by Barbara Connors
Poker is a game of decisions and some of those decisions are going to be tough. If I raise, what are the chances I’ll get called? If I call, will a player behind me raise? What is likely to happen on the next betting round? And perhaps the most important question of all—what cards does my opponent have? Is he betting with the best hand, or is he weak, or is he betting at me with complete air?
And then of course there is position, pot odds, potential outs to improve, stack size, table image, and more to consider. Given all this, it’s no wonder that poker players faced with a difficult decision will sometimes feel the need to take an extra minute. Or two. Or three, or four, or five… When a player takes an extra-long time to act on his hand, that’s known as going into the tank, or more commonly, tanking. For better or worse, tanking is becoming more common in poker games of late. Whether the player in question legitimately needs the extra time to think through a challenging decision, or is not-so-legitimately wasting everyone’s time depends entirely on the context.
Clearly some poker decisions are more vexing than others, if only by virtue of what is at stake. Say a player is facing a large bet, where calling would mean putting himself all in. If anything warrants a few extra minutes of hard thinking, it’s risking one’s entire stack on a single call, no matter how seemingly obvious the call or fold appears to be. Particularly if this player is in the middle of a tournament and one bad call could send him to an early exit. Tanking allows him to thoroughly review the action in his head, remembering how his opponent played the hand on previous streets, to give himself the best possible chance of putting that opponent on the correct hand.
In live games, some players will also use a long tank to study the opponent’s demeanor, looking for tells. Even the tiniest physical clue might give away the strength, or weakness, of the villain’s hand—if you know what to look for. A player who is well-versed in reading tells can gain crucial information this way. Other players use the extra time to chat up the opponent, hoping that something the other player says, or something in his tone of voice, will reveal whether he’s hoping for a call or a fold. When the pot is large and the stakes are high, every little edge, every morsel of information, is significant.
By contrast, when the stakes are small and the pot is a mere pittance—especially in a limit cash game where one bad call isn’t liable to cost more than a few bets even in a worst-case scenario—taking forever to make a decision is not only absurd, it’s downright rude. Then there are the repeat offenders, the “Hollywooders” who mull over every decision. Generally speaking, other players at the table will understand if someone occasionally needs a few extra minutes to think through his next action. But for some poker players, every decision is treated as a life-or-death proposition. When a player hems and haws for two solid minutes before limping in to see a flop, that’s grating to say the least.
Granted, the preflop limper could be considering a multitude of options—should he raise or slowplay a good hand, should he call with a borderline hand, how many players are likely to see this flop, and so on. But these are exactly the kinds of decisions that poker players are required to make all the time, and most of us are able to do so within a few seconds. Taking longer than that, especially on a regular basis for routine decisions, slows down the game unnecessarily and costs money for the other players at the table.
Barbara Connors is a sucker for classic old movies, science fiction, and the St. Louis Cardinals. Her life’s ambition is to figure out the unusual behavior patterns of that unique breed of humans who call themselves poker players. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.