When to Stand Up

Knowing when to leave (and not to leave) a table is a critical poker skill.

We have already seen that table selection can have a significant impact on a player's win rate. Over time the mix of players at a table changes, which may change a good table into a bad table. Staying alert to player changes and regularly reevaluating the quality of the table is crucial. Sometimes the players don't physically change, but the assessment of the players changes. As you sit at a table, you automatically gain additional information about the other players. This new information may force you to revise your opinion of the players and the table.

Another aspect of knowing when to stand up is to recognize when you're being beaten. Sometimes your assessment of the players at the table will be incomplete and your strategy won't work. For example, suppose you find a table with loose pre-flop players, with 3 or 4 players seeing the flop. You decide on a strategy of only playing hands that have the potential to become monsters (e.g., pocket pairs like TcTd and suited connectors like Tc9c or QhJh). You've been at the table for a couple of orbits and you're down. Is it just variance or is this evidence that your strategy isn't working? This is a crucial question. If it's just variance, you should stay, as you will make a tidy profit in the long run. If your strategy isn't working, you should leave to avoid hemorrhaging money.

In some cases, it will be obvious that the losses were not due to your strategy, and you should remain at the table. Perhaps you lost a lot of money in a hand where you were a big favorite—until the last card fell. But what about when it isn't as obvious?

Imagine that you've been keeping detailed records and know that typically you are a winning player making 2 BB/100 hands with a standard deviation of 200 BB/100 hands. You also know that 46% of the time, you lose money on a set of 50 hands at a table, and when this occurs your mean win rate for the next 50 hands at the table is only 1 BB/100 hands. By implication, you win money 54% of the time on a set of 50 hands, and your win rate for the next 50 hands is around 2.85 BB/100 hands. Suppose that you were to always stand up when you lose money after a block of 50 hands. When you first sit at a table, with no other information available, your win rate is still 2 BB/100. 46% of the time you will lose money and switch to another table. 54% of the time, you will win money and stay to make 2.85 BB/100 hands on the next 50 hands, pushing your mean win rate over 2.30 BB/100.

The above analysis only considers win rate. If win rate is your primary concern, then you should only play at the very juiciest tables. Most of us, however, are primarily interested in winning money. If we stand up and can switch to another juicy-looking table, then switching is the right strategy. However, if we're already sitting at the best table, then 1 BB/100 hands is still better than not playing at all.

Another reason to leave the table is if you are not playing at your peak performance. If you are tired, have a headache, emotional, or just distracted, it is not the best time to play. You need to be an analytical machine. Pay attention to your emotional state and stop playing when you're not at the top of your game.

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