TIME TESTED: A Look at the History of the Action Clock

By Sean Chaffin The concept seems simple – a clock to speed up play at the poker table and eliminate stalling. Not only is slow play bad for televised poker, but it also frustrates players. Most sports have a clock of some sort, so why not poker? Cavin Quintanilla and Kent McLaren envisioned a way to…

Sean Chaffin
Mar 7, 2021

Action Clock in Play

By Sean Chaffin

The concept seems simple – a clock to speed up play at the poker table and eliminate stalling. Not only is slow play bad for televised poker, but it also frustrates players. Most sports have a clock of some sort, so why not poker? Cavin Quintanilla and Kent McLaren envisioned a way to speed play along and also be fair to players.

The two teamed up to form Protection Poker and the Action Clock was born. It was a simple idea, players received a certain amount of time to act and were granted a certain number of time-extension chips they could use when some extra seconds were needed for a big decision.

After working in the gaming industry for years, I noticed that there were two overwhelming flaws with live poker – bad beats and stalling,” Gardens Casino tournament manager and Protection Poker CEO Cavin Quintanilla says.

As a recreational poker player and avid televised poker viewer, McLaren agreed and is now the company’s chief operating officer. After serving as the official scorer for the L.A. Clippers for 30 years, McLaren had a good feel for statistics and accuracy that could lend itself to the project. In 2015, the two men began working to make their vision a reality.

Finding Solutions

Right from the beginning, Quintanilla and McLaren knew the Action Clock had to meet a few requirements. Of course, the clock had to move the action along. Both men knew many players would already be accustomed to a clock if they played online poker, so some kind of time limit seemed reasonable.

From their perspective, tanking hurt the game but also hurt casinos with fewer hands dealt per hour. The Action Clock also had to be intuitive for dealers and not distract from the flow of play. Their tablet approach, with a visible clock, helped make that happen and is also easy for dealers to use. Longtime WPT commentator and Poker Hall of Famer Mike Sexton even helped refine the concept. He liked the idea and was helpful in bringing the Action Clock to the WPT.

“He knew that the players wanted it and believed in our portfolio of gaming concepts,” McLaren says. “He was an instrumental part of our company and will be sorely missed.”

Not only does the clock speed play along, but Quintanilla believes it heightens the action for spectators. In televised events, a player’s time is shown on screen – adding an element of urgency and drama without prolonging play.

From a player perspective, the Action Clock isn’t designed to penalize but encourages a friendlier climate. “Calling the clock” on another player is eliminated. Because there is an even application, dealers and floor staff are placed in fewer situations where they have to consider time issues. With dealers continuously cognizant of the time factor, there tends to be fewer mental mistakes, Quintanilla and McLaren note.

The clock has generally received positive reviews and Quintanilla says it advances the game at a pace that improves the player experience. He and McLaren believe their research helped the clockwork almost seamlessly into a tournament.

“The key to the Action Clock,” Quintanilla says, “is that it was created by poker people for poker players as well as for the industry as a whole.”

Partnering with the WPT

Forming a company and creating the Action Clock was one thing. Seeing it work as planned in a major tournament is another. The clock made its debut on a stage where it would certainly receive some scrutiny – the Season XV WPT Tournament of Champions at the Seminole Hard Rock.

Both men say players loved it and were surprised at how polished the system was. The clocks were soon added to all WPT Main Tour events.

“We noticed that it was taking about three hours off of each event, a significant savings regarding staffing and production costs when operating a world-class event,” Quintanilla says.

After some initial concerns among players on social media, those fears subsided when many actually saw the clock in “action.”

“Some of those early detractors quickly realized the advantage of its implementation,” McLaren says, “and in very short order actually became some of the most ardent and vocal advocates.”

Fine Tuning and Looking to the Future

Adding the Action Clock to poker brought something new to live poker. McLaren believes that by pioneering the concept into major tournaments, the WPT has solidified itself as an innovator in the industry.

Many players now expect the Action Clock in larger buy-in events, Quintanilla says. The Gardens Casino in Los Angeles has introduced the Action Clock in many of its daily tournaments.

ClubWPT, the WPT’s subscription-based online poker site, has even used the devices for its own televised events.

Not only have the Action Clocks increased the pace of play, but some added elements have also been introduced to play as a result. Players use time chips in different ways. Some may use them for bluffing or slow playing on certain decisions. They’ve become more than just a token for some extra time and playing them wisely has become part of the fabric of a WPT event.

McLaren and Quintanilla hope to see more poker rooms embrace the concept. That includes more usage in cash games. They’ve already become a regular part of high stakes live-streamed cash games over the past two years.

“The Action Clock increases the number of hands played per hour which is a win-win for the players as well as the casino operators,” Quintanilla says.

Protection Poker has even more planned. An Action Clock app will be launching in the near future in the App Store and on Google Play for Android devices. This will enable the entire poker industry to play like the pros do on the WPT.

“Developments that have such a large impact that are so readily accepted and embraced are rare,” Quintanilla says. “This is the case however with the advent and incorporation of the Action Clock.”

Sean Chaffin is a freelance writer in Crandall, Texas, and his work appears in numerous websites and publications. Follow him on Twitter @PokerTraditions.