The 7th biennial Summit of the Poker Tournament Director’s Association (TDA) kicks off tomorrow (Friday, June 25). It’s a two-day event, held at the Aria Resort and Casino in Las Vegas in order to discuss the nitty-gritty of poker tournament rules, establish standard protocols, and discuss possible solutions to concerns that have been raised by players.
According to World Poker Tour (WPT) director Matt Savage, major topics of discussion will include excessive tanking and re-entry events, but a number of technical changes to minor rules will also be considered.
The 7th @PokerTDA Summit starts this Friday June 26th. Tanking and reentry will be major topics of discussion. Hope your TD is attending
— Matt Savage (@SavagePoker) June 21, 2015
The trouble with tanking
Players taking excessive amounts of time to act has been a frequent topic of conversation of late, with several prominent players including the likes of Daniel Negreanu pointing to it as one of the biggest problems in poker.
The reason that it’s a problem is that it is a sort of “tragedy of the commons” situation, where everyone collectively benefits from speedy play – both in terms of reducing boredom, and in benefitting from skill edge – but individual players often have incentives to act slowly.
There are two main reasons that players stall. Firstly, short stacks often do it on the money bubble or when approaching a pay jump, because they’re hoping that someone at another table will bust out before they have to put their own stack at risk. Secondly, some players are overly concerned with giving away timing tells and try to avoid doing so by taking their time with every decision and pretending to think about every decision. In both cases, the behavior can be frustrating to players who would benefit from getting to play more hands before the blinds go up or the bubble bursts.
The current solution is that other players are responsible for calling the clock on a player who is taking too long. If the same player has the clock called too often, tournament staff can reduce the amount of time given for the player to make a decision, or assign a penalty if they believe that the player is intentionally delaying the game. The main problem with this system is that it leaves a lot of ambiguity and because enforcement is left to the players themselves, it can lead to friction or a sense of rudeness.
Many players believe that this system should be replaced by a more formal one with a “shot clock,” forcing all actions to be made within a specified amount of time. This would have the advantages of eliminating the ambiguity and the need for players to decide when to put their foot down; unfortunately, it’s not clear how such a system could be implemented in practice without placing too much burden on the dealer.
As a compromise, one possibility that will be discussed at the Summit would be to allow dealers and/or tournament staff to call for the clock themselves, in case none of the players at the table are willing to take responsibility for doing so.
The re-entry debate continues
There is still no consensus and likely never will be as to whether re-entry events are good or bad for poker. They certainly benefit professional players by allowing them to maximize their value on a trip – traveling to play a tournament only to bust early is unfortunate, and re-entry events prevent the trip from going to waste.
The question is whether advantaging the professionals this way significantly disadvantages recreational players, or is perceived as a disadvantage by the recreational players. On the one hand, everyone benefits in the short term from the increased prize pool produced by a re-entry event, but on the other, if recreational players feel they have no chance to win an event in the face of professionals firing multiple bullets, then the format could hurt the game in the long run.
Re-entry events are actually a fairly recent innovation, but they took off in a big way. They’ve become so common on major tours that even casual players are beginning to see them as the norm for large events with multiple starting flights; ironically, this acceptance comes just as the WPT – the major force behind their introduction – is beginning to dial back on them. The discussion at this weekend’s Summit will likely be a major determining factor in whether they’re on the way out or here to stay.
When is a hand killed?
Aside from these two big issues, many smaller rule changes will be on the table. We’ll have to wait and see what comes out of the Summit, but on one particular issue, Savage feels a change is all but certain. The rule in question regards the point in a deal at which a player’s hand is ruled dead if he is not at the table.
— Matt Savage (@SavagePoker) June 25, 2015
The traditional rule for most of tournament poker history was “Last Card Off the Deck” (LCOTD): under this system, a player’s hand is killed if he is not within arm’s reach of his seat by the time the deal is completed. Five years ago, PokerStars introduced the alternative “First Card Off the Deck” (FCOTD) rule in their live events, which include the European Poker Tour (EPT). With the FCOTD rule, a player’s hand is killed following the deal if she was not within arm’s reach of her seat from the moment the deal began. This rule was then adopted into official TDA rules at their last summit in 2013. It has proven controversial, and it seems that the TDA may now reverse that decision.
One might wonder why hands need to be killed at all – why the player’s hand does not remain live up until their turn to act, at which point a fold is assumed if the player is not around to play it. The problem with that idea is similar to the calling of the clock; it creates politeness issues for the players. If the hand is live until action reaches the player, then others might be inclined to stall on a player’s behalf, to give him time to make it back from the bathroom, which would in turn delay the game for everyone. Thus, for practical reasons, the hand must be killed by the dealer by the time the first player acts, at the latest.
There are few reasons that FCOTD is seen by some as preferable to LCOTD, but the biggest has to do with game integrity. If a player is returning to the table mid-deal, they may end up getting a peek at someone else’s cards if that player decides to check their hand before the deal is complete and does a poor job of protecting their hand. Under LCOTD, the first player can then sit down to a live hand and exploit that information, whereas under FCOTD this is impossible, since the player’s hand is already dead.
Despite that admittedly strong upside, the rule has proved unpopular with a lot of players, particularly recreational players who are used to LCOTD. Having your hand killed unexpectedly feels unfair, and tends to upset players who were unaware of the rule change. Many players also simply feel that the goal should be to kill as few hands as possible, since players just want to play poker.
Ultimately, the decision comes down to weighing a rare but significant problem – a player playing with access to unfairly obtained information about others’ hands – against a smaller but much more frequent one – players having their hands killed unnecessarily. Although some feel that the TDA was correct in placing the emphasis on game integrity, popular opinion has run the other way, with a majority of players expressing a preference for LCOTD, leading to the likely reversal of the 2013 decision at this weekend’s Summit.
Getting your two cents in
If you have a strong opinion on these or other issues, the TDA is interested in hearing it. They’ve prepared an online survey for players to make their voices heard. To take the survey, click the link below and enter the password “onthebutton.”
If you think there’s a rule that needs to be changed or added, which isn’t on the survey, there’s another way to bring it to their attention. At the bottom of the following page is a form you can fill out to submit a rule suggestion.
Finally, if you’re keen on following what comes out of the Summit, the event will be streamed live on Twitch. We’ll add a link once the stream is live, but in the meantime, you can bookmark the following page.
Alex Weldon (@benefactumgames) is a freelance writer, game designer and semipro poker player from Montreal, Quebec, Canada.