Losing Less vs. Winning More in Poker

The field

Money saved is money earned. This concept, second nature for investment bankers, is equally relevant for a poker professional.

In my first year as a poker player, I spent every night grinding $4/$8 Limit. There was one full-time professional $4/$8 player who consistently crushed the game, to an extent that should not be mathematically possible.

I only saw him once in the space of a year with less than three times his original buy-in. I was willing to listen to any advice he was willing to sling. The only advice he ever gave me was this:

"You don't make money at this game by trying to win the most. You make money by trying to lose the least."

All poker players think, talk and write about maximizing their profits. But the topic of minimizing losses is skimmed over, or even disregarded by many. I guess winning a pot so big that the chips are spilling off the table is much more fun to talk about than the time you saved one bet with a good fold.

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A Limit professional's bottom line: win one big bet an hour.

Generally, a Limit professional's bottom line is to win one big bet an hour.

With that in mind, the importance of pot size management becomes clearly evident.

For a single bet lost, you must subsequently win two bets to show a profit.

Losing Less in Poker is State of Mind

The concept of losing less versus winning more is more a state of mind, rather than a state of play.

A value bet is an example of what I'm referring to as a state of play. When you have the best hand, you must figure out your opponents' call amount threshold, and bet as close below that number as you can.

Losing less is not as cut-and-dried. It's a state of mind that you will use to govern many other actions you make on the table.

Here's a simplified example, the free-card play:

$2/$4 Limit - Standard Tight Play on the Button:

Street Situation Opponents You Cost
Pre-Flop Suited connectors Limp Limp $2
Flop Flush draw Bet Call $2
Turn Miss draw Bet Call $4

Total cost to see river = $8 (2 bets)

$2/$4 Limit - Free-Card Play on the Button:

Street Situation Opponents You Cost
Pre-flop Suited connectors Limp Limp $2
Flop Flush draw Bet Raise $4
Turn Miss draw Check Check $0

Total cost to see river = $6 (1.5 bets)

Assuming the flush misses on the river, the free-card play saves us half a bet.

For those of you paying strict attention, you will have realized that the long-term profit-to-draw ratio will be the same if we use the free-card play or not. The difference is that using the free-card play, and the "losing less" state of mind, reduces variance. In a No-Limit game using it can offer us chip interest.

How This Applies to No-Limit

All these concepts can be transferred into a No-Limit environment. The cost per mistake can be much more in No-Limit poker. Therefore losing less becomes much more important. Saving yourself from getting stacked is worth the same amount to your roll as doubling up.

Finally, there is the concept of chip interest in No-Limit poker. Any bet saved on a No-Limit table equates to more chips in your active stack. When you double up, all "saved" chips get doubled along with your stack.

Saving $25 in a previous pot will put a total of $50 into your stack after the double. The more money you save (the less you lose), the more money you bring to the cashier: it's as simple as that.

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jollygoodshowoff 2011-09-11 11:57:13

This is a spot on article and something any decent player will understand, or perhaps being second nature to them without really thinking too much about it. I was in a limit game yesterday an found myself continously thinking whether I should be saving the bet that I would make, call on the river. I worked out several players around the table knew this concept also.

Nicolas 2010-08-23 06:17:27

One small problem with this article, which I'm reading for at least the third time, because it is interesting: I feel that applying this state of mind to my play is turning me into a weak tight, and that it works better at the lower limits than at higher ones where people exploit that weakness. What can I do about that?

Dennis Hands 2009-05-10 10:57:00

Brilliant! The more I read the more I learn. Thank you Sean.

tim 2008-02-29 22:10:00

100% eye opening for my Ego. Ive been playing online poker for 2yrs now and sometimes forget the reason why I play. This article is a reminder of intellengent play and the quote "you dont make money at this game by trying to win the most. You make money at this game by trying to lose the least"..


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