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Online Pinochle Time Constraints
#1
Online game hosts must institute special time constraints to prevent player stalling and ensure that the games progress in an enjoyable fashion.
Stalling is a surefire way to suck the fun out of any game, so this precaution is obligatory.
This time limit is usually declared by the game host, or in some cases, the table host.

About the concern...

Since reaching 500 takes an unforeseeable amount of hands, it is difficult to know if the pre-designated time limit is sufficient for all players to complete the game without causing players to panic/rush.
What is the appropriate amount of time that should be allotted for each hand? or a logical adjustment for "longer" games?

At PlayOK, the "chess-clock" doesn't seem to worry with how many hands have been played.  (This could actually be untrue, since I haven't played too many games there.  If anyone knows the particulars, please post them here.)

Is there a better way to prevent player stalling without limiting a player's total game action time?  Can different phases of the hand have individualized time constraints and remain fair?

It makes sense to grant players a longer time to view the tabled meld cards compared with playing a card on a trick.
Can we get the balance right?  Is it scalable for games that hosts declare as "fast", "moderate", "slow" paced?
It's unbelievable how much you don't know about the game you've been playing all your life. -- Mickey Mantle
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#2
At World of Card Games, Pinochle games themselves are not time-constrained. You are allowed a specific time to "make a move". The timeouts are as follows:
  1. 45 seconds to make a bid
  2. 60 seconds to show melds
  3. 15 seconds to play a card
  4. 20 seconds to choose trump
  5. 30 seconds to see the scores at the end of the hand
Every player can cut these turns short by taking an action, e.g. just click a card to play it in a timely way, and you won't see the countdown timer. For dismissing melds and scores, all players must click a "Done" button to go to the next stage of game play.

A countdown timer appears next to a player's avatar when there are 10 seconds left to take an action. Once the timer hits 0, the site makes a "move" for you. As you miss more turns in a row, the timeout gets shorter. You are finally kicked out of the game if you miss too many turns in a row.

Note: at private tables, where players are assumed to know each other and be more patient, the timeouts are twice as long. There's a setting to make the timeouts 5 minutes long for people who want to use that. There's also a pause button.

FWIW I took a poll about the timeouts at ranked Hearts tables a few months ago. There was undoubtedly some selection bias, but the majority voted to keep timeouts the same. A large minority wanted them shorter. Note that in Hearts, there are 2 timeouts: 30 seconds to choose which cards to pass, and 15 seconds to play a card.
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#3
I think I like these itemized time constraints.
How does it end up mathematically if there are an average number of hands in a game, all hands play all phases, and each player uses their maximum amount of time?

What is the average number of hands in a game? Or shall we just consider a normal range of hands in a normal game?

I realize most players will not use their maximum time allowances.
It's unbelievable how much you don't know about the game you've been playing all your life. -- Mickey Mantle
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#4
To start with PlayOK...AFAIK, no, game length doesn't matter. This is why taking an intentional set can work, when an opponent's clock is running short. It won't get any longer. The clock time is a table option. IIRC, you can choose 7, 10, 15, and 20 minutes. I never play on a 7 minute table; when I did, that seemed to be when players would try to force time-based losses. And 7 minutes, that's NOT much time. That's a brainless card-tosser's limit. 10 minutes is pretty darn short; don't try to do anything else, even reading email. I prefer 15 minutes. That works out fairly well.

15 seconds to play a card should be enough most of the time, but there are some cases where it's not. I'd actually be more worried that they're too fast, should I get distracted...like a *@#$&@!# political call, or any of the scam calls. ("Congratulations! You've won a cruise in the Bahamas!" Argh, I'll stop there before I go crazy on this.) Or the doorbell, or the dog. Lots of reasons. I do not care for a robo-action at all; the wrong play might be *greatly* wrong. One simple case...you're declarer in spades, you cash 2 heart aces, pard gives K, then J. You get delayed after your last side ace. What's the robo-play...top trump? Trump Q? Those tend to be the most common. Here, tho, you want to respond to that signal. It's not far-fetched that this can cost 2-3 tricks. That's enough to change a pull-31 into a defense saves; sometimes it'll be the difference between make and going set. That's one case, but there are numerous others. If the delay is during bidding, the bot bid can totally blow the whole hand.

From a stall perspective, the most abusable case is the per-card time, because there's 20 cards every hand. I could burn 13+ seconds easily, every trick...so still over 4 minutes per hand. Throw in about 2 minutes for everything else, and a staller can eat up something around 6 minutes per hand. By Yahoo standards that's just slow play. Smile But it adds up, particularly when it's started very early...like hand 3. Which happened sometimes.

If we accept for now that the per-card timeout is sometimes too short, but often OK, the clear problem with a simple increase in its length, all the time, just helps stallers. OK then...perhaps we adapt from poker. In online poker, every bet is put on a clock. It doesn't matter what the situation is...the clock length is the same, within that game, whether you're acting first with no action other than the blinds, or in late position with complex betting having already taken place. If you don't act...your hand is folded...period. It's dead. It can't win the hand. But any bets you've made to that point...stay in the pot. Some decisions are hard. They know this. They allow time extensions...but they are limited. Every player has a time bank. Every time you need an extension, you're withdrawing from it. When you act in a timely manner, it grows back...a bit. In tournament poker, time is insanely critical. Typically, there are 2 forced bets, called the blinds (because the bets are in place without looking at the cards). These seed the action. At regular intervals, the blinds go up. That forces you to play...if your chip stack isn't growing as the blinds increase, it's becoming *relatively* smaller.

Time wouldn't have the same meaning...but a time bank approach would help alleviate my concerns WRT distractions and the like, hopefully without facilitating a staller. Some things might get reducible too...like the 45 seconds per bid. With a time bank, maybe 30 seconds would work. The time bank itself might start at, let's say, 60 seconds. You use it, it runs down. Start of every hand, each time bank gains 10 seconds, but with a cap...never more than 120, maybe 150 seconds? It'd only reach 150 after 9 hands and no usage.

Another point about the bidding timeout. There are probably 2 major cases where extra time should be given. #1: the first bids. You have to count meld, look at trick taking, and consider bidding options. #2: bidding after a preempt...like an opening bid of 60 or 65. Bridge has this too, and even has it formalized; if you're making the equivalent of a 60 or 65 bid, you announce "skip bid" then give the bid. The next bidder should wait 10-15 seconds, regardless of his hand. This gives time to consider options, when that's needed, but also, the tempo in which that bid was made, can't be used to indicate confidence. (In pino terms...South opens 60. West takes 20 seconds to bid 65...hmm, doubt. West takes 5 seconds to bid 65...CONFIDENT.)

Making these kinds of finer-grained timing adjustments would be nice-to-haves, but they're not essential. Maybe first bids are allowed 40 seconds...but 25 thereafter. With the time bank extension if needed. Maybe after a skip bid (perhaps defined as a bid of 60 or more, that is at least 3 steps above the prior bid...something like that) you disable the bid button for 10 seconds, then give 25. Or don't bother with the "skip bid" notion...bidding after an opening 58 is about as nasty and surprising, so the notion of "what is a skip bid?" might not be clear. HECK, there's debate about whether the practice should continue, even in bridge, and there's a cumbersome aspect...technically, any meld bid in pino would be a skip bid in bridge.
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#5
Oh...consequence. What happens if you exhaust your time bank? At that point, there are 3 options:

1. Player forfeits.
2. Bot plays a card. (This could include a counter, so if it happens N times, it becomes a forfeit.)
3. if you want to make allowances...give the other players buttons like "Continue Waiting" or "Force a play". If ANYONE responds Force a Play, that's what happens. This allows polite people to wait, especially if the player said something like AFK FAS. That was common at Yahoo...altho not necessarily honored.

The time bank doesn't get any more time until the next hand in any event.
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#6
(05-24-2016, 07:51 AM)ToreadorElder Wrote:  If we accept for now that the per-card timeout is sometimes too short, but often OK, the clear problem with a simple increase in its length, all the time, just helps stallers.  OK then...perhaps we adapt from poker.  In online poker, every bet is put on a clock.

Interesting idea... though perhaps I misunderstand, but in Poker, you are playing against everyone. In Pinochle, you have a partner. Forcing the staller to fold harms an innocent partner. I'm not keen on punishing the innocent, if it's possible to avoid it.

At WoCG, a player who stalls can be kicked if all players click that person's "dislike" button (it shows as a red/white x next to them). The idea is that if even your partner doesn't like you, you should get the boot. I would think this would work to get rid of stallers, in most cases.

BTW I set all the timeouts according to what seemed "reasonable" to me, as a fairly raw beginner to the game. If I got people complaining that the timeouts are too short, I would lengthen them. Personally: I try to remain focused on the game when playing and rarely do anything like check email. If people are off being inattentive... well, you get what you put into it. And in team games, your partner will also pay for your lack of focus, too. I don't mind it, myself, since I'm just playing for fun, but I realize that some take it very seriously. So I do my best to stay focused.
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#7
(05-24-2016, 08:03 AM)ToreadorElder Wrote:  ...This allows polite people to wait, especially if the player said something like AFK FAS.  That was common at Yahoo...altho not necessarily honored.

Sorry, what is "AFK FAS"?
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#8
(05-24-2016, 07:00 AM)mickmackusa Wrote:  I think I like these itemized time constraints.
How does it end up mathematically if there are an average number of hands in a game, all hands play all phases, and each player uses their maximum amount of time?

What is the average number of hands in a game? Or shall we just consider a normal range of hands in a normal game?

I realize most players will not use their maximum time allowances.

Sorry Mick, I haven't added up how it works to the max, so I'm not sure. If someone is stalling out a lot, everyone has the choice to dislike them and they will get booted (in team games like Pinochle, but not for a singles game like Hearts where people might abuse it).

I haven't checked the average number of hands in a game... Wish I had time to add lots of stats computations, but I don't :/
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#9
marya, a staller will learn the limits...and you're giving them help, with the time countdown. They'll always act *just within* the time limit. Is the Dislike button ALWAYS enabled, or does it require some timeouts to happen first?

On the point of forfeiting...at Yahoo, the player forfeited took a DOUBLE rating hit. The partner's rating didn't change. I don't recall if he got charged for a loss. And remember that I'm talking about a forfeit in the context of an exhausted time bank. That shows either a fairly long use of the time bank, or numerous ones.

Plus: the system you have now can punish the offender's partner...when the bot's action is horrendously wrong, or happens to have bad timing. IMO, a weak player's mistakes can be more impactful, negatively, to a good player, versus another weak player.

I'm not entirely sure about the timings either...I'm more worried about external distractions throwing those basic numbers out of whack. But I *do* know that some bids are easy and take little time, while some bids need more consideration. That's the other advantage of the time bank approach; you can run your per-action times a little tighter, while also allowing for due consideration at need. And stalls are inherently more limited; the time bank doesn't recover quickly.

You could also allow 2 or 3 levels of timings, controlled by the table owner.

AFK FAS == away from keyboard for a second
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#10
(05-24-2016, 11:27 AM)ToreadorElder Wrote:  marya, a staller will learn the limits...and you're giving them help, with the time countdown.  They'll always act *just within* the time limit.  Is the Dislike button ALWAYS enabled, or does it require some timeouts to happen first?

The dislike button is always enabled.

(05-24-2016, 11:27 AM)ToreadorElder Wrote:  On the point of forfeiting...at Yahoo, the player forfeited took a DOUBLE rating hit.  The partner's rating didn't change.  I don't recall if he got charged for a loss.  And remember that I'm talking about a forfeit in the context of an exhausted time bank.  That shows either a fairly long use of the time bank, or numerous ones.  

I must not have understood the meaning of "forfeit"... so a "forfeit" at Yahoo involved you getting kicked from the table, and a double penalty to your Elo rating? Currently this is how ranked Hearts games works. If you get kicked from a ranked Spades game, though, you just take a loss with the normal penalty to your Elo rating. Penalties are all experimental. So far, I've mainly had complaints from people who want to be forgiven if they get disconnected from a ranked game. You get a 4-hour ban from ranked play if you quit a ranked game. This is done to discourage quitters.

(05-24-2016, 11:27 AM)ToreadorElder Wrote:  Plus:  the system you have now can punish the offender's partner...when the bot's action is horrendously wrong, or happens to have bad timing.  IMO, a weak player's mistakes can be more impactful, negatively, to a good player, versus another weak player.  

People can choose to avoid bots if they find them too annoying. A human's actions can go horrendously wrong as well, and some people prefer to kick a partner who is stalling. Remember, all must agree to kick a player who is stalling. When this happens, even the partner wants them gone.
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