Have you ever wished you could turn back time in poker? Maybe you were in a tight spot and made a bad decision that cost you a big pot in a game of online poker. Don’t worry, it happens to the best players more often than you may think. In fact, the pressure to make the right decision can get so much that players seem to lose the ability to act. While they’re beating their brains over things like minimum defense frequencies versus pot odds, time stands still for the other players, ruining the flow.
Sometimes, when this happens, the only way to get the game back on track is for someone to force a decision by calling clock. Keep on reading to find out who can call the clock in poker and why.
What It Means to Call the Poker Clock
So what does “calling clock” or “calling the clock” actually mean? It’s when a player asks a floor person to force another player to act if that player has been tanking excessively (taking too long to make a decision on that hand).
Tanking is a common behavior at the poker table. If you’re faced with a large bet to call or some other potentially game-changing decision, you’ll want to take enough time to weigh up your options. In other words, you’ll tank until you hopefully decide on the best move.
However, it’s an unwritten rule of poker that players should act in a timely manner, so excessive tanking is frowned upon. This is especially true in online poker tournaments, where players often stall in the bubble stage in the hopes that another player will bust out before them so they can make it to the money.
When this happens, a player, dealer, or floor manager may call clock on the tanking player.
The Poker Clock Calling Process
If a player or dealer calls clock, the floor manager comes over to decide whether it’s a reasonable request or not. Unlike casino table games like roulette with a fixed betting window, this is a subjective decision and depends on factors such as the house rules and the format of the game or tournament.
Should the manager decide in favor of the caller, the tanking player will then have to act within a certain time period (two minutes being the standard). If this period runs out, there’s a 30-second countdown, with the floor person verbally counting down the final 10 seconds.
If, at the end of this process, the player still has made no decision, they have to toss their hand in the muck (the discard pile) and forfeit any chips they’ve put in the pot.
The Etiquette of Calling Clock
It can be very frustrating to have to wait for an opponent who tanks on their hand for minutes on end, but many players still feel bad about calling clock. That’s because they know what it’s like to be faced with tough decisions. Also, calling clock can come across as pretty aggressive. But poker is an aggressive game by nature, and there’s a fine line between mastering the art of patience and putting up with a player who’s stalling for time or, worse, tanking on purpose to put their opponents on tilt.
So if it’s clear that an opponent is abusing the patience of the other players at the table, it’s more than okay to call clock on them. It helps to make the game run smoothly and fairly and prevents their behavior from hurting winning players by reducing the number of hands they could win. It’s no different from other expected game-enhancing behaviors, such as pointing out errors and calling out misdeals, incomplete bets, and string bets.
Poker Clock Calling in Action
A great example of how calling clock can affect play at the highest levels took place during a hand played at the 2008 World Series of Poker (WSOP), with Phil “Poker Brat” Hellmuth in a three-handed pot. After the flop came 10♥, A♠, 9♣, the UTG (under-the-gun) player bet 5,200 in chips. Hellmuth called, and the third player in the hand, Tony Clark, raised to 16,000. The UTG player folded, bringing the action back to Hellmuth, who called.
The turn came 4♣, Hellmuth checked, and Clark went all-in to the tune of 29,000. Hellmuth started tanking under the pressure. He started talking to Clark — “If you have ace-queen, you’re dead,” and “Buddy, what are you doing?” — but Clark said nothing. Hellmuth kept on tanking.
After several minutes, Ramzi Jelassi, who was also at the table, called for a clock. A floorperson came over, and Hellmuth asked who had called clock on him. “I did,” said Jelassi, who’d been sparring verbally with Hellmuth that day. Hellmuth asked how long he’d been tanking, and Ramzi said four minutes. Hellmuth thought that was fair enough, and the floorperson started counting him down.
Eventually, Hellmuth made his call and went all in. The river came 2♣. At showdown, Clark, with 10♦ 10♠, had a set of tens, easily outgunning Hellmuth’s A♦ K♣.
Did being called clock on put Hellmuth on tilt, or would he have lost, anyway? The only way to find out for sure would be to turn the clock back.
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