Some players quit playing poker every time they lose. Would you quit playing baseball, chess, or golf when you have a bad day? Losing is part of the game; just like winning. So this is not about quitting poker. Like Scotty Nguyen jokingly says, "When I don't make 4 million dollars poker in a year, I'll quit."
What we are talking about is the skill and the act of quitting in poker as well as in life. Folding a hand is the most common move in poker. Actually, a good player will quit more than he or she plays. Learning when to quit is probably one of the skills that unfortunately is learned too late in life and in poker. As a matter of fact, learning when to quit a bad investment or a trend that goes wrong is a critical part of managing your money. Managing your bets is in the arsenal of every successful poker player.
This means that stubbornness is a secondary art in poker. Some players will hold onto a garbage hand and are stubborn enough to win. Others hold onto good hands and end up losing. That's poker!
Of course, when you lose in poker, it costs you pots. When you lose in baseball or golf, it just usually costs you the price of the games and some bragging rights. Some players in poker become paranoid about their hands and the actions of the other players. They indiscriminately interpret raises and bets as moves by other players and refuse to quit. Sadly, they discover in the showdown that their opponent was not bluffing. Learning how to decide when an opponent is bluffing will influence how much you are willing to quit.
Checking can be a form of quitting-or at least, not betting. Sometimes this form of quitting is meant to "take the temperature" of the table to see if anyone is proud of their holdings. At other times it shows strength or weakness. If someone folds after checking and a later player bets, it definitely will prove to be a check to quit.
Some moves are really quits in disguise. For example, when bluffing with garbage and being called, that's a "pre-quitting" move. Raising can also be a move to precede quitting. Once you get re-raised and your raise was a bluff, you don't hurt yourself when you fold.
Quitting a hand is best based on the odds of winning with such cards. For example, the odds of winning in Texas hold 'em with two hole cards like an unsuited 7-2 is pretty low. With a pocket pair like kings or aces, the odds go up. Players who use odds to decide when to quit seem to do a little better-of course, "no-fold 'em" players can mess up the odds.
Not many players will quit poker for long. Once you start playing, it seems to be in the blood. I'm sure that Scotty Nguyen would still be playing if he only made a million dollars one year. However, mastering when to quit a hand-or, even to play some hands-remains the one distinction between good, better, and best players. Then there are players whose skill is taking bad hands and making them winning hands. Go figure!
Jim McKenna has been practicing psychotherapy for more than thirty-five years. His books include the acclaimed Beyond Tells: Power Poker Psychology, Beyond Bluffs: Master the Mysteries of Poker, and Beyond Traps: The Anatomy of Poker Success, all published by Kensington Press. Write to Jim@Jimmckenna-PhD.com.