Virtually all of us have asked ourselves that question when playing, and we often regret staying too long. Leaving too early is a much less serious problem. We may wonder, “Should I have stayed?” But we don’t worry about it because we can’t know whether we would have won or lost.
However, when we stay too long, we know how much it cost us. If our last hours were disastrous, we may angrily ask ourselves, “Why didn’t I leave when I was … ?” Worse yet, we may not know exactly why we kept playing. So, we make the same mistakes again.
The Right Reasons to Quit
The stay-or-go decision should be based on a rational analysis, but it is often made emotionally. The critical question is: Why are you staying or going?
You obviously should quit if you have another important commitment, but many people don’t do it. Countless serious problems have occurred because people did not pick up their wives or children, keep an important business appointment, and so on. They got so involved in the game or became so desperate to get even that they kept playing. In addition to irritating other people, they were probably distracted, played poorly, and lost money. Don’t be so stupid. If you have to go someplace important, don’t even think about staying. Go!
If you play for recreation, and a game isn’t fun, quit. We have all seen people stay in games they disliked, getting upset, grumbling about the players or the smoke or the noise, and asking, “Why am I playing in this crummy game?” If you feel that way, and you are a recreational player, quit, take a break, or change tables.
Although you should consider those factors, I will not discuss them further. I will focus only on how the stay-or-quit decision affects your profits. From that perspective, the only reason to stay is that you expect to win. “You should not allow the fact that you are winning or losing affect your decision to stay or quit a game. From a moneymaking point of view, the only criterion for playing is whether you are a favorite or an underdog.” (Footnote: David Sklansky, The Theory of Poker, Page 7).
People who “hit and run” break that rule, often without even thinking about it. They leave quickly when they get ahead, but when they get stuck, they play on and on, trying to get even. This pattern nearly guarantees poor long-term results.
People hit and run primarily because they don’t want to give back their profits. They may even have a formula, such as: “Quit when you’ve doubled (or tripled, or quadrupled) your buy-in.” These formulas are just rationalizations to justify their desire to lock up a win. They are based on the implicit but illogical assumption that luck has to change. Nonsense! Cards are random, period.
Hitting and running but staying on to get even is exactly backward. If you’re going to let winning or losing affect the stay-or-go decision, you should stay when you’re winning and go when you’re losing.
Winning suggests (but certainly does not prove) that you’re a favorite, while losing suggests that you’re an underdog. In addition, winning or losing can become self-fulfilling prophecies. If winning makes you and the other players believe you have an edge, your play will improve, and theirs will deteriorate.
You will probably play more confidently and aggressively, and they will respect you more. Conversely, when you are losing, you will probably play less confidently and aggressively, and will have a weaker image. You should therefore be much more willing to stay when winning than when losing.
How Do You Know That You’re a Favorite?
Many of us would agree with Sklansky’s statement, but not be able to answer that question. It’s the same problem that plagues poker and other forms of gambling, denial of reality. Pride and other factors cause us to overestimate ourselves and underestimate the competition. We may sincerely believe that we are big favorites when we are really huge underdogs.
Denial is especially common when we are losing. We don’t want to believe that the judi poker online pkv competition is better than we are. We can see denial more easily in other people than in ourselves.
For example, you have probably been asked to loan money to people who just went broke. They say, “It’s a great game, and I know I can beat it.” When you look at the table, you realize that your friend is hopelessly outclassed and should not go near it. Or, he may be playing terribly, but not see it. Although we easily recognize that our friend is outclassed, we may not be able to recognize it when we’re the underdog.
Our selective memories greatly increase denial. We may think, “If they hadn’t sucked out on me to win those two large pots, I’d be ahead.” But we forget the pots we won by sucking out. Deceiving ourselves about why we’re losing helps us to rationalize decisions we make for emotional reasons.
Since everybody denies reality occasionally, my primary purpose is to suggest ways to minimize denial and its effects. Your critical task is to assess objectively your own and the competition’s play.
These assessments should consider three issues:
- How does your usual game compare to theirs?
- How well are you playing now?
- How is the game changing?
Denial can occur about all three issues. Most people overestimate their own abilities and underestimate the competition (see my column, “Overestimating our Abilities,” Nov. 7, 2003, pp. 92-94), and they also ignore evidence that they are playing worse than usual or that their competition is playing better than usual.
What About “Stop-Loss” Formulas?
These formulas say that you should quit when you’ve lost a rack, 30 bets, two racks, or some other amount. Although I dislike relying on formulas, they are useful if you can’t objectively compare yourself to the competition. In addition, some of them are based on solid reasoning. I have already noted that losing suggests you’re an underdog, and it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
In addition, losing heavily can dramatically degrade our play. Even if it does not put us on tilt, a large loss can make us more tentative or emotional, or weaken our play in other ways. Most people can’t play their “A” game when they are losing badly, and the further behind they get, the worse they play.
A stop-loss formula will prevent you from playing too long when you’re an underdog. Once your loss gets to a certain amount, that stop-loss rule clearly says, “Quit!” Of course, some people set stop-loss limits and then violate them, but that’s a different problem.
Evaluating the Competition
Many of us do it before choosing a table or when we first sit down. But, once we start playing, we naturally focus on how to play the current hand. This narrow focus can prevent us from seeing how the game is gradually changing. In fact, we may barely notice that two players have left and been replaced by very different ones.
In addition, if we’re card dead, we may lose interest in the action. We just fold, fold, fold, and ignore what the other players are doing. We have to fight these tendencies, see how the game is changing, and constantly ask ourselves, “Am I a favorite now?”
The Two-Mistakes Rule
Of course, you are the most important player to evaluate. If you don’t know how well you are playing now, you can’t make an intelligent stay-or-go decision. My friend Jerry Flannigan taught me one way to evaluate my current play.
He was playing in a soft game and was clearly superior to the competition, but he suddenly quit. When I asked him why, he replied, “I just made my second mistake for the day, and that’s my limit.” He later explained that two mistakes are a “trip-wire” warning that he is off his game.
When we discussed this issue, Barry Tanenbaum added that “mistake” should be defined carefully. It should be a serious error that you would not have made when you first sat down. That sort of error indicates that your game has deteriorated, which is exactly the kind of trip-wire you need.
Stop-loss limits are also tripwires, but the two-mistakes rule is much better. It shifts the focus from results-oriented to decision-oriented analysis. Please note that this rule does not say anything at all about how much you are winning or losing. It refers only to how well you are playing. When we focus on our decisions, we make better ones and develop our skills.
If you can look objectively at your game, you will be way ahead of most people. Let me quote Jerry again. “It is more significant that I take corrective action than simply acknowledge a mistake. Certain basic principles govern my play and I will not knowingly violate them. On this day, I did! By the way, I did correct the problem causing those two frightful mistakes, but remain sensitive to any recurrence.”
Looking hard at your decisions is not fun. It is much more pleasant and natural to deny reality and react emotionally. The stay-or-go decision should be based on an objective comparison of yourself and the competition. When you’ve got the edge, stay. When you’re an underdog, get out fast.