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    The shot clock saved basketball. Can it do the same for poker?

    Posted by Matthew-Blunk October 19, 2012

    Before deciding, let’s look at the history of the actual shot clock in the NBA.

     
    In the 1950’s, the Minneapolis Lakers were anchored by their spectacular center, George Mikan, who utilized his 6’10″ frame, physical superiority, shot-blocking, and unstoppable hook shots to overwhelm opponents.

    Teams had no answer for Mikan. They couldn’t guard him one-on-one, and there wasn’t much use in double-teaming him either. So just how could you stop Mikan?

    By simply keeping the ball away from him.

    Indeed, whenever teams would take leads early in games, they would hang on to the ball for dear life. A 1950 game in which the Fort Wayne Pistons used this strategy against Minneapolis resulted in a record-low 19-18 Pistons win. Mikan couldn’t beat you if he never touched the ball.

    This exploitation of time in sports is still known as milking (or running) the clock. Poker has something of its own: stalling.

    Just like basketball players could gain an advantage by keeping the ball away from Mikan, poker players can gain an advantage by keeping cards away from their opponents. Much of this has to do purely with ICM.

    “People stall the when nearing the money, and to be honest, it is generally optimal to do so,” explains Ryan LaPlante, a poker pro known as ProtentialMN online. “If you have a pretty small stack, like 10-15 big blinds, it is best for you to take as much time as possible until you get hand-for-hand.”

    Therefore, no matter how unpopular, it can be tough to talk someone out of doing what’s best for his tournament life. “When you are shortstacked, each decision you make has a large ICM implication,” continues LaPlante. “If you have even a decent chance to cash with your stack, your goal should be to have as few blinds taken out as possible. Obviously this hurts the bigger stacks, who would much rather apply more pressure. This is generally why professionals like Daniel Negreanu dislike stalling.

    Indeed, it was Daniel Negreanu who tweeted on October 6: “Poker needs a shotclock of some kind. It’s become silly at this point how long each hand takes, often in mundane situations.” Reaction was mixed. A number of people sided with Daniel and proclaimed it was about time. Others, while agreeing stalling was annoying, questioned whether or not this method of keeping time was not only feasible, but good for poker.

    The advent of the actual shot clock in 1954 did wonders for the game of basketball. Syracuse Nationals owner Danny Biasone came up with the idea for a 24-second shot clock, and it has gone down as one of the greatest modifications in all of sports. Biasone’s ingenious innovation by itself led to more exciting games, and as a result, better attendance and more revenue. The game evolved from plodding, tedious half-court sets – sound familiar, Daniel? – to quicker-paced, fast-break offenses like the “Showtime” Lakers in the 1980’s, and the modern day Miami Heat. The game was undeniably improved.

    But basketball is one thing, poker is another. Matt Savage, the world-renowned poker tournament director, and certainly a poker progressive, explains: “I brought up the point about a shot clock a few months ago during a World Poker Tour final table, and the results were truly mixed. Most agreed that you cannot go to a shot clock only at the final table, but that it has to be done from the start of the tournament.”

    Easier said than done. “The problem with using a shot clock at the start of the tournament,” continues Savage, “is that to do it right you need an extra staff member controlling the clock. It is unfair to have a dealer control both the game and clock.”

    “Players pay a lot of money and deserve a chance to take their time when making decisions, but the flip side is that playing slow makes the structure worse as well.” In the end, Savage says, it is primarily up to the players to police the pace of the tournament, which is why they are empowered by the ability to call the clock.

    How much time would you give a poker shot clock, anyway? Biasone didn’t come up with 24 seconds out of nowhere. He studied a lot of games and determined that, if about 120 shots overall made a game watchable, then each shot could be given 24 seconds to play out. It did not take off right away. Many players fumbled with this restriction at first, rushing through plays unable to measure 24 seconds appropriately, but they eventually adapted to it. Imagine the blunders a poker player could make if he misjudged how much time he had left to make a crucial fold or call.

    How long do you need to make a “shot” in poker, taking into account all the streets that require individual decisions? Negreanu has an idea: “20 seconds preflop, 30 seconds on flop, 45 on turn, and 60 on river. Give every player 3 extension buttons each day,” is what he tweeted to Tom Dwan.

    “If implemented properly,” says LaPlante, “then it’s probably +EV to add, in my opinion.”

    And Matt Savage is listening.

    “I am open to trying a shot clock tournament,” he tells Quadjacks, “and I am strongly considering trying one at the next LA Poker Classic at Commerce.”

    !

    QuadJacks - Friday, October 19, 2012

    About Matthew-Blunk

    View all post by Matthew-Blunk

    There is 1 Comment

    1. @lostinpoker
      - October 20, 2012
        -   Reply

      Great idea,lets face it it works in online poker and although live tournys are not the same Im sure players can adjust.It would no doubt improve the “broadcastability” of the game make it flow better for newbies and casual watchers on tv and online.The game,players and administrators of poker must be willing to look forward always and try things.If it doesnt work out thats ok no harm done.

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