The term “tanking” in poker is short for “going into the think tank.” It generally just means taking a while to have a deep think about your options before making a decision. Excessive tanking has developed into one of the biggest issues plaguing the game of poker since the Moneymaker boom back in 2003.
Defining exactly what makes a tank excessive is tricky. Poker is a complex game that often requires a great deal of thought. While there are differing opinions on how much thinking time is appropriate in any given spot, generally speaking, poker players are understanding of a fellow player going into the tank when they are making a complicated decision for a lot of money or their tournament life.
Not always innocent
But nowadays, tanking isn’t only used for extremely difficult and complex spots. It is used in trivial spots by players looking to conceal their real tanks by mixing in fake ones. It is used by players trying to make their way into the money or to climb a pay ladder. And in many cases it is used for no discernible reason, as was the case in George Qiao’s infamous nine-minute tank during this year’s World Series of Poker Main Event.
Part of the problem stems from the fact that recreational and part-time poker players are emulating the tanking they have seen top pros use on television. Not that tanking is forgivable in those instances, but when a Jason Koon or Phil Ivey or Fedor Holtz is tanking, they are actually using that time to process a great deal of information. Koon wrote an excellent blog on his thought process on any given street in 2019.
The average poker player isn’t thinking on these levels. Most players you see at your local card room enjoying a five-minute tank over a trivial post-flop spot have already decided what they were going to do four minutes and 45 seconds ago. Tanking is bad for the game across the board. It makes poker more boring to watch live and it makes it less fun for players to play. In tournaments, less hands per blind level means less opportunities to build a stack before being forced into short-stack play.
Koray Aldemir responded to criticism about his slow play
Koray Aldemir played exceptionally well throughout the live-streamed WSOP Main Event. Aldemir won the tournament and its $8 million top prize by making strong decisions throughout, though some viewers would have preferred if those decisions were made a bit faster. Color commentator Norman Chad was consistent throughout the broadcast in complaining about the slow speed of play at the final table, not only in Aldemir’s case but across the board. Aldemir took to Twitter to respond to these complaints.
“I understand that some viewers (and commentators I’ve heard) didn’t enjoy how much time a lot of the decisions [had] been taking and am sorry to have impacted their experience,” Aldemir wrote. “Please try to remember that we aren’t fictional characters in a TV Show, but real people in the moment making life-changing decisions though, being both stressed and exhausted throughout.”
Aldemir went on to highlight the real-money implications of the spots he and his fellow players found themselves in. “A single-raised heads up pot is worth six digits, getting it all-in with almost even stacks is a $3.5 million swing, one doesn’t want to make a mistake (nor give anything away) in that spot.”
The 2021 WSOP Champion makes a good point here. Jamie Kerstetter took Chad to task a few times for complaining about tanking, pointing out that in some cases these players were taking a reasonable amount of time given their experience levels and the circumstances. Tanking is definitely a problem that needs to be addressed. But when a bunch of recreational and semi-pro poker players are vying for life-changing amounts of money at the final table of the Main Event, perhaps the extra thinking time is justified.
But to Chad’s defense, the World Series of Poker Main Event is poker’s equivalent to the Super Bowl. It is the most highly anticipated tournament on the poker calendar every year, and an event that even the most casual of poker fans cares about. Poker’s ecosystem relies on new players entering the game, and a boring product at the final table of the year’s biggest tournament could drive potential newcomers away instead of inviting them in.
Aldemir agrees that tanking is a problem
In the same Twitter thread, Koray Aldemir went on to further address the topic of tanking. “Generally I absolutely agree that tanking is an issue in poker though. The way I personally would solve it is to include time control in the game, just like almost every other serious sport or game does. I’ve been saying that for years for what it’s worth.”
“There are different ways to do that, the most obvious ones being time banks per hand or even better, a chess clock type of solution. I’m happy to join that discussion and write a more detailed post some other time.”
The majority of poker players and fans tend to agree that the Main Event should remain the way it is, without tank deterrents like time banks or shot clocks added in. Those types of changes could make the tournament less enticing to the hundreds of amateur players that play in it every year. The Main Event’s tradition is built on deep starting stacks and long, slow levels of play.
In general though, there’s little doubt that tanking will eventually need to be addressed on a serious level for the long-term health of the game. For more on how tanking in poker should be addressed, check out our breakdown on the potential solutions to poker tanking.
Featured Image Credit: PokerGO