The Psychology of Poker: When to Stop
We have plenty of guides about Poker Strategy, but sometimes you need to take a step back and look at the human mind.
Playing Poker is fun, and we all love to play our favorite game as much as possible. But when is it too much? When does the fun start becoming work? Or when might it even be dangerous? Today we will have a look at different scenarios within your poker journey and when it’s time to turn off your computer or put down your deck of cards and just chill out.
Have you ever been in a situation where you were playing poker and just suddenly had the thought: “Wow... this is just not fun right now.” If you are one of the few people that has never experienced that: Good for you! May your Poker life be full of happiness and bliss.
But most of us have. Even if it was just for a moment. Just the thought creeping up in the back of our heads: “I’m not having fun right now.”
There can be multiple reasons for this, and it obviously makes a huge difference whether you just play poker for fun, or you are a professional poker player, grinding cash games on online poker sites to make a living or regularly playing live tournaments on a regular basis to pay your bills.
Starting with the average hobby player, we will look at both scenarios and dissect the triggers that may make you lose the fun of the game – and how to possibly fix them.
Don’t Let Your Recreational Hobby Become Work…
Let’s start with the following situation:
Like every one of us, you love the game of Poker. You're fascinated by the game as it is, with all its strategies, Odds and Equities, and you keep learning and improving by reading our guides on how not to suck at poker and playing on your favorite Online Poker Site to practice your strategy and maybe make some extra income. You still work your regular 9 to 5 or have some other means of income and mostly play Poker to relax and enjoy your free time.
Now, as we have mentioned before on our Psychology of Poker Series: The stakes make a big difference in how you play.
Yes, of course you can practice on some app where you get a “daily allowance” of essentially worthless chips, that you can play with and collect, but most player – probably including you – won't really play to their full potential when no stakes are involved. The fear of losing is practically non-existent, so calling an All-In is pretty much no problem whatsoever and bluffing is practically useless. I will therefore assume that you are playing for at least small amounts of money, like 10€ or 20€, so that the stakes actually matter to some degree.
If you’re just playing for free, go nuts, this is probably not the article for you until you start playing properly.
Stick To Your Budget Plan
This is a simple but very important rule. You probably see this in every other article, but that is because it’s the most important rule. If you decided to play for 20€ a week, do it! If you go bust on Monday, well tough luck. Then next time make sure to quit when you’re already down 5€ and live to play another day.
The point here is not to only play for a certain amount. In fact, you can sign up for a new Online Poker Site every week and grab a welcome bonus to effectively play for 50€ a week. All the power to you.
The Point Is to Not Spend More Than You Were Planning On
Again, even if you can afford it, there is an important plan to it: Spending more on a bad day will hurt your bottom line. You might have a day when you are up 20€ after 2 hours, effectively doubling your money. In that case, cash out, rebuy for 5€ or 10€ and see where it goes from there. If you lose that money, you’re still up a lot and take the winning day.
But there WILL be days when you lose your 20€ in a single session – maybe you’re making bad decisions, maybe you’re not reading your opponents the right way or maybe you just have some bad luck that day. That is somewhat likely to make you tilt. Firing in another 20€ just to make up for the loss will likely not improve your odds of winning.
Get up, do something else, come back later of the next day when you’re feeling better and relaxed.
Everyone has losing days. Cut your losses and live to play another day.
Make Sure You Are Still Having Fun
This ties directly into my last point. You are playing recreationally. You don’t need to win every day. In fact, you don’t even have to play every day. If you just came home from a 12-hour shift with your boss screaming at you for half of it, your clients being unsufferable and the whole day being wasted on some useless crap that you will have to finish the next day because the useless meetings took up all your time... don’t play. Chances are you will play way more aggressive, make mistakes, make calls that you shouldn’t, play hands that you shouldn’t... just do something else. Go boxing. Mash some buttons on your PlayStation or X-Box. Or if you really want to play, play for free and crush some noobs and take their worthless chips.
The important thing here is: If you are not in a good state of mind, don’t play a game that requires mental clarity. You will most likely lose money and it will hurt your mood, your love for the game and your bottom line.
… or Work Your Hobby the Right Way!
Now, things may look a little different of you are actually making a living off playing Poker.
Suddenly your weekly budget may not be 20€ but 500€. And you need to pay rent and expenses with the money you’re making with that. In that case, you are probably fully aware: The rules above still apply.
Manage Your Stoploss!
The stoploss is a term that comes from trading (usually stocks, crypto or Forex), something that draws a lot of parallels to Poker. A stoploss is a point where you sell your position at a loss to not lose more on a trade. Something that some people may not know is you can move your stoploss into profit if you are in a winning trade. A quick example: You bought a stock for 5€ per share and now the price went up to 15€ per share. You can move your stoploss up to 10€ per share. This means, that price has the chance to go higher and give you more profits, but if it reverses and goes back down, you are still guaranteed to have the 5€ profit per share.
You should always manage your profits in Poker the same way. If you feel like you are having a great run, cash out some money and go back. Let’s say you made 200€ that day, which in this case is your target, but you feel like you’re on a roll: Cash out 150€. If you are right and you are just incredible that day, you should still be able to make a good profit with the remaining money, right?
But imagine being up 200€ and just blowing it on some dumb overconfident plays. You would be kicking yourself for the rest of the day, possibly the week. It is important to keep your bottom line in the black. Making a consistent profit is more important than having one good day – at least in the long run.
And if you hit your stoploss: Stop.
Keep What Works, Kick What Doesn’t
You have to remember that you are still playing against other players. If there is any update in the Meta-Strategy, you HAVE TO be on top of that.
Meta is a term derived from strategy games. It stands for “Most effective tactic available”. In Poker that would include things like which hands to play in which position, how much to bet, how to calculate Odds and Equities, etc.
Now, granted, these things may not change often and/or a lot, but considering that not too long ago people thought that J-9 suited was the best hand in the game, because it had the most possible connections, the game has evolved a lot and it still will. The reason is the same as the reason why AI will probably not dominate real money poker any time soon – at least not against good players. Circling back to strategy games: It is very rare to have an unbeatable strategy in any game. Almost every game has a Meta-Strategy and almost every Meta-Strategy has some counterplay. If you are playing against a bot that “always makes the perfect, mathematically correct decisions”, then screw the odds: you know what the Bot is going to do, and you can bluff your ass off and win that way.
Furthermore, as someone who is making a living off playing Poker, you need to remember that you are not playing for fun. This is your job. You want to be as efficient as possible and play against the weakest players you can and squeeze them for what you can. I know this sounds somewhat unfair, but that is the most efficient way. Once you made your profit, that’s when you can challenge someone better and see how you are doing skill wise. Make your money smart and only play for fun with the access. Once the access is gone: Stop!
Take Every Edge You Can Get To Get More Wiggle Room
I have talked about managing a budget multiple times now, because in the end this is a key factor that will make or break a professional Poker player. And in case you missed or skipped that part before: Increasing your budget in any way you can becomes even more important if you are making a living from playing Poker. Putting 500€ into your Poker account means that you have a certain number of chances of having a green day – another term that is coined by trading, where good days are green and bad days are red - before you go bust. So, imagine having 1000€ instead. This will literally double your number of acceptable losing days. The key here is not to play with double the amount or increase your budget for losing days, but to give yourself more options to call it a bad day and move on. There are countless reasons for possibly not being on top of your game: sickness, stress, mental health problems, bad news, accidents, breakups... you name it. You probably won’t be able to skip playing all of those days, because you still need to make a living, but this way you do have the option to see how your day is going and potentially quitting before losing too much, without having to worry as much about your bankroll.
Also – again, tying into my last point – it gives you the chance to explore other Online Poker Sites, possibly finding more profitable opponents or even overall better conditions. If you don’t like it, you can always leave, once your money is back on your account.
The important takeaway here is allow yourself to have bad days and reduce the pain they cause.
This does not mean that it’s ok to gamble, but rather to give yourself the opportunity to evaluate your current state of mind and act accordingly to take some pressure off yourself.
If you feel like it’s just not your day: Stop!
The Main Takeaway
No matter which way you look at it, Poker does have an element of luck which can only be overcome by consistently making profitable choices. The key element here is consistency. There is no point in going on and on if you can’t stick to your strategy for whatever reason. You will blow your bankroll. In fact, it is absolutely possible to do so in just one really bad day. Make sure to avoid that day!
If you can feel your day turning bad, stop. If it’s just not going your way, stop. If you are losing more than you would like, stop.
Sometimes the better choice is just to turn off your computer and come back the next with a fresh mentality. Keep your good days good and keep your bad days short. This is the key to long-term success.
And always remember: Tomorrow is a new day.
So, don’t blow your bankroll in one bad day. Live to play another day.