When it comes to poker strategy, 99 percent of it addresses what you should be doing while at the poker table. Today I’d like to focus on when to leave it.
Here are 10 good reasons to leave the poker table.
1. The game has gone south
You arrived at 1 a.m. after getting a call from your buddy telling you about the great $5/$10 game he was in. You watched for an orbit, as was your habit, noticing two big stacks and a bunch of short-stacked nits (including your buddy). The two decent stacks were in the 7 and 9 seats. The 7 seat, with what looked like $5K or so, was in nearly every hand — a wild, loose-aggressive player. Two seats to his left was another big stack, an ABC player with $2-3K. The 10 seat was open. You joined the game with $1,500 in chips.
For the first two hours you took advantage of the situation. You were often able to isolate the LAG while avoiding the ABC player, who played few hands, intimidated as he seemed to be by your aggression. The short-stacked nits hardly played.
By 3 a.m., you were $720 to the good and eyeing the rest of the LAG’s still mighty stack, hoping he’d stay. But he didn’t. He left, followed shortly thereafter by the ABC player. Your buddy called it a night, too, leaving you with four nits and no list. You were wide awake and rarin’ to go — on top of your game — but with little left on the table to win.
Why stay? You’re there to make money, and there’s little or no money to be won. It’s nearly 4 a.m., with no list and no one coming in, and things don’t look promising. So take your winnings and get out.
2. You’re tired
Imagine a different scenario. You started playing at 2 a.m. You rocked around for a couple of hours, hitting few hands, and are now down a couple hundred. The game is actually good, with a few bad players and some predictable regulars. But the dealer just tapped the table in front of you a couple of times to snap you out of your haze. You even caught yourself catching a quick nap when out of a hand. You’re clearly exhausted.
Leave. Get some rest, even if you don’t think you should need any. There’s always another game.
3. You’re hungry
You last ate at 8 a.m. You’ve been playing since then, and it’s now 4 p.m. You’re alert and the game is good, you’re just hungry. Get up and get something to eat. You could use the break, anyway, if only to give yourself a little perspective on your play and the game you’re in. Walk to the snack bar. You can come back after you’ve been fed.
4. Duty calls
You play with your regular poker buddies on Thursday nights, from 8 p.m. until the game breaks at 3 or 4 in the morning. It’s now Thursday night at 11 p.m. and your spouse calls to tell you that one of your kids is vomiting and has a fever and you’re needed back at the ranch.
Don’t hesitate for a minute. What’s a regular game of poker compared with the health and well-being of your child? (Not to mention that of your spouse, who rarely interrupts your game.) Tell the others you’re sorry but your family is calling and you need to leave. They’ll understand.
5. Something better to do comes up
You’re playing on Saturday afternoon, intending to stay until the wee hours. A buddy from high school, who went to a rival college, calls to remind you of your bet on the national college lacrosse finals that starts in thirty minutes on ESPN2. You want to watch the game live on the Deuce to root on your team. But you are down for the poker session, and figure that if you stay, it’s only a matter of time before you can earn back your losses in this great game and show a profit.
Don’t even pause. Leave in time to watch the game. There will always be another poker game. But who knows when Trafalgar State will next make the finals?
6. You’re bored
It’s been a slow game. Four of the players are regularly on their phones and must be constantly reminded when it’s their action. While there are a couple of loose bad players still around, the glacial pace has gotten you to start playing Starcade on your phone. You are climbing the walls. No other seats are available. You’ve been on the table change list for over two hours. You’re completely distracted, and thinking about things other than poker.
Stop playing. Being bored and distracted means you’re inattentive and not taking full advantage of all of the opportunities to make a profit. Come back when you can concentrate. Maybe the speed of the game will pick up. Don’t play until then.
7. You’re anxious about protecting your win
You’re up $1,700 in a $2/$5 game. It’s the most money you’ve been up for a long time, since you typically leave when you are $1,500 or more to the good. You know that you’re supposed to stay while the game is good — if you’re at your best, that is. You think that you and the game both meet those qualifications.
Still, you are concerned that you’ll lose it all back to one of the hyper-aggressive players in the game. It’s all you can think about.
True, if you could calm down and focus on just playing your best game you would probably continue to win. But you can’t. You still have a flaw in your game, namely, that you get distracted when you are crushing it. You’re not yet able to optimize what should be a highly profitable situation. But until you defeat these demons, you’ll be lost to your distractions. Knowing that you have this flaw, you’re better off leaving rather than staying and being sunk by it.
8. You’re anxious about losing more
You had some tough losses and are now down $1,050. You’ve lost over a grand a few times before, and it always makes you a little sick. You keep thinking about the number. You know that you should be thinking only about the quality of the game and your play. And you think you’re still okay in both regards. Still, being down four digits is bumming you out.
Leave! To hell with not worrying about how you do in a single session because it’s “just one long game.” You’re clearly distracted, best intentions notwithstanding. So get up until you can clear your head. You can always come back another time.
9. You’ve run out of money
The game is great. You’ve just gotten some untimely second-best hands. Alas, you’ve also run through all the money that you brought to the game. You think about using your ATM or your credit card, but you’re concerned about going down that road. You are nervous about dipping into your bank account to fund your poker.
Don’t sweat it. You can deal with this financial question at home. Leave for now. If you withdraw the money now and fret about it, it will only hurt your game.
10. You’ve run out of time
What a great game! Six complete newbies — three of whom have big stacks — playing $2/$5 with a regular $10 straddle under the gun. How can you lose? Even so, thanks to some donk with a horseshoe stuck up his ass, you find yourself down early. You’ve been mounting a comeback, as the cards finally seem to be going your way. Unfortunately, it’s now 2 a.m. You agreed to leave with your buddy at 1, then at 1:30, and he’s now standing behind you for the third time, looking at his watch.
Don’t be a jerk. Don’t ask for the button to go around just once more. Apologize for making him wait, rack your chips, suck up your loss like an adult, cash out, and leave. There’s nothing magical about leaving a winner. You can come back and get ’em next time.
There are many good reasons to leave your poker game, even if the game is good, and surely if it isn’t. Learn to heed them.