The recent Twitter-off between Daniel Negreanu and Jordan Cristos about excessive tanking has given us a pretty good glimpse into the future of tournament poker.
Is there anybody at your local home game who tanks on every single street of every single hand, and for so long that you want to reach over the table and shake him?
Probably not. And why not?
Because everybody knows that it’s rude. Because everyone else would tell that guy to hurry up. Because it would tilt everyone.
Basically, it’s common sense. Imagine what would happen if there were two or three stallers at the table?
The game would break up quickly; the other players would get fed up and quit.
Annoying But Brilliant
In poker - especially professional poker - players try to gain every advantage over their opponents they can get.
Putting them on tilt, by any means possible, is one of the ways to get there.
Remember how Jamie Gold surged to the top in the 2006 WSOP main event? If you can watch this clip all the way through, you're probably impervious to tilting for life.
Or take Lucien Cohen -- also known as the “rat man” for his card protector when he won EPT Deauville in 2011.
Watch the footage after his win and you’ll understand what it was like to sit at a poker table with him.
Still, the way Gold crept under the skin of other players, how he tricked them into calling when he had the nuts and made them fold when he had nothing, was very subtle.
And, in retrospect, brilliant. Annoying, but brilliant.
The Same Effect By Doing Nothing at All
Cohen’s behaviour was anything but subtle. Quite frankly he just got on everybody’s nerves.
Some people still claim that the other finalists only busted because they couldn’t stand it anymore. (Just kidding.)
But tilting your opponent can give you an edge. Today, players have noticed it takes a lot of skill to be as unsettlingly pesky as Gold and it takes a special character to be as annoying as Cohen.
Instead they found out they can achieve the same effect by not doing anything at all.
That’s also what Negreanu and Cristos were tweeting about. Cristos is explicitly using stalling as part of his strategy and - as Negreanu also points out in his blog – he has every right to do so.
There's no rule against it and I’m pretty sure it works. It always works on me, at least.
Excessive tanking is extremely efficient. However common sense tells me that not only is it bad etiquette, it would also destroy the game if too many players do it.
Common Sense Rarely Wins
If everyone acted the way Cristos does in tournament poker it would cease to exist, writes Negreanu.
Unfortunately, common sense doesn’t always win. In fact it rarely does.
Is the decision to give football's World Cup – traditionally a summer event - to a desert country where temperatures rise above 50° based on common sense or on money?
If the only country ever hit by a nuclear weapon becomes one of the countries with the most nuclear power plants in the world does that have to do with common sense or money?
In poker, an edge means money. So the number of stallers will grow.
You can see the effects already. In live tournaments more and more players bring tablets to the table to pass the time between hands.
I don’t approve of it, but I’m not surprised. It does get boring at the table.
Average Decison Time Getting Longer and Longer
A couple of years ago, putting up $10,000 to play in a poker event was enough to even have professionals on the edge of their seats.
Now we have to have rules that prohibit you from bringing/using electronic devices.
Sit down online this evening and play a couple of tournaments. Chances are high that there will be at least one guy tanking all the time.
How long do you need, on average, to make a decision in most poker situations? Five or six seconds?
If that was the case, nobody would play more than 10 or 12 tables simultaneously.
But they do. They do because the average decision time is getter longer and longer thanks to stalling.
It doesn't have to be a majority of players doing it to have a devastating overall effect.
Like anywhere in life, all you need is a couple of deviants to discredit all members of a group.
Shot Clock Has Its Price
Of course there is a way to defend yourself (and your table) against excessive tanking: you call the clock.
But, honestly, many players are far too polite to do this all the time -- or at least often enough to leave a lasting impression.
A lot think like this:
What's the eventual solution? What's the only tool that will definitely work as an impediment to stalling?
The shot clock.
But although there are a lot of players in favor of this solution, the shot clock might actually do more harm than good.
Why? It would scare countless players away from live poker clubs.
But, people are selfish. Short-term thinking usually prevails over long-term.
Stalling is not going to change until the shot clock is implemented.
Maybe then, when tournament numbers start to dwindle, people will change their way of thinking.