Stop Losses: The What, Why & How

I think one of the reasons why gambling gets such a bad rap is because like drugs and alcohol, it can be very easy to get over your head and spend a lot of money. For some people it’s the thrill of the chase, for others it’s trying to recoup losses and possibly for a select few it could be that they’re just not paying attention. So there are people out there that because of one of these reasons have been unfortunate enough to lose more money than they can afford playing poker. If you’re one of these people the best way to combat it, shy of excluding yourself from gambling altogether, is to set up a stop loss.

What is a Stop Loss?

A stop loss is a limit that you give yourself that is usually expressed in dollars. Once you spend, lose or win enough money to hit this limit you quit playing. Stop losses are commonly associated with losses. So once you lose so much money you quit and go home.

Stop losses will benefit different people in different ways. For example, stop losses are used usually for people that play for fun. Stop losses will keep these people from betting their rent on another hand of blackjack or losing their house like you see in the movies. These limits keep these people from getting in trouble.

However, stop losses can also benefit professional gamblers. Unlike the people that play for fun, professional gamblers are plus EV. When they play they are expected to win money in the long run. Depending on how they deal with losses or long stretches of bad luck, having a stop loss in place can prevent them from playing while too emotional, as opposed to unbiased and without feeling.

All in all, it’s my opinion that professional poker players and people that play for fun alike can benefit from having a stop loss place.

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Why Setup a Stop Loss?

As I mentioned above, the reason why you might set up a stop loss while playing poker is so that you quit while only losing the money you can afford to lose. I speak from experience when I say that it’s very easy to reload your account and try to chase your losses. Before you know it you are in the hole $150, $250, $500 or more. And that’s just low end; there are people with serious gambling problems that are hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt. Having a stop loss in place can also keep some players from having to exclude themselves from online sites, because once you exclude yourself from an online site they will not lift that exclusion until the time frame you chose is up.

For professional players it’s very easy to get emotional about a hand or situation. You lose a hand and a player decides to taunt you in the chat box. For players who don’t have a grip on their feelings and how they react to situations, a player telling you that you suck could very well lead to you proving them wrong. I’ve seen some players that have no business playing for real money challenge other players to play heads-up for rolls because they feel like they have something they need to prove. If and when that actually happens, I would go as far as to guess that they lost a lot of money.

A stop loss, whether it’s in the case of hitting a dollar amount, number of hands or when you feel as if you just can’t play right anymore could keep you from losing your bankroll, not to mention hating yourself later on.

How to Setup a Stop Loss

How you set up a stop loss is really up to you. It’s going to depend on how much you can afford to lose, your ability to play well under certain situations or with less than best emotions and whether or not you want to walk away with any money at all.

For example, the most common approach to a stop loss is committing to losing only so much money and then walking away. In other words, say that you wanted to lose no more than $100. You sit down, you play and if you lose $100, you get up and leave the table.

Another way to do a stop loss is to do what some people refer to as a rolling stop loss. A rolling stop loss is keeping the same amount of money that you’re willing to lose even if you win money. For example, say that your stop loss is $100. But say that you win $75 in your very first hand. Your bankroll is now $175, but your stop loss is still $100. So once you lose your $100 you’ll have $75 left over, but you still need to get up and leave. The benefit to doing it this way is that no matter what you can walk away with cash in hand. This can also be beneficial for pro players.

I think a rolling stop loss would be the best way to go for aspiring professional poker players too. The reason why is so that if they win $20, $50 or even $100, they could still walk away with a positive session and then take the time to review their hand histories to see what there is to learn. Then they’ll go into their next session even stronger and with more money to play with, not to mention much more confidence.

I also feel that stop losses can be a number of hands or a number of games, too. For example, you might decide that if you lose 100 hands in a row at 50 NL that you’re done playing for at least a couple of hours, if not the entire day. If you’re a sit and go player, you might decide that your threshold for any given session is 25 games. You lose 25 games in a row and you are done for the rest of the day.

At the end of the day it really doesn’t matter how you set up your stop loss — just do what works best for you. What matters most isn’t what your system looks like or how you set it up, but your ability to stick to it.

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