The impeccable tournament management on the European Poker Tour (EPT) does not happen by chance. Although the tournament team is full of experienced professionals, it is still always a work-in-progress. Tournament officials listen to problems, make changes, and address any issues that may arise.
The intention is always the same: to make everything run as smoothly and fairly as possible, allowing players to enjoy playing on the EPT more than anywhere else.
EPT Tournament Director Toby Stone shared some time this week in Barcelona to talk through some recent modifications to existing processes. As always, Stone was candid with his reasoning and frank in discussing the issues.
In this first part of the interview, Stone focuses on the always thorny issue of stalling in tournaments. According to Stone, this is by no means a major issue for the tournament staff, but it’s an area that tends to be brought up time and again by players who insist that a solution is implemented.
There is, of course, no silver bullet that would instantly make the problem go away. But the introduction of shot clocks and time bank cards has helped, with Stone revealing how recent discussions have focused on the number of cards allocated to each player, and when they are distributed.
Here’s an edited version of the interview, which took place on Day 5 of the EPT Barcelona Main Event (also Day 1 of the €10K High Roller).
TIME BANK CARDS — HOW MANY, AND WHEN TO GET THEM?
The EPT introduced shot clocks a few years ago, limiting players’ decision-making time to 30 seconds on each street. They also get a number of time extension cards, allowing them to request an additional 30 seconds thinking time if a situation demands it. Ever since, the question of how many cards each player should get in various tournaments has caused a few headaches.
Stone says: The problem with time bank cards was that it was quite confusing. We had different tournaments, different number of cards, sometimes we gave them on a new day, and sometimes we gave them on the final table. Sometimes the final table was the new day, so do we give them, do we not give them? Floor staff were coming up to me all the time, “How many is it for this one? And how many is it for this one?” And even I didn’t know.
So we’ve completely simplified that now. So we’ve got different tournaments that use time bank cards, including the Main Event from Day 3. And in the Main Event, you just get six every day. It doesn’t matter how many players they’ve got. It doesn’t matter when they hit the final table. It’s just six every day, from Day 3. That’s quite simple.
Then we’ve got €10K-plus events, which get them from the beginning. What we do there is, we give four or six at the start. And then you get one every two hours, and that’s it. It doesn’t matter what kind of tournament it is, it’s just the same. The only difference is four or six at the start.
SLIGHTLY DIFFERENT TIME BANK FOR HIGH ROLLERS
In the €25K-plus events, players get six because they have told me they need a bit longer to make their more complicated strategy decisions. They need a bit more. That’s fine. We listen to them.
We used to give six cards in all tournaments, but then in Paris, we gave six [at the beginning] in the €10K High Roller, plus an additional card per hour. We used to give six and one per hour. What happened is that just before the bubble so many people had, like, 20 or 25. So we were giving too many. And obviously the more time banks we have, the more risk there is of stalling. And it’s already a problem, and we were just making it worse.
So we’ve changed that. Now they get four and they get one every two hours, which is probably what you need.
I’m actually intending to check it in this one [the €10K High Roller] when they hit the money. I’ll go around and start counting them all.
We were thinking that maybe we’d say you can have so many, up to a certain amount. But how do you manage that? You’d have to go round and count them all. So we’ve looked for some solutions but the only solution we’ve found is just give them less.
There were no complaints in Monte Carlo, and we’ll see here.
IS STALLING STILL THE BIGGEST PROBLEM?
It’s not a problem for me. It’s the players’ tournament, they’re losing the time.
But it is a pain in the ass. The players start to complain. They give out to us. They see it as our problem, saying: “You have to fix this!” The floor gets called all the time and it just creates a mess. And what can we do, apart from limit the amount of time they have? Limit the amount of time bank cards they have, limit the amount of cards they can use in any one game.
That’s all written in the SOP [the standard operating procedure, essentially the terms and conditions of play on the EPT]. I put in every SOP, “We, at any time, can limit the amount of time banks you have or limit the amount of time.” So if we feel someone is unnecessarily stalling and disrupting the game, then we can address that player.
It’s fine in the €25K events. Those players don’t really mind. To them, it’s all OK, they all do it, it’s all part of the strategy. It gives them a little bit of edge and they all do it. So for them it’s not a really big issue. It’s for all the other tournaments. So we have that in the SOP and we do use it sometimes if we feel it’s the right thing to do.
The problem is that we get some very big tournaments. There could be 15 tables and you nearly have to put one person on every table watching every player. Once you’ve told one person that they’re not allowed to use any more time bank cards, or that they are only allowed 10 seconds, you’ve got to stand over that person to make sure that it doesn’t happen.
WHAT DO YOU TELL DEALERS? DO THEY FLAG STALLING?
To a degree, yes. But we don’t want them to be the policemen at the table on that issue because it wouldn’t create a nice atmosphere between the dealers and the players. We try to make that a floor call. So the dealers are not supposed to be calling out, “This person’s stalling!” That’s really up to the players, to notify us that’s what a player is doing.
But then, if we were called to a table two or three times — there has to be a limit — for the same person, then we might have a word with them. We’d say, “Look, sir, it really looks like you’re stalling. You’re wasting time in the tournament, so we’re going to reduce the time you have to act.”
If they start to play properly, at a reasonable pace again, we’ll walk away. But if they continue, we’ll reduce their time and we’ll just keep reducing it. So if we reduce it to 15 and they take the full 15 seconds, and then again take the full 15, we’ll reduce it to 10. Then we’ll reduce it to five.
It’s a pain, because imagine trying to do that with six, seven, eight or 15 people! We can only make our best effort.
YOU WENT HAND-FOR-HAND A LITTLE EARLIER THAN NORMAL IN BARCELONA. WHY?
That was because the event is being televised. They’re making a TV show as well as the live stream, and it’s vital for the TV that they see the bubble hand.
Sometimes you get two or even more people knocked out on the same hand, so the bubble can burst without any need for hand-for-hand play. And when it’s on the stream, that doesn’t matter. They don’t have to film that precise hand. They’ve got cameras out there trying to catch what they can catch, so we can go right to the line. But when it’s televised, they have to get the exact hand.
Sometimes we go hand for hand early because just no one is playing and we can’t police it, we can’t stand over every person. But I very rarely go early. For me, the bubble is the bubble.
This is Part 1 of a two-part interview. We’ll publish the second half tomorrow in which Toby Stone discusses some new additions to the PokerStars App, which gives the tournament directors more accuracy in tracking players and gives players themselves more information than ever before.
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