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Real Poker: The Quitting Equation

by Roy Cooke |  Published: Apr 11, 2018


Winners never quit and quitters never win.

It’s a fine cliché for those who tend to give up too easily. But in the poker world, the opposite is true, many players refuse to quit. They keep trying to claw their way out even when their resources of mental energy and emotional strength are gone and/or when the game has changed. In short, they’ve turned into the live one. Winners do quit, but they’re smart about when they do…

When is quitting time? It’s the question most frequently asked of me. People have informed me of systems where you quit when you’re this much ahead, or this much stuck, but for me quitting is a matter of feel, decided by intangibles. That said, systemic parameters can be best for those lacking self-discipline.

The more money you wager with a positive expectation the bigger your earn will be at the end of the year. Simplifying it, if your expectation is $30/hr in $2-$5 and you play 1,000 hours your expectation will be $30,000 at the end of the year. If you play 2,000 hours it will be $60,000. The more hours you play with the best of it, the higher your expectation will be, and you’ll make more money.

However, your opponents and your well-being during the hours you play will vary your expectation greatly. Most people quit early to ensure a win, but put in prolonged sessions when stuck. They often have great win-loss percentage records, but conceptually, they’re in error. Most people play worse when they’re stuck, and your opponents tend to be empowered and play better against you. The converse is true when winning. You tend to play better, and your opponents tend to play worse. It’s mostly a combination of your image, psychological well-being, and confidence affecting both yours and your opponents play.

All else being equal, if you play short sits, quitting winners, and play long ones, seeking to get even when you are stuck, you’ve got it backwards. You’re increasing the number of hours played when your expectation is low and decreasing the number of hours when your expectation is high. This will reduce your overall hourly edge.

But all else is never equal in poker; it’s a varying landscape. I’ll quit when I’m tired, distracted, or otherwise not playing well, or if the field is tough. Sometimes, I’ll quit a good game to prevent burning myself out for future sessions. Or, if I’m off to a bad start and not in the mood to fight, I’ll quit and start fresh the next day. I don’t like to start my next session emotionally devastated after a big loss. I will also sometimes quit small winners after I’ve been on a losing streak in an effort to put myself in a better frame of mind going forward.

In short, I try to put in my hours when I’m at my best mentally, emotionally, and physically, and when the games are good. I try to stay longer when the games are good and go home when they are poor. If something is bothering me or my performance is bad for any reason, I go home. That way my hourly rate stays high and the vulnerability of getting burned out is dramatically reduced.

Staying too long to get even is often a fatal flaw, even for players who are otherwise strategically sound. Their mental and emotional resources burn-out, and their bankroll goes with them. Deciding when to quit is often difficult psychologically. It’s understandable in that we are culturally programed to win from birth. But poker is a cumulative score game, it’s how much your total win is over time, not your win-loss record that’s important.

As with all poker decisions, deciding when to quit is a matter of making the most of it when you have best of it and getting away from it when you have the worst of it. You must follow logic, not emotion. Weigh the variables, just as you would in deciding whether to fold, call or raise; then make the play with the greatest expectation, it’s crucially important to your poker career.

Apply this principle to your own game, and both your game and your life will profit. ♠

Roy CookeRoy Cooke played poker professionally for 16 years prior to becoming a successful Las Vegas Real Estate Broker/Salesman. Should you wish any information about Real Estate matters-including purchase, sale or mortgage his office number is 702-376-1515 or Roy’s e-mail is His website is Roy’s blogs and poker tips are at You can also find him on Facebook or Twitter @RealRoyCooke. Please see ad below!