Poker tips: Quitting When You Are Behind

Beim Pokern verlieren“How are you doing?” It’s a standard greeting at any poker table, and generally the person who asks this question is not inquiring about whether you are feeling happy or sad, tired or awake, healthy or sick. No, this person wants to find out if you are winning or losing, and by how much. It’s how we keep score at the poker table, a measure of how good we are as players. The truth is, you can be a winner while losing. The key is, do make the right decision when on a losing streak: quit or continue playing?

For many people, it’s as simple as I’m ahead now, so that makes me a winner, or I’m down now, so that makes me a loser. Experienced poker players know it’s a lot more complicated than that. To quote a famous poker axiom: It’s all one long session. The results of any one individual poker session should not matter at all. As sure as the sun will set every evening, as sure as the stock market will fall sometimes, tough losses will happen in the game of poker, even to the best of players. The trick is how you deal with those losses. And the first step in dealing with a losing session is accepting that they are inevitable, and then not allowing this to stop you from making the best possible decisions at all times in the game.

On occasion, that best possible decision will be to quit the game for now and return to fight another day – after you are refreshed and rejuvenated. Obviously if game conditions are still good and you are still playing your best game, then you should keep on playing, regardless of how much money you have won or lost. Problem is, few players who find themselves deep in the hole can truly stay objective and focused on making the best possible poker decisions. It frequently clouds your judgement. Players who are badly behind often loosen up their calling standards too much, chasing a little too much here and there, in the hopes of catching a good flop or finally hitting a draw. Or conversely, a player who is losing will start playing a little too timid and weak-tight. He’ll be afraid to bet and raise because he now expects to lose every hand, so even when he does make a good hand he fails to protect it. In either case, losing leads to sub-optimal strategy decisions, which in turn leads to even more losing.

Needless to say, being able to play well through a tough loss is something that depends very much on the individual. The point is, you must be brutally honest with yourself that you are still truly playing your best game. If you are, then by all means stay. Skilled players should be able to keep playing through a loss, without letting it affect their judgement. But this requires enormous discipline and emotional toughness. At best, losing will encourage a player to buckle down and concentrate on making the right decisions. Perhaps it’s ironic, but the ability to be a good loser is key to becoming a long-term winner at poker.

But too many players – even otherwise skilled, intelligent players – simply cannot quit a game when they are behind. They are determined to end the session as a winner, or at least get back even. So they stay. And they chase. Then they stay a little longer. They gulp down gallons of coffee, maybe eat a little food at the table (or in front of the computer screen), but they never take a real break. And they keep on chasing. Too often, the end result is what should have been a small or moderate-sized loss becomes catastrophic. These players wind up hemorrhaging money because they insists on playing poker when they are overly emotional and tired, all because they were unwilling to accept a much smaller loss earlier.

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Josh Miller Josh Miller

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