Commentary

Calling the clock

Updated: February 4, 2009, 10:44 AM ET
By BLUFF

As the excitement heated up on ESPN's coverage of the World Series of Poker main event, a situation arose that spurred quite a bit of controversy. In a $12 million pot between Scott Montgomery and Paul Snead, Snead was put to the test after Montgomery moved all-in with nothing but ace-high. Snead, who had flopped top-pair with a weak kicker, stood up and began to deliberate making the call. After some time passed, Tiffany Michelle, who was at the table, decided to call the clock on Snead, who was astonished that even though it was within her rights, she would make that call. So, was she out of line? We posed the question of calling the clock to a number of pros, and here is what they had to say.

Daniel Negreanu: It's only OK against repeat offenders who are routinely taking too much time. Even then, a clock shouldn't be called unless a reasonable amount of time has passed. The bigger the pot, the more time that should be allowed.

Lee Watkinson: I think a lot of players take far too long when they have no decision to make. There are some players who will always make you sweat out a big bet or raise against them for five minutes. These are players I think it should be OK to call the clock on as soon as you make a bet. If they don't do this, I never call the clock. In fact, I think I have only called the clock about three times, except for when a guy was deliberating not folding to stall before the flop. I hate the rule where you must wait a "reasonable amount of time" to call the clock -- one minute, 10 seconds is enough, and there shouldn't be an arbitrary decision required by the floor. How much is a reasonable amount of time for Phil Hellmuth as compared to Joe the poker player?

I would like to see the dealers with a clock in their tray that is automatically set, like speed poker tournaments in fact, with some kind of extra-time chips for the players to use during a tournament.

It appeared Tiffany was out of line, but you never know how ESPN edited it. It took Jerry Yang a good 10 minutes to call me when he knocked me out of last year's final table, but on TV, it looked like 10 seconds.

Brandon Adams: First of all, Tiffany is clearly in the wrong to call the clock in this spot. Everyone involved in that situation was a bit overwhelmed by stress. As a teacher, one of the most difficult spots is to think through a tough problem on the fly at the blackboard. Televised-tournament poker decisions can be similar -- the stress chemicals running through your brain make it more difficult to think clearly, so often, you need a bit more time to make decisions. A player who is not involved in a hand shouldn't call the clock in such a spot unless the time involved gets absurd (more than 10 minutes). There's a different situation when clocks should be called very liberally -- near the money bubble. In this case, the short stacks have an incentive to stall, and the big stacks should be able to open a lot of pots and accumulate chips. I have no patience for people who stall in this spot. Fortunately, at the WSOP Europe main event, I played a lot with Scott Fischman, who has even less patience for people who stall, and he would call the clock for me.

Phil Laak: I have yet to call a clock. There were a few times when I was tempted, but I just never did. Occasionally, I will be in a game and one of the players will apologize for taking a bit of time while making a tough decision. This is what I have said in the past and will probably say again: "No one here is planning on calling a clock on you until the four-hour mark -- that is, after four hours, we expect you to have a decision." Of course, I know that if it were to come to that, people are for sure calling a clock way before the four-hour mark. I think I am a favorite to die without ever having called the clock on someone, at least not until four solid hours have passed. I do recall seeing somewhere (can't remember where) that someone was taking forever on every decision and one of the players just could not take it anymore, so he just broke down and called the clock on this player every time it was their turn. It was most entertaining. … Was that live or TV? I wish I could remember, but it sure was funny at the time.

Bill Edler: I don't feel that I have enough detail to comment regarding Tiffany's call for the clock. However, I do have some general feelings about calling for a clock. Generally, unless a player is stalling (in which case, rather than calling for a clock, the tournament director should be notified), I believe that he or she should be allowed great latitude. I believe that any player genuinely thinking about a decision should be given all necessary time to make that decision. I admit that, theoretically, a point could come at which the delay becomes unconscionable. However, I have never seen a decision reach that point. I do not believe that I have ever called a clock during a tournament. I doubt that I ever will.

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