If that eminent philosopher Yogi Berra had played poker rather than
baseball he might never have uttered those sage words, “It’s
never over ‘till it’s over.” Instead, he simply may
have said, “It’s never over!”
And where poker is concerned, he would have been right: Absolutely,
positively and unalterably correct. As long as you are playing in a
ring game, not a tournament, the game never does end. You might leave,
go home and not come back for a month. Even if you decide to return
to a different game in another casino in a state 3,000 miles away —
the game never ends. And those segments of time over which most players
assess their results are just that; they are arbitrary divisions with
no real, lasting utility other than as a corral in which one gathers
and records information.
How did you do last night? Did you win, or are you stuck? How you did
this month, this year, or even this decade, are only proximate measures
of a work in progress. The game ends only if you decide never to play
again, or you die. As long as a game is ready and available when you
are, it hasn’t ended.
This concept, this understanding of the extraordinarily long time frame
over which poker results need to be evaluated, has important strategic
implications for your game. Here are just a few of the more significant
Whether you win or lose today is absolutely meaningless:
If you’re playing in a tournament, winning today is of the utmost
importance. It enables you to stay alive and continue your quest to
finish in the money. But if you are playing in a ring game, winning
or losing today is insignificant. Moreover, you have little control
over any short term results you achieve because luck plays such a major
role. Don’t worry about winning. Instead, concern yourself only
with those factors you can control. Concentrate on making good decisions
at the poker table. After all, from a strategic viewpoint that’s
really all you can do. In the short run, if the cards fall your way
you’ll win; if they don’t, you’ll lose. It’s
that simple. But in the long run, when every last dollop of luck has
been squeezed out of the equation and skill alone becomes the sole determinant
of the results you achieve, you’ll find you have made more money
on your good hands and lost less on your bad ones than you would have
if you were not playing optimally.
Forget about money management: The notion of whether
to quit when you’re ahead, or quit once you’ve lost some
predetermined amount of money is closely related to the idea that the
results you achieve on any given day are of no lasting importance. If
the game is good and you’re ahead, why not keep playing? If you’re
a favorite, chances are you’ll win even more money. If you’re
losing but haven’t let your losses get the better of your emotions
and you’re still making good decisions at the table, there is
absolutely no reason to quit. On the other hand, if the game is bad
and you’re an underdog, you ought to quit or look for a softer
game regardless of whether you are winning or losing. When you’re
not a favorite, chances are you’ll lose if you keep playing.
If you want to be a long-term winner, make good decisions:
Staying in a bad game just to balance your books at the end of the day
is an incorrect strategy. Instead, you should be concerned solely with
making good decisions. If you are able to make better decisions than
your opponents, you will be a winner in the long run. Just how long
it takes to get into that long run is subject to interpretation, but
computer simulations I’ve done have convinced me that even a year’s
worth of playing holds no guarantee of getting there. That’s right.
Even if you were to play eight hours a day, five days a week, there
is no assurance that the effects of short-term luck will have been eliminated
by the end of a year in which you would have played approximately 2,000
hours of poker. Regardless of how long it may take to get into the long
run, one fact remains unalterable and abundantly clear: Poker is a marathon,
not a sprint.
Understanding this can stagger the imagination. A good player can go
for a year, playing his best, and still lose. That’s enough to
throw most players off their game and on tilt. But it’s not beyond
the pale of predictability. It can happen. It probably does happen,
and although playing well and losing for an entire year is certainly
not commonplace, it is probably happening now, to someone, somewhere
— and statistically speaking, it isn’t unexpected.
To become a winning player, you must make better decisions than your
opponents, and keep making them until your results begin to mirror your
knowledge, skill, and effort. While it will, I assure you, sometimes
seem as though life at the card table is unfair, the only sane view
worth taking is the long one. If you’re playing well and losing,
you need to emblazon this in your memory: The bad times will pass. Regardless
of how long you’ve been playing and the results you’ve achieved,
take this tip from Yogi, and take it to heart: It’s never over
‘till it’s over. Keep playing well, take a very long view
of things, and watch your results eventually equal your abilities.
life, and in poker, and we’ll also examine the need to be selective
and aggressive if you aspire to becoming a winning player.
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