It is a hot topic throughout the poker tournament community. Arguments for and against the use of a shot clock to put time limits on action in tournaments find their way to social media on a regular basis.
One of the most recent spurts of conversation about shot clocks came after the November Nine final table, at which World Series of Poker Main Event finalist Zvi Stern took inordinate periods of time to act on his hands, to the point that viewers and even fellow November Niners were becoming annoyed.
Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz….vi Stern. #November9— Joe Stapleton (@Stapes) November 9, 2015
Since there is always one (sometimes more) poker player in each major tournament that decides to maximize his or her time on each hand, the debate continues.
However, the discussions have been ongoing for several years, and no major tournament organizer has yet to implement the use of a shot clock. And while there may be a tournament here and there that tries the concept on a low level buy-in event, there are several reasons that it might not happen in major events – WSOP, WPT, EPT, etc. – for a long time to come.
Players who feel that a change in traditional tournaments will significantly and severely alter play do not hesitate to let their feelings be known. With the use of social media, angry and frustrated poker players can take their complaints to the public immediately and garner support for their positions.
Most recently, PokerStars announced and began implementing radical changes to its VIP rewards program, which particularly affected high-volume players. Those players loudly voiced their displeasure but formed a group and organized two strikes against the site. While the outcome of the protests were overshadowed by PokerStars’ promotions and other actions, the power of the players was significant enough to warrant planned talks.
Players do have power, and tournament organizers typically want to stay away from the storm that could erupt if they put a time limit on player actions when money and prestige is on the line.
Please no shot clock in poker. Hurts new and recreational players the most. Downside >upside. Remember 99.99% of poker is not televised.— Ari Engel (@realAriEngel) November 11, 2015
Televised poker is exciting for the fans for a number of reasons, one being the commentators. They not only explain the game, along with the strategy behind players’ actions, but they make the game entertaining through their commentary, even when the players themselves are not particularly interesting.
Commentators may join in some fun banter about a player who takes a long time to act, especially if it happens regularly, but a shot clock would severely limit their time to talk about hands, speculate about strategy, and make observations about cards, action, and players.
To be fair, WPT commentator Mike Sexton has long been in favor of shot clocks. Even so, he suggested that the WPT was looking into the option nearly one year ago, but they have yet to do it for World Poker Tour tournaments.
Poker players are generally keen on tradition. They like the WSOP Main Event to be strictly No Limit Hold’em. They balk at the idea that the WSOP Ladies Event could be erased from the annual summer lineup. They still want to see Doyle Brunson on their televisions. In general, too much change upsets the institution itself.
Changes implemented over time help the transition, but many people feel that putting a shot clock on a poker player inhibits the inherent thought process that goes into the game. Limiting the time a player can think about odds, survey the table, and size up opponents is not a welcome change for most, especially in tournaments that are an integral part of the game and its history.
Poll: At what point in a poker tournament should a "shot clock" be introduced?— Kevin Mathers (@Kevmath) January 14, 2016
Clock or No Clock?
Despite the reasons detailed above for not implementing a shot clock in most major tournaments, it will still happen.
Yes, it will happen. Change is needed to force the game to keep up with the times. People now live in a fast-paced, multi-tasking world, and they want action to keep their interest.
Shot clocks are inevitable to make poker more interesting, bring new viewers to the game, and retain those viewers past one episode or tournament on television. The problem is that no one organization wants to be the first to make that change and face the wrath of angry poker players. Whichever one does it, though, will pave the way for the others, and shot clocks will ultimately be the norm in most events, or at least at the televised final tables.