Poker Coverage:

Chess Clock Time Banks

by Greg Raymer |  Published: Oct 06, 2021

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Greg Raymer Please let me encourage you to reach out to me with article ideas and questions for future columns. You can tweet to me at @FossilMan, or send me a message at info@fossilmanpoker.com.

We all want to play in poker games that are fun, and waiting on another player to make a decision is not fun.

Of course, when facing a big decision, it is only fair they get some extra time. When dealing with a big decision ourselves, we want more time as well. However, when players talk about slow games, they don’t usually mean a game where players are tanking when put in tough spots. They mean games where players are routinely taking extra time with even the most basic decisions.

The slow pace of such games means fewer hands per hour. Sometimes, dramatically fewer. If this is a tournament, that means fewer hands per level, and less opportunity to grow your stack to keep up with the increasing blinds. If it is a cash game, that means fewer chances to win money, and earning less per hour. For the house, it means less rake is collected.

I think we all agree that it is in the best interest of the players and the house for games to be played at a quick pace. More rake for the house, more profit if you’re a winning player, and more fun for everyone. No one really wants slow-paced games. Since we all agree that this is a concern, the question remains:

What is the best way to ensure a fast pace, while still giving players extra time for the occasional big decision?

In live poker, sadly, there is not much we can do. If a player is taking too long, another player can call for a clock. However, usually at least a minute must pass before you can call the clock. Then, you wait for the floorperson to arrive. Next, the dealer explains the situation. Finally, the tanking player is put on a countdown of 30 or 60 seconds. If they don’t make a decision in time, their hand is dead.

All of this will take at least a few minutes, and it doesn’t help with the bigger problem. What do we do about a player who is regularly taking 20-30 seconds, or more, on even the most routine decisions? If they spend 30 seconds on each and every decision, that is quick enough to where you can’t call the clock on them. Just one player doing this can cause a table to play significantly fewer hands than otherwise. Two or three players doing this? You’ll be lucky to get in 15 hands per hour. Unacceptable!

Some live tournaments have implemented a shot clock. In these events, as soon as the cards are dealt, the player under-the-gun is put on a 30-second clock. If they don’t act, their hand is dead. As soon as they do act, the next player is immediately put on a 30-second clock. And this continues for each street and each player.

In these events, the players are typically given a handful of time extension cards they use to “buy” an extra 30 seconds for their tougher decisions. However, this method means a player can still use a full 30 seconds on even the most routine decisions. And that is still unacceptable.

What I would like to see is a chess clock type method. In such a system, each player would start with some amount of time in the bank. When it becomes their turn to act, they are only given a few seconds. After they use up those few seconds, they will start to eat into their time bank. If they run out of time in their bank, their hand is dead.

This way, they are motivated to act quickly on all routine decisions, so as to preserve their time bank, which they will want for the big decisions they are likely to face later.

Even better, start each player off with only a small amount of time in their bank. And then, only a very short time for each decision. However, if they act before those few seconds run out, the unused time will get added into their time bank. For example, each player starts with 30 seconds in their time bank, and gets only five seconds per decision. If they use more than five seconds, they start to use up their time bank. But if they use less than five seconds, the unused time is added to their bank.

If I fold the first hand in two seconds, the extra three seconds gets added to my bank, and I now have 33 seconds available. This way, we reward those who keep the game moving quickly by giving them even more time once they eventually face a big decision later. Win-Win!

I am quite uncertain what time amounts would be optimal under this plan. Should we start players with a 30-second time bank? More? Less? Should it be five seconds per decision? More? Less? However, once some events like this happen, we can fine-tune the details.

The bigger problem is the absolute impracticality of such a system for live games. I honestly see no way this could be fairly and properly implemented in a live game. And it would add a huge extra burden on the dealer. However, I do propose that online poker sites try out this method. I think the players would love it. Especially once they saw how much faster the games would move. In my opinion, it would do wonders for their business.

Have fun, and play smart! ♠

Greg Raymer is the 2004 World Series of Poker main event champion, winner of numerous major titles, and has more than $7 million in earnings. He recently authored FossilMan’s Winning Tournament Strategies, available from D&B Publishing, Amazon, and other retailers. He is sponsored by Blue Shark Optics, YouStake, and ShareMyPair. To contact Greg please tweet @FossilMan or visit his website.