Winning And Losing: Stopping A Session
There are a number of poker authors that believe in the concept of hourly rates with regards to winning and session length. The idea is that you can play your next hand now or when you come back tomorrow, therefore stopping when you're ahead makes no sense. The concept of hourly rates states that you win because you put in time at a table and the more time you put into the table, the more you make. It is a very mathematical way of thinking. I am not a huge believer in hourly rates. The main reason is that playing winning poker day-after-day has a lot more to do with people than it does math. If we played poker in a vacuum we could say that, "the more I play the more I win." We don't play in a vacuum. Games change, the way you feel changes, and countless other variables change. I think a better approach gives you more flexibility when to stop and when to keep playing. Hourly rates do say that when the game is good and when you feel good, put more hours in. I agree with that.
The idea with stop loss is that if you lose X amount of your bankroll, you leave and call it a day. What I like about this idea is that you avoid huge losses. I think most huge losses result from playing after you have already had a moderate loss. You get beat up some and then start playing worse which puts in you in a downward spiral. By setting a limit before hand, you can avoid sitting there being in for 5 racks, sweating, hoping something will hold up. The part of the stop loss concept I don't like is that it doesn't give you a chance in good games to minimize your loss. Let's say you are in for $3000, which is a big loss at the game. If the game is good, and you are still playing well, it is certainly possible that you'll bring part, if not all, your loss back. So the key points for this concept are that you can be honest with yourself when evaluating your own play and how good the game is. I can count on one hand the times that I have wanted to leave a table when I'm down. That just shows that you always want to keep playing. These are the times you need to leave though, because they are the most dangerous for your bankroll.
Clocking Wins/Leaving When Ahead:
There are times when you'll run horribly, when nothing will seem to hold up. This is a time when leaving when you are ahead can be beneficial. Number one, psychologically, it can be a break in the what feels like a slump. You can get your confidence back and also if you do a few of these, you can build up some momentum. Secondly, if you are working out of a tight bankroll, little wins can help flesh it out some before you get waste deep again. There are bad aspects to playing like this though. The main problem is that poker wins don't come in even increments. From my experience, it seems like you'll have a number of small wins, small losses, break even days, then bam, a huge win. Let's say you want to win $10k/month. That is an average of $500/session if you play 5 times/week. By looking at those numbers, it would seem correct to deduce that if I go in an win $500, I've done my part for the day and I can leave. Then I just keep doing that for each 5 days. That's wrong. There is nothing that says your hands have to come in even increments. You may have a week of getting nothing, then the next week kill it for a month's winnings. This is why it is important in the long run to not be too concerned with short-term winnings. Think of your goals over a longer period of time.
Play By Results:
One concept that is really making sense to me lately is playing more when you are doing well and playing less when you aren't. Given that you are able to honest with yourself regarding your emotional state and your chances of beating the game, it makes sense to put in more time when things seem to be going your way than when they aren't. See look what happens above when I'm trying to make X amount of money per day and leave. I put in a very short amount of time when things are going my way and I leave. On the other hand when things aren't going my way I clock tons and tons of hours. That doesn't make any sense.
The whole point of poker is to maximize your edges. If you are losing, for whatever reason, you probably aren't playing your best game. And it is very difficult to be realistic about your edge in a game that you are losing in. A good way to go would be to try to minimize your loss some, then take a small loss for the day and come back when you are fresh and possibly the game is better. This is consistent with our model for how you win a lot in poker too. It isn't those little wins or losses that matter, it is the huge wins and huge losses. You know very well that a day isn't going to turn out to be a substantial win, so why keep playing and possibly turn it into a substantial loss. Note that this may sound a little hooky poky, like going on rushes. It isn't. This has nothing to do with the cards, it has to do with your emotional state. Putting in the most time when you are feeling beat up isn't the way you maximize your edge.
On the other hand, if you are killing the game, why leave? For whatever reason, things are going your way. Most likely it is a combination of things -- you getting good cards, some bad players with deep pockets, the texture of the game because of the varying player types, and maybe even how the players are seated around the table. It is hard to put a finger on why a game is really good for you sometimes; it just is, so ride it as long as you can.
So those are a few things to think about with regards to if you should stop when you are ahead or keep playing. One thread through all the concepts was the idea of knowing yourself and having a realistic pespective of the game.