Monday, April 06, 2009

The Waiting Game

The Waiting GameWas watching PokerStars’ Spring Championship of Online Poker last night, one of those H.O.R.S.E. events (the $1,000+$50 buy-in one) in which TeamPokerStars pro Daniel “KidPoker” Negreanu had made it down to the cash bubble with a relatively short stack. They weren’t quite at hand-for-hand play yet when a player at Negreanu’s table with an even shorter stack began stalling every hand. And with the extra-long time banks given to players for the SCOOP events, some of the others at the table were beginning to get antsy.

A couple of comments were made, then, after a while, Negreanu couldn’t resist chiming in as well. “i wish we could bar guys that do that for life,” he said, referring to what the staller was doing explicitly as “cheating.” He suggested a possible penalty: “put something in the security software for repeat offenders. they keep stalling, they get dealt out for a level.”

The staller defended his actions, pointing out that it was within the rules for him to take as long as he was allowed. Negreanu wasn’t hearing it. “guys like this in the old days would totally get a beat down, for real,” he continued. “and if I have anything to do [with] it i’d like to give penalties to guys who shoot that angle.”

Since there was a lot of time with nothing else to do, the conversation continued with several players joining in, as did a couple of railbirds. Negreanu noted how “only low lifes” stalled and that “today so many younger kids dont get that its wrong so its a real problem.” Eventually the bubble finally did burst, and afterwards the player who had been stalling said he was sorry, though continued to maintain it was within his rights to stall.

“ya why say sorry?” typed Negreanu. “you are NOT sorry. You do it, and will do it again.”

The debate went on a little while longer before Negreanu decided he’d had enough, saying “this will tilt me for real” if he were to continue the discussion. A few more points were thrown around, then a railbird suggested the player in question “is going to be part of a Daniel blog.” Will have to keep an eye out for that.

After several minutes, the bubble finally burst, with both the staller and Negreanu having made the money. In fact -- speaking of cheating -- Justin “ZeeJustin” Bonomo, Negreanu’s All Strategy co-host who has recently been allowed back on the site after being banned for over three years for multi-accounting, was the bubble boy, going out in 65th.

As it happened, Negreanu would end up busting the player who had been stalling, but it was basically just happenstance that caused it. Both still had similarly small stacks, and they got heads up in a stud hand in which the staller was all in on third street with a pair of split kings to Negreanu’s three-flush. Negreanu drew out his flush, and the other fellow was out in 49th. Negreanu would last a little while longer before finally going out in 37th.

I found the whole exchange interesting to follow for a few reasons. One was just the spectacle of seeing Negreanu become so animated. Was perhaps a little untoward of him as a PokerStars representative to be getting into it with another player like that, but with Phil Hellmuth setting the standard for conduct with his poorly-typed screeds over on UltimateBet I think it is probably acceptable to allow KidPoker to blow off a little steam like this once in a while.

His comments suggesting possible changes in the rules (and implying his own potential influence for helping such changes to occur) were intriguing, too. My instinctive response was to side with the staller, frankly, and not to pay much heed to Negreanu’s claim that stalling was “cheating.” Nor was I all that moved by the talk of the “old days” and so forth, although I do appreciate how the generations tend to differ over what is acceptable and what is not.

What do you think? That such a tactic is squarely within the current rules seems to make the debate mostly moot, unless someone wants to make it a matter of “etiquette” or “courtesy” or whatever.

But what about Negreanu’s suggestion about changing the rules? Should they? Could they?

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23 Comments:

Blogger Wayne said...

It is within the rules, but I dislike people that do this. Taking time to ponder your move is one thing, doing it because you know it is the bubble is another.

That said, I'm not sure of a good way to address the issue. And Daniel was right, the person wasn't really sorry for doing it.

4/06/2009 8:32 AM  
Anonymous BJ Nemeth said...

Bad etiquette? Absolutely. Legal within the current rules? Yes.

Manipulating the rules to your benefit is part of all sports/games. Stealing bases wasn't explicitly a part of baseball's rules, but the players and managers decided to do it anyway. Timeouts in football were never meant to be used to "ice the kicker," but teams do that anyway. Onside kicks were never intended in football, but teams manipulated the existing rules to make it happen. The original rulesmakers for basketball didn't expect teams to intentionally foul each other in the final minutes to force free throws, but teams figured out that angle and made it work for them.

I think this problem is much bigger in live games than online, where there are a lot more gray areas (how long is too long?).

But in online games, give players X amount of time to make a decision each hand (the shot clock or play clock), plus a bank with Y amount of time (equivalent to timeouts) to use however they'd like. If they want to use it to disguise their pocket aces to make it look like a bad hand, that's their option. If they want to use their timeouts to limp into the money, that's their option. If they want to save that time for big decisions at the final table, that's their option.

The last two minutes of a football game or a basketball game can take forever as teams maximize the rules to give themselves as much time as possible to make a comeback. Poker players may just need to expect that the money bubble of a poker tournament will be a similar situation -- with many short stacks maximizing their time banks to give themselves the best chance of finishing in the money.

Change the rules or live with them, Daniel. You can argue etiquette all you want, but you can't ban somebody for following the rules no matter how much it personally pisses you off.

4/06/2009 9:24 AM  
Blogger dbcooper said...

I agree with BJ Nemeth. What the player was doing was using the rules established to his maximum benefit. While it may have upset some he wasn't doing anything illegal. Being on the money bubble in a tournament why not use all the means that you can legally to get a cash. Sorry Daniel. This time you are wrong.

4/06/2009 11:59 AM  
Blogger dbcooper said...

I agree with BJ Nemeth. What the player was doing was using the rules established to his maximum benefit. While it may have upset some he wasn't doing anything illegal. Being on the money bubble in a tournament why not use all the means that you can legally to get a cash. Sorry Daniel. This time you are wrong.

4/06/2009 11:59 AM  
Anonymous Brad said...

I endure stallers by believing there will be some sort of karmic retribution levied on them at some point (being forced to wait for sex, entry into their own personal afterlife, or a drink of water when stranded in the desert).

It is an angle and one that can only be stopped by beginning hand for hand earlier--which can't be extended indefinitely or it would just be started at the beginning of a tournament.

Interesting B.J. brings up live versus online...obviously a much bigger issue live. In a couple of recent tournaments, I've seen stallers face a clock immediately upon having the action on them. Only way to deal with it.

On Negreanu...I think he knows there's not much he can do about it, but if you think about it...there is a metagame advantage to railing mercilessly about the classlessness of a staller. It discourages others and probably hurts a stallers feelings. That's worth it to me.

4/06/2009 12:05 PM  
Blogger Special K said...

this is an interesting concept: "there is a metagame advantage to railing mercilessly about the classlessness of a staller. It discourages others and probably hurts a stallers feelings." If that is what Daniel was doing, then he was guilty of exactly what he was railing against, namely, using bad etiquette but staying within the rules to inorder to gain an advantage. Second level angle shooting? Maybe.

4/06/2009 5:39 PM  
Blogger Kevin Mathers said...

It seems there's two ways to solve this issue:

Reduce the time bank (this event gave you 6 minutes) and start hand for hand sooner (65 when they were paying 64). Having H4H that late encourages this type of behavior.

4/06/2009 8:51 PM  
Anonymous karridy said...

I must admit... I've done it once. I was playing a much bigger tournament than I should have. So, for me, at the time, I kept myself from feeling like a schmoe by reminding myself that 'this cash means a lot more to me than the stalling does to them'. But honestly... How often is that not the case?

I don't think it's good for the game and I don't like people that do it. But I'd do it again in the right circustances.

Now that I'm an older and wiser driver, I often remind myself that the guy that just zoomed past gridlock traffic on the emergency shoulder *could* have a good reason. So, while I'd like to swing my door open and slow him to a stop, I'd hate to have to help deliver his wife's baby.

I know. That's a stretch. But beyond the debates, there's often a very human factor potentially in play. Whether the argument comes to pass or not.

4/06/2009 11:29 PM  
Anonymous BJ Nemeth said...

I agree that hand-for-hand play in large online tournaments should start earlier than one spot above the money. (How many spots earlier would vary based on the number of tables still in action at the money bubble.)

I think that is the least offensive way to handle this situation, even though some players will just adjust and start stalling earlier.

Since there is no "right" amount of time to make a decision in poker, it is impossible to stop delays. I think we should just learn to expect stalling on the bubble, and adjust the rules around it. (Again, much easier online than in live tournaments.)

As poker players and fans, we will adapt to the fact that the money bubble involves stalling, just like basketball fans expect their favorite players to purposefully (and physically!) foul their opponents in order to stall the clock.

4/07/2009 1:32 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have stalled numerous times in tournaments when on the bubble, and I don't feel sorry for doing so. It is part of the game, and if you want to be a succesful player who cashes more often than not, you better integrate it into your arsenal of tactics. As much as I love Negreanu as a player (he's by far my favorite of all professional players) I think it was wrong of him to criticise the staller and throw a tantrum. He has gazillions of money and only plays these tourneys to win prestige. But for the usual player, finishing in the money is more important. So if it is within the rules, I don't see how it would be a bad thing to do. -Vivs44-

4/07/2009 10:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

KidPoker should shut up. Finishing in the money is more important to most players than it is to Negreanu. If he doesn't like it, then he should change the rules on his site. I don't neccessarily like it, but I've used the tactic many times myself. It's an accepted part of the online game.

4/07/2009 12:28 PM  
Anonymous Robert Dudek said...

If it is tactically advantageous (which is the case if you have a very small stack), then it increases that player's EV.

I don't like to depend on the concepts of "angle shooting" and "etiquette" - both of which will be defined differently by different individuals. Negreanu believes that he can precisely define these within the context of a poker tournament, and as such should be taken to task for hubris.

The solution is to make rules for the things we don't want to happen - and allow everything else without trying to stigmatize it.

And before anyone says that such rules are "unenforceable" - I disagree. Should chronic stalling be deemed illegal in a given tournament, the TD would have the power to determine what is and is not chronic stalling in his/her judgment and levy the appropriate penalty.

Also, I think it is important that when hand-for hand is in effect, the blinds do not go up until after hand-for-hand is finished, no matter how much time has elapsed. I've been in some tournaments where I've played 8 hands during h-f-h and had the blinds jump up twice (because each hand is played at the pace of the slowest table).

4/08/2009 12:49 AM  
Blogger smokkee said...

lawl @ kid poker talking about the "old days".

4/13/2009 12:26 PM  
Blogger P-Wolf said...

I've been in a few micro tournaments where this type of play occurred and everyone jumped on the guy. The trouble is that although it's bad "form", it's not against the rules and unless the rules change that's the fact. There's a lot of things in Poker and sports which are frustrating but legal. As long as it's an option, we can't complain. It was the player's right to stall.

4/14/2009 4:04 AM  
Anonymous J MacLeod said...

BJ, posted a link over at Pokerroad in the forums of a thread Chainsaw started over there. Liked the blog, and am going to read more on here.

I'm against stalling and it really drives me nuts and am glad for Daniel ripping him. I understand it's within the rules, and there isn't much you can do about it.I don't think two wrongs make a right, and hate poor table etiquette. Hiding behind its not against the rules, in this instance, makes me feel its ok to get childish and hide behind my free speech rights, and openly call stallers down to the lowest. It's not nice but it's allowed.

I understand the comparisons to sports, with late in games, fouling people, throwing incomplete passes, and the likes of that. The game clock stops in those games, not in poker. Sports also have penalties for delaying games, poker doesn't.

If I had to compare stalling to anything in sports it would be clinching in a boxing match. You do it when things are tough like when you are playing a short stack, and it usually happens later in the match, just before the big knockout. The thing is you do it too much, you get warned, lose a point, then disqualified.

JLBlades on the PokerRoad forums-Chainsaw thread http://pokerroad.com/forums/showthread.php?t=6014

4/14/2009 3:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Honestly, I love stallers in tournaments. As an aggressive player near the bubble, I know these are the players to pick on the most, because they are not as likely to get involved with speculative hands.

4/18/2009 1:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Daniel was 100% wrong for saying he is shooting an angle. Angles are against the rules, using your time is not. If it was a pro that was taking time he would have said nothing, he was pulling a Phil H and trying to intimidate the player into playing his game.
It was bad edicate for anyone to intimidate another player and even worse for a PS sponsored pro to. As for trying to get PS to change the rules to suit him, well that is something UB would do.

4/18/2009 2:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kid Poker ut a joke

4/18/2009 3:24 PM  
Blogger Rob said...

Six minutes to an onlline player is an eternity. I imagine the stalling started around 100-90 players just like in every other stars event from freerolls to the Sunday Millions. They have got to adjust hand for hand so it kicks in with about 5% of the field above the bubble remaining. Increasing payouts to 15-20% of the field would not hurt either. Lots of overmatched scared money just stalls and folds to the bubble.

4/19/2009 12:51 AM  
Blogger AllanDuke said...

I hate stalling in tournaments as much as I hate short stacking in cash games. I don't know of any remedy though.

4/27/2009 11:29 AM  
Anonymous Curtom said...

Sorry but you cannot make an argument with anyone that is playing WITHIN the rules. If this is a problem, and it is, then you must change the rules. Otherwise, the anger is directed toward the wrong person. Pokerstars is the culprit and not the staller.

4/27/2009 12:11 PM  
Blogger Rob said...

Then the rules shall be changed. I clocked and "Floored" the shit out of a live stalling table this weekend. It was horrible with two women and some homeless looking dude stalling every single hand for almost three levels. The women gave me the nasty screw you look and the scruffy dude would not look anyone in the eye. Screw em all.
"BUST THE BUBBLE" Viva Libere!!!!!!!

4/28/2009 12:29 AM  
Blogger Kristian said...

Wtf you are all MORONS or FISH. Stalling is gay, why are you defending the staller?

Maybe you all suck so MUCH at the game you want stalling to be kept an open option...as if you can ever argue that its nothing more than an angle, timing down to fold preflop every hand.

Too bad donkeys you'll still finish near the bubble for 2-3 measly buyins

4/17/2010 10:06 AM  

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