Idiotic poker axiom #572

"Just because you are making money, doesn’t make you a favorite in a game."

Sometimes you’re not a favorite because you’re just not good enough to hold your own with the other players.  But sometimes you are pretty good, but your skill is diminished by the fact that there’s a lot of people calling the flop, and someone’s getting really lucky cards.

One of the big leaks in my poker hobby is the inability to walk away from a game when I’m up.   If I’m up by 100% in no limit, or 30 big bets in limit poker, I’m at the the statistical high for me.   But I generally stay, thinking I can make more.  Rarely I do, sometimes I give some of it back, and occasionally I give it all back and go into the red.

The last HORSE game was an example of my need to set a profit limit.  I was at a decently soft but high variance table and I’d run my $70 stack up to $140.  I hit the bad end of variance and started to give back, finally finishing with a profit of $15 instead of $70. 

Although poker author David Sklansky says you should never quit a game where you’re the favorite, the application of that axiom is not easy.   Just because you’ve made money at a game doesn’t mean you’re a favorite.   In high variance games with six people playing each pot and three to four showing down hands, you will ride wild swings of variance, reducing your skill level significantly.

If you make money in that situation, it might be skill or it might be luck.  But you have to be pretty good to know the  difference.   If you aren’t sure, you shouldn’t be taking chances with longer sessions. 

I made money on friday but didn’t really take the luck factor into consideration.    And that’s when I gave back $55.   A clearer head would have hung up for the night when I’d doubled my stack, but I mis-attributed my success to all skill, discounting luck.

Hence my idiotic poker player’s axiom: Just because you are making money, doesn’t make you a favorite in a game.


  1. tb_editor on August 15, 2006 at 11:48 am

    OK, so I certainly agree with your axiom. Variance can make it look like you’re a winning player when you aren’t. However, I’m not sure I entirely agree with your expansion on this topic — or maybe I’m just misunderstanding your point.

    I agree that it’s hard to tell if you are just getting lucky or if you are a favorite. But from a purely financial perspective, you shouldn’t be walking away from a game when you hit your statistical high, regardless of whether you are a shark or a fish at the table.

    If you are a shark, you should stay there for as many hours as possible, and eventually (granted, really eventually, in a high variance game) you will level out at your positive hourly rate for that table. Sure, you might swing up and down a lot, but those loose calling stations are going to give you a lot of money in the long run — a lot more money than in a lower variance game full of tight calling stations.

    If you are a fish, from a financial perspective you shouldn’t have sat down at the table in the first place — every hour you spend there you will inch (or plummet) ever closer to whatever your losing hourly rate is. There are reasons to be at this table, of course — fun and education being two examples.

    Obviously, if you want to stay fairly level in your bankroll and, particularly, if you are prone to tilting, setting a win-loss limit isn’t a bad idea. But I don’t think it can be considered financially correct.