WSOP 2014: Tanking, writhing and warnings. It must be the bubble
It's a natural phenomenon, and one that has been put to the test as recently as this month during the football World Cup - the relation between time wasting and the fortunes of the player or team involved.
It was a point made during the World Cup by Geoff Foster, who wrote his analysis in the Wall Street Journal of one of the more irritating aspects of modern football. He added up the amount of time each team's players spent "writhing" on the ground, only to stand up and play on moments later, having undergone an almost miraculous recovery.
Looking at the opening group stages of the World Cup, Foster discovered Brazil were most commonly seen in "anguish", while Bosnia proved most likely to man up, shake it off and play on.
There was something else that he discovered. The amount of time spent rolling around on the floor was strongly linked to the situation shown on the scoreboard. A losing team spent less time appealing to the Academy of Motion Pictures than teams that were winning.
Poker has a similar problem, although in comparison the cause is reversed. Players don't fall from their chairs and roll around on the floor holding their ankle, but they do something else, tanking with great drama for great lengths of time to help their cause, particularly when the bubble is about to burst.
It's one of the more unsavoury things you might have to watch from the rail of a poker tournament, the blatant time wasting to slow down the action, the rechecking of cards, the false agonising as if there's a decision to make with your nine-three off-suit under the gun.
On the World Series of Poker Main Event bubble, it swept through the place like an epidemic. John Juanda even had a face mask on.
The floor staff would be busy, not just in marshalling their dealers, but in keeping players in line. The cry of "clock" as play moved into that vital stage before hand-for-hand, echoed across the Amazon Room. One corner in particular getting the full works with a Jack Effel broadside.
It appeared on one table everyone had been doing something wrong and Effel was adamant. He'd declare any hand dead that he chose to if he got the merest whiff of stalling. "Play poker!" he demanded, before striding off, threatening to return with a stop watch.
As those at the cautioned table pointed fingers of blame at each other, players on the neighbouring table had their own problems.
You might actually be familiar with Zach Hall without even knowing it. He's the player who has on a rainbow coloured umbrella hat. He's now tanking so much that several players looked like they wanted to empty the contents of a nearby fire extinguisher in his direction.
It's not as straight forward as all that. With more than $18,000 to those who min-cash it's almost churlish to suggest that players hanging on for dear life shouldn't do everything they can to eke into the money. It's not pretty. It's annoying even, and might not be in the spirit of the game (poker being a game of selflessness and courtesy, cough). But on closer look, not everyone on the table was like Curtis Rystadt (himself about to cash for the biggest win of his career) timing each tanked hand Hall played with a stopwatch app out of pure frustration. Others seemed relieved that Hall was doing their dirty work.
The solution to all of this was not far off. With 695 player left hand-for-hand play was introduced, which nullifies the time-wasters in the way a penalty shootout will get the Brazilians into shape.
It would take only one hand to see off the three players needed, albeit one that would take an age. The players were expectant.
"I've got five all-in calls," said Jack Effel into the mic. "Five all in calls..." He lingered over it, almost teasing the crowd. It was though this was a giant supper club and there was a prize draw, with prizes between courses. The crowd oohed, giddy at the prospect of a money finish, and stood to hear what would be a succession of hands called out to them.
Effel then became a kind of pied piper, leading a small circus of reporters, cameramen, photographers, hangers on, and the people who hold giant microphones on sticks, from one table to another.
The first would be the most spectacular, although perhaps painful is more accurate.
John Dwyer got his chips in with a full house, only to run it into the quads of Mark Newhouse. He even tanked. It'll be a decision that stays with him for a long time yet.
Effel delivered the news with professional neutrality before leading everyone over to the next hand, each being turned over in order to rule out any advantage.
Here was where Zhen Cai's tournament would come to an end, one of several to run into pocket aces at the same time. His pocket queens were probably a sight for sore eyes when he first looked down at them. Darren Keyes though would ensure that his eyes remained sore.
Forwards marched Effel, not wasting any time - no time for writhing allowed - this time to oversee Kori Hunter's fate. Hunter also had aces. Facing him was Harry Kaczka with nine-eight of diamonds. Kaczka had flopped eight-seven, and turned a five. The nine on the river though was what saved him, even Effel's voice betrayed his neutrality as it landed, sending Hunter out.
At this point most players in the room knew that they had cashed, but dared not celebrate until told to. Paul Tedeschi would double in all-in hand number four, against Arthur Morris, his aces against pocket queens.
Waiting all of this time was Stuart Rutter. His all-in had been the first to take place but was the last to be called. Effel led the circus over to see what Rutter held - ace-jack of hearts against Daniel Alaei's jack-nine off-suit, on a jack-high flop. The wait for Rutter was worth it, with nothing on the turn and river to change anything.
All of a sudden there was no reason to tank, to time waste, or writhe. A high card draw determined which of the three players would get their buy-in paid for next year, Cai at least getting something to show for more than three days of poker. Hunter and Dwyer were quick to depart.
The crowd roared as the shutters on the pay-out desk were raised, metaphorically at least. We're back up to full speed in the Main Event. And we're in the money.
Stephen Bartley is a PokerStars Blog reporter.