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Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The Poker Pace Killers

Sitting and playing poker for hours on end can be very boring, particularly if you're not participating in a lot of hands. Patience is a key factor, but it can be tested by several factors that slow the pace of the game considerably.

The worst is players who take forever to make every decision. While poker requires some thought, most of the time you know what to do within a few seconds. But too many modern players -- especially those in their twenties -- act like they're tortured by every card that comes out. This practice used to be called "Hollywooding" when done occasionally to make it seem like you're not sure what to do, or how to handle a certain opponent in this situation, or to fool your opponent into thinking you have a weak hand when it's very strong. Those situations should be rarities, but for some it's the norm, and it's annoying as hell to the rest of us.

I was recently in a game where there were two such players at the table. They were both quite active, playing lots of pots, but their pauses of thirty seconds to a minute on every street of every hand were killing the game. Not only is it rude to the other players, but it also affects the income of the dealers, who earn tips on each hand they deal, so when they get fewer hands out, they make less money. But these two jerks didn't care about anyone else. Even in simple situations where they knew they were going to fold (and did), they always dragged it out.

There's been discussion of adding a "shot clock" at the table, where each player would have a maximum of thirty seconds to act or have their hand declared dead. Frankly, that's already too long, and it would empower more players to use the full time they're allotted, thus reducing the pace of the game to a crawl.

One of the other factors that kills the pace of a poker game is the smartphone. You're not allowed to use one when you're in a hand, but after folding and waiting for the next one to be dealt -- which can be a couple of minutes each time if you're stuck with the two poker geniuses I described above -- you're allowed to text, tweet, or whatever.

The problem occurs when every single player at the table uses their smartphone without paying attention to the action. So, when a new hand is dealt and it's their turn, they're too busy checking to see what their friends have Snapchatted to notice. It may only be a few seconds, but those add up over a long session.

Then there are the slow dealers. At every casino I've played in, there are really good dealers who have worked on their skills, understanding that speed means money -- more hands out, more tips in -- but there are always those who can't (or won't) move things along. Some of them like to socialize with the players. Some of them don't pay close attention and lose track of where the action is. Some of them can't even figure out what the winning hand is once all the cards are revealed.

How those dealers keep their jobs is beyond me. Perhaps management isn't aware of their faults because players never say anything, but a dealer who goes slow is also affecting the income of the casino, which takes a rake (a few dollars) out of every pot -- and again, more hands mean more money.

Every year, the place with the highest percentage of slow dealers is the World Series Of Poker at the Rio in Las Vegas. I understand the challenge of hiring hundreds and hundreds of dealers to keep things going around the clock for eight weeks. By necessity, you're going to have some rookies in the mix, but it can be hell when one of them sits down in your game. Some of them look like they've never even played poker before -- you can see them counting one, two, three, etc. as they go around the table and try to remember everything they were taught in the week or two beforehand.

They're trained first in how to deal tournaments, which make up the bulk of the action at the WSOP, yet they'll also have to handle cash games, where the rules can be different (e.g. straddles, running it twice, time rakes), and that's when the real trouble begins. Because they're facing the unfamiliar, they slow way down. Most of us understand the dynamic, but that doesn't make it any less annoying.

Here's the bottom line for dealers and players alike: let's go already!

Read my followup to this piece here.