When Not to Play
Nov 14, 2005  
2005 Jason Kirk  

Before the emergence of readily available online poker, it wasn't always easy for someone who wanted to play to find a game. If you lived far from a casino and didn't know of any regular home games you were probably out of luck unless you were willing to go to great lengths (and expense) to get into a game. Even if you could find a game it might not be what you really wanted to play, leaving you with a choice between leaving or sticking around in a game you weren't prepared for. The situation was less than ideal, but there wasn't any other way to do things.

Today the reality of poker is much different. Nearly every variant of poker - from hold'em and stud to Omaha and triple draw and even more exotic games like Badugi - is available at the click of a mouse. To add to the variety the limits available online are nearly endless, ranging from micro-limits with pot sizes under $1 up to black-chip games you'd be likely to find in a cordoned-off area at the back of the Bellagio or Taj Mahal poker rooms. The freedom provided by this variety is one of the greatest things about online poker.

On the flipside, it's easier than ever to play when you shouldn't be anywhere near a poker game thanks to this freedom. Maintaining the discipline to step away from poker when you're not in shape to play is probably more important than reading books and logging hours at the table; it's easy to throw a hard-earned bankroll away chasing losses when you aren't paying attention to your state of mind. Like everything else in poker, hard-and-fast rules can be counter-productive when it comes to knowing when not to play. There are, however, some general guidelines you can follow to avoid playing in situations that can lead to a decimated bankroll.

One way to avoid getting in over your head is to avoid playing while drinking (or otherwise intoxicated). This doesn't really apply to situations where you're well within your bankroll and simply playing for fun, such as in home games or micro-limit games where you're just tossing chips around; it's really more important to avoid the sauce when you're playing the regular game you use to build your bankroll. If you do plan to drink while you play, it can be a good idea to either make a withdrawal from your poker room of of choice before sitting down or play at a room where you don't have much in your account. Limiting your losses ahead of time could save a big, non-hangover-induced headache the next day.

When you're on a prolonged losing streak, it's extremely important to watch how you're handling yourself at the table. If you see any signs that you aren't handling your streak well, you may need to set limits for yourself. Otherwise you may begin chasing your losses on a regular basis. Chasing is a natural tendency at the table when you're running bad, one that's very important to avoid. If you see signs that you're in danger of tilting away your bankroll, you can either limit your bankroll or the amount of time that you spend at the tables. Learning to accept small losses - that is, accepting them as part of the long run - may be just the thing to help you to get out of your rut and back on a winning track.

One final time to avoid the poker table is when you're having problems in other areas of your life. Whether it's due to trouble in personal relationships, stress at work, or some other sort of issue, your play can often be less than optimal when your mind isn't completely on the game. Some people are capable of getting in the zone when they sit at the table despite any outside issues, but many more players bring their problems to the table with them. If you're one of this latter group, avoiding the temptation to play as an escape can be the best thing that ever happened to your bankroll. When you're already on an emotional roller coaster it doesn't help to add the pain of losing - and your chances of losing are much higher when you aren't concentrating completely on the game before you. Exercising restraint in troubled times can be the difference between losing all your bankroll and being able to play when times are better.

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