Blog | TDA Rules on Calling the Clock

  With the debate raging about Zvi Stern’s tanking antics at the WSOP Main Event Final Table, I felt it was appropriate to look at the Tournament Directors’ Association rules on the matter. Back in August, when the Tournament Directors’ Association released the latest rules which had been outlined at the 2015 summit, much of the focus was on one-chip calls and the first/last card off the deck rule. However one part of the new rules I wanted to draw attention to was firstly the responsibility of the players, and also the regulations regarding calling the clock.

In the TDA Poker Rules, the section entitled ‘Player Responsibilities’ is as follows:

“Players should verify registration data and seat assignments, protect their hands, make their intentions clear, follow the action, act in turn, defend their right to act, keep cards visible and chips correctly stacked, remain at the table with a live hand, speak up if they see a mistake, call for a clock when warranted, transfer tables promptly, follow one player to a hand, know and comply with the rules, practice proper etiquette, and generally contribute to an orderly event.”

The highlighted part was an addition to the 2015 edition and is especially relevant considering the current debate regarding tanking, stalling and slow play in general. Before I go onto this in detail, I want to look at the TDA’s rules specifically on ‘Calling the Clock.’ I’m going to go through it sentence by sentence.

“A clock will be approved only after reasonable time passes.”

This really is the crux of any debate. There’s the famous example of Daniel Negreanu requesting a ruling when he deemed that hadn’t had enough time to make a decision yet, but this part of the rules seems straight forward. That is until you try to analyse the word ‘reasonable.’ Is it reasonable to tank for 2-3 minutes UTG before folding in the first level? Probably not. Is it reasonable to tank for the same amount of time on the Main Event Final Table, the biggest final table of a poker player’s career? Many would argue no.

“Any player in the event may request a clock.”

In my opinion this is a great addition to the rules, and it really comes into effect around the bubble of events, especially before play goes hand-for-hand.   

“If the floor approves the request, a player has up to 50 seconds to act. If action is not taken before time expires, there will be a 10-second count. If the player does not act by the end of the count, the hand is dead. A tie goes to the player.”

I don’t think there’s any debate about how the clock works once called, but it is the following section which is perhaps the most unclear section of the rule.

“TDs may reduce the time allowed to act and take other steps to fit the game format and stop persistent delays.”

It really is interesting to see that Tournament Directors have the ability to take other steps in order to punish repeat offenders. This is in fact reiterated later in the rules in a section entitled ‘Etiquette Violations.’ The obvious further steps are hand, orbit or time penalties, but when was the last time you saw or heard of one of those being implemented in a tournament. I want Tournament Directors to really make an effort to stamp out unnecessary tanking. We all know everyone has tough decisions, and no one has found a concrete way of appeasing everyone on the matter.

If I were tasked with fixing the problem, I would make the oft-repeated suggestion that if someone does call the clock on you, and you end up folding, you must show your cards to the table. It’s the only way to find out if someone was faced with a tough decision or not, and makes it clear that if someone is tanking, they are facing a genuine decision.