Quitting while ahead smart poker strategy

As it is written in the Bible, “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.” This includes “a time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away.” So, too, it is in the game of poker.

It had been a long day for me at the casino. As planned, I managed to arrive there and start playing just before 1 p.m. That is the time that the Aces-Cracked bonus comes into play, when pocket Aces are beat on the river. That has paid off for me so often. With a bonus of $100, you can’t lose. Whether you win or lose the pot, that hand is bound to add chips to your stacks.

Choose one style of poker and master it

I bought-in for $80 to play in the $4-$8 limit Texas hold’em game. After sitting at that table for about two rounds, I realized that it was just too aggressive a game for my liking — too many aggressive players (even two “maniacs”) with huge stacks of chips in front of them. It was much too costly to stay to see the flop with my usual starting hands.

Most often, I rely on the Hold’em Algorithm for that purpose — with some exceptions depending on the situation at that time. And pocket Aces are so rare: 1 out of 221 hands dealt. At a full table of nine players, you can expect one player will get it, on average, a bit less than once an hour. No question, it was time for me to make a table change.

So, I caught the floorman’s eye and asked to be moved to a different table. This one (fortunately) was more to my liking; and, indeed, as it proved out, it was so good to me. The texture of the table makes a big difference. 

I did not manage to catch pocket Aces, but I enjoyed more than my fair share of good luck; and there were several bad-beats in my favor — only one against me. Fortunately, all eight of my bluffs had been successful.

With experience, I seem to be getting more skilled at bluffing. It included several good-sized pots. My deceptive efforts had been picture-perfect, using slow-play and check-raise to build some big pots that I scooped. What more could a poker player ask for?

I was quite satisfied and felt warm and cozy as I studied the table. I knew that I had played well — no mistakes on my part. Thus far, it had been a very enjoyable and profitable session, as I scanned my racks and stacks of chips. 

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But now the time was near for me to get ready to leave and go home. So, I gathered up my chips: three full racks plus two tall stacks. At that point, I was well over $200 ahead for the session and ready to go home. But, I had over a half-hour before I had to leave the casino for my ride home.

At that moment, I was on the button — not the best time to quit, I rationalized. So, I decided to play on until the Big Blind reached me. Meanwhile, I would play extra cautiously, I promised myself: Start with strong hands preflop. Improve my hand on the flop. Avoid chasing. Carefully assess the pot odds vs. my card odds. Look for opponents’ tells and read their hands before unduly risking losing back some of my winnings.

As it turned out, I did win several of those hands. I was pleased, to say the least. I now had almost four full racks of chips and was delighted to go home such a big winner. Yes, for sure, now it was the right time to quit and go home — while I was still well ahead for the session.

About the Author

George Epstein

A retired engineer, George Epstein is the author of “The Greatest Book of Poker for Winners!” and “Hold’em or Fold’em? – An Algorithm for Making the Key Decision.” He teaches poker courses and conducts a unique Poker Lab at the Claude Pepper Senior Center under the auspices of the City of Los Angeles Dept. of Recreation and Parks and at West Los Angeles College.

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