There’s been some discussion about stop-losses in the Official 2011 Supernova Elite Pursuit Thread and I was planning on making a blog post on the topic last night after my session but procrastinated it to today. I had the entry mapped out in my mind: post a graph of my session and analyse whether a stop-loss would have been effective. By some miraculous stroke of fate I had an almost identical session today however this time I stopped once I had lost a certain amount from my highest point (ie mid-session stop loss). Some people might think it was a bad idea but I have no doubt in my mind that it was a good one. It may not have been the best decision for a different player in my shoes but for me personally it was correct. I’ll post the graphs and discuss a few of the concepts behind a stop-loss now.
There seems to be a lot of confusion about when a stop-loss should be used. There are people out there saying that nobody should use a stop-loss and this is something I strongly disagree with. It’s actually quite simple to work out whether or not you should use one. Note that stop losses in the scenario that I am discussing them are independent of BR management and are used as a method to stop yourself from playing poorly. They can also be used when taking a shot at higher stakes but that’s a very simple topic that I need not go into (basically give yourself 2-4 buyins at the level you’re taking a shot at and if you lose them you drop back to your normal level until you take another shot).
Consider the following rationale when deciding whether to use a stop-loss or not: Player A is +EV in a game when playing his A game. Player A is -EV in the same game when playing his C game. When Player A is down 10 buyins he slips from his A game to his C game. Ergo, Player A should have a stop loss of 10 buyins. If you’re -EV when playing your B game then you stop when you hit that. If you slip to your C game after losing 5 buyins or 20 buyins then that should be your stop-loss. Your stop-loss can be a number of buyins or if you play mixed stakes then it can be a monetary figure.
What does stopping do? It forces you to take a break. The break can be 2 minutes or 2 hours depending on how long it takes for you to regain composure and be able to play your A game again. The simple act of not playing a hand for a minute, not making any decisions, looking at something other than your computer screen and poker tables is enough to be able to get an objective perspective on your game. This is something that you can’t achieve while in the midst of a session. Most of us do have some idea of how we’re playing – whether it be damn well or atrociously bad – and it’s easy to know when you hit those extremes. When you are playing slightly bad though can be difficult to determine. It can be as small as missing bluffing opportunities or playing in a game you shouldn’t be in that can turn you from a winning player to a losing one (obviously this depends on the games you’re in; the tougher they are the fewer mistakes you need to make to begin to lose and the more vigilant you need to be about your mental state).
Another thing a stop-loss does is help uphold your emotional wellbeing. Some people are able to walk away from the tables after losing 20 buyins and not care. I am not one of those people nor do I think the majority of poker players are. Once your losses affect you (either the monetary loss or mental effect of losing a game to others) it’s hard to separate the feelings of disappointment, anger and frustration from other aspects of your life. Your friends and family will notice the effect and you might not be able to enjoy a day that otherwise would have been great. Obviously everyone needs to work on moving closer to isolating emotions from poker results away from the rest of their lives but in the meantime we mere mortals are able to use tools to restrict the damage that is done, enter a stop-loss.
I have two stop-losses. A session stop-loss of $7,500 and a daily stop-loss of $15,000. The daily stop-loss is simple: if at any point during the day I am down $15k I quit for the day. I can study my game or make a video or watch TV or cook or whatever – but no more poker until the next morning. My session stop-loss is pretty simple too. If at any point during a session I lose $7.5k I take a break. Prior to yesterday this applied only to times when I was down $7.5k for the session but after my session where I won ~9k then lost ~15k I decided to amend it to include times where I started out winning but then lost a lot. There is very little more tilting to a cash game player than starting off the day winning a lot only to end the day losing most of it back. I definitely feel that my play begins to slip when that happens and a break will do me well.
So today I stopped, as you can see in the second graph. I’m not going to deny that two sessions mean anything in the grand scheme of variance but looking back on both sessions now I feel very happy and comfortable with stopping today, and angry that I didn’t stop earlier yesterday (ideally at around hand 3,200 after my huge down-slide). I reviewed some of the hands I played late into yesterday’s session and I was definitely making mistakes. I like to think that I avoided making some of those potential mistakes again today by quitting when I did. I also feel fantastic to have won and am going to carry these emotions with me through the rest of today and into my first session for tomorrow.
Now obviously everyone should work on being able to play their best game at all times and not letting results affect them but in the meantime having a stop loss is a +EV decision, both monetarily and emotionally. Also, if you think you play as well when you’re losing at the tables as you are when you’re winning you’re delusional. When you’re losing your mind clouds and poor decisions get made. While this is happening your opponents are winning and playing with confidence and momentum. If you disagree with this you aren’t just disagreeing with me but also with some of the greatest players in the world: Phil Ivey, Barry Greenstein and the late Chip Reese, to name a few.