It was a dark and stormy night when two taxi drivers left home. Downtown was flooded and the power was out; many people needed a lift home. The first taxi driver drove for two hours; he picked up ten fares one after the other, making what he would on a normal full shift. Then he went home to his wife, remarked about how good the getting was, and got to bed at a reasonable hour.
The other cab driver stayed out. He worked through the night. For him, too, the getting was good. When dawn broke the storm was still on, people needed to get to work, they needed to get to the airport. He ate breakfast in the car. He came home just after eleven in the morning, crawled into bed, and slept like a log.
A few days later it was beautiful out. Balmy. You could not ask for better weather. And where was the first cab driver? Driving of course. He was out all day, not an umbrella in sight. And when he came back after ten hours, he had been lucky to find ten fares. And the second driver? He was home relaxing, making the most of the perfect day.
If you're a poker player, do you want to play your poker like the first guy runs his cab? If you're like the first guy, you quit early when winning. Maybe "to book a win." And when you're losing, you try to scratch and claw your way out of it, instead of taking the opportunity to do anything else. Unless conditions have changed for the worse, it is a mistake to stand up when winning. This is when you should be playing the most.
And the opposite is true. When you are losing big you should pack up early. If you have lost the last few times you've played, consider taking a day off.
But many poker players insist on chasing losses when they're down, so that they can "get back to even." They are driving cabs across the fields of Kansas, on a warm day with a pleasant breeze, hoping to find a hitchhiker whose pockets aren't empty. And when they are up big in a juicy cash game, the first thing they think about as they stack chips is how to get them off the table. But if they were paying attention, they'd be watching their opponent reach for a rebuy, thinking to themselves "how can I lighten the load of those pockets?"
No poker plays better when they're buried. And those who keep on playing when they shouldn't keep things running smoothly for others.
But, you ask, when should you quit when ahead? There are three general scenarios. The first is that the game breaks, the tournament finishes, the internet stops working, the nuclear power plant you live nearby begins a catastrophic meltdown. The second is you can't keep your eyes open. And the third is that you give back some amount that would otherwise be your stop-loss. So say your stop-loss is normally 3 cash buy-ins. If you were up 8 buy-ins and give 3 back, that's a good guideline that you should quit. Do not, I repeat, do not, try to get back to up 8.
And when you are losing? Should you always play until your stop-loss? Not by any means. If you're losing any excuse is enough. Your back hurts. Your feet itch. Your elbows feel pointy. You don't like the music in the casino. You feel like doing just about anything else. Go ahead and quit for the day. Get out there in the sun. Come back when its raining