Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Not too slow

On last night's "Poker After Dark" a hand played out between Howard Lederer and Doyle Brunson. Lederer flopped a set, Brunson a flush draw. Brunson led out on the flop with a bet. Lederer raised and Brunson called. On the turn it was check/bet/fold.

When the hand was over, Brunson began complaining about how long Lederer had taken, and said he would have to start calling the clock. Lederer wasn't sure he was serious at first and asked if he was talking about the hand they had just played. Brunson said yes, because Lederer had taken "ten minutes" of stalling before acting. Lederer was clearly annoyed by this complaint, feeling it unjustified, and retorted that he had taken only "ten seconds." At this point, it wasn't clear that either man was meaning the claimed time as literal. Both were likely knowingly exaggerating.

Still, Lederer pointed out that he had won a speed poker tournament in Australia, and would be perfectly willing to play with a time constraint (I assume that this would be only if everybody were equally limited). He asserted that he would not have "busted the 30-second clock" in the previous hand. Brunson replied, "Oh yes, oh yes." Gabe Kaplan weighed in, too, agreeing with Brunson and saying that Lederer had taken a full minute, though a few seconds later he revised his best estimate to "53 seconds." This prompted Lederer to propose a prop bet--whether his action on the turn took over or under 45 seconds. Eli Elezra inserted his opinion that it was over 0:45, but under a minute. Kaplan didn't take Lederer up on the bet, but Elezra did, for $5000. Brunson said that he thought it would be over 0:45, but that it may be "real close." Lederer's final guess was that he took "about 20 seconds," at which estimate Elezra scoffed.

So I went back and checked. It did not appear that the hand was edited; everything appeared continuous, as far as I could tell. I clocked Lederer right between 0:29 and 0:30 to make his raise on the flop and 0:28 to make his bet on the turn. Brunson, meanwhile, took 0:22 to call Lederer's bet on the flop and 0:37 to fold on the turn, after Lederer's bet was in. (I haven't finished the show yet, and so far the producers haven't announced an "official" time after checking their replay, but I suspect that will be coming up later.) [Edit: On the next day's show, the official time was given at 29 seconds, and Lederer won his bet.]

In other words, their combined thinking times were within a second or so of each other (I'm disregarding Brunson's initial decision on both streets, since he had one more decision than Lederer both times), though it appears that Brunson probably took one tick more than Lederer. (This is hard to score precisely, because it's a little fuzzy exactly when one should start and stop the clock, so it's easy to be off by a second or so either way.) Moreover, Lederer was correct that he would not have been burned by a 30-second clock for either of his decisions. Most striking is that the complainer, Brunson, easily took the longest time for any decision in the hand, and would have been in trouble with a 30-second limit!

It's really difficult to keep even the remotest track of time when thinking about a difficult poker decision. Sometimes the time is distorted to be faster than reality, sometimes slower. Can't really blame either participant in this argument for being off in their estimates, though when it came down to a clearly factual assertion (more or less than 30 seconds), Lederer was correct and Brunson incorrect.

Maybe this is already obvious, but anytime in this blog that I describe how long somebody in a poker hand took to make a decision, there is no timepiece being consulted, and any number I give is pretty much a wild guess, distorted not only by the psychological forces acting in the moment, but by the passage of time between the occurrence and the writing--so they are all to be taken with a grain of salt. I wouldn't knowingly falsify what happened, but as the televised incident demonstrates, we're all highly fallible when it comes to estimating elapsed times, particularly when distracted by the puzzle-solving task of the hand and its emotional overlays.

By the way, Brunson's hand-reading radar was as far off as his internal clock; when another player opined that Lederer had held a set, Brunson bitterly countered that he must have only had "some kind of old phony-ass draw."

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