My good friend Aaron was playing in a great $2 - $5 no-limit hold’em game at the Venetian. Of his nine opponents, three were calling stations, two were maniacs who would only raise when they did not have anything, three were weak-tight, and one was a good player. So I asked him jokingly, “How much money did you lose?” He responded, “Too much, but it could have been worse.”
On his first hand a maniac raised to $25 from under-the-gun, another maniac sitting to his left re-raised to $100, and it was folded around to Aaron in late position. Aaron looked down at pocket aces and re-raised to $300. It was folded back around to the first maniac. He folded, but the second maniac moved all-in for $500. Aaron called, of course, and saw that he dominated his opponent’s 8h-8d. But when the flop contained an eight, Aaron saw half his initial buy-in slide across the table.
Aaron lost another $500 to a calling station when they both flopped sets but Aaron’s opponent made a runner-runner flush. Then he lost $500 more to the other maniac who hit a two-outer on the river. And then came this hand:
Aaron looked down at Qc-Qs on the button. There were several limpers, one of the maniacs raised to $50 and Aaron re-raised to $150. One of the limpers called. The flop was Qh-8h-9h, giving Aaron top set. It was checked to Aaron who moved all-in for about $500. The limper, who was one of the calling stations, called with Jc-10c. When the turn was the 10h and the river the Jh they split the pot—playing the board’s straight flush. Aaron left soon after.
I asked Aaron why he left when the game was, in his words, “one of the best he’s ever played in.” He told me that while the game was good even the weak players were playing back at him towards the end of his session.
“There’s a lot of psychology in poker, and weak players don’t believe they’re weak—at least, for the most part,” Aaron began. “When someone sees an opponent who can’t win a pot they consider him to be a bad player even if it’s completely luck related. Suddenly bad players will begin to play back at you when you’re the unlucky one, and the bad players begin to play correctly or at least more like good players. They won’t realize they’re playing better but suddenly a game that’s filled with bad players isn’t as good a game for you.
“Additionally, the good players in the game and the maniacs consider you the target. While that’s great when you wake up with aces or something similar, it prevents you from making moves.
“Finally, there’s the psychological impact on me, the unlucky player. I realized that nothing good was happening and I was beginning to think that if I did something with a positive EV—as I should—it wouldn’t work; I would likely refrain from doing close plus EV moves when I should make them. I’ve learned that whenever I’m in that position it’s time to get up and go home.”
Aaron left as an $1,800 loser in that game. It was his only losing session during November, and he won back that money and then some over his next two sessions. Sometimes getting up is the right thing to do.
Russell Fox is the co-author of “Mastering No-Limit Hold’em,” “Why You Lose at Poker,” and “Winning Strategies for No-Limit Hold’em.” He’s a federally licensed tax preparer specializing in gambling, with a blog at taxabletalk.com. E-mail Russ at email@example.com.