up. And the implementation of the action clock undoubtedly makes the game much more exciting from an observer’s point of view. The knowledge that there is a decision coming in the next 30 seconds, then 10 seconds, and then five seconds holds the spectator’s attention better than simply watching players think for an indeterminable amount of time. Even as a player when observing other hands at the table, I noticed a palpable amount of tension building as the clock ticked down in big pots. These are all things that are good for poker, in my opinion, and I’d like to see them in the future. 

“The negatives of the clock, or at least to the system used in the TOC, are substantial as well and must not be ignored. There were 30 seconds for every decision with four 30 seconds timeouts, which could be used at any time. While that is ample time to make 99 percent of a player’s decisions, it may not be enough for the few crucial tough decisions. For me, and I believe a lot of players are in the same lot, it is much more likely that I will need over 2 minutes for one or two decisions in a day of poker than needing an intermediate amount of time for a lot of decisions. The nature of No Limit Hold’em is such that there is a lot of waiting and automatic decisions mixed with a few very difficult ones. I don’t believe the action clock used at the TOC was best equipped to deal with this. I would suggest a slightly higher base time, perhaps 40 or 45 seconds, and the addition of one extended time-out to give the player around two minutes if faced with a particularly tough decision. If changes like these aren’t made to the clock format, I believe the level of play will begin to decline, as some avenues of thought can’t be reached and thought processes not fully completed in 30 seconds. Anything that lowers the skill cap in poker tournaments is negative, but I believe all these things need to be weighed collectively when considering shot clocks.  

“I hope to see more shot clocks of varying natures in future events as we zero in on the best format.”

Jennifer Newell

Jennifer has been a freelance writer in the poker industry for a decade. She left a full-time job with the World Poker Tour to tell the stories of poker. She now lives in St. Louis, writes about poker while pursuing other varied interests, and speaks her mind on Twitter… a lot.