Brunson: Counting chips at the table

Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published in the London Telegraph in 2005.

Doyle Brunson index.

Historical note: The following explanatory note didn’t appear in the series, but was sent with each column as submitted.

Doyle “Texas Dolly” Brunson stands unchallenged as the most celebrated poker player who ever lived. In 2005, at age 72, he won an unprecedented 10th championship gold bracelet at the World Series of Poker. He is among the few living members of the Poker Hall of Fame, and his books  are the bibles for poker professionals.. Through and, Brunson has teamed with Mike Caro, today’s premiere poker educator, to offer a free learning experience to players worldwide. This column is founded on  those collaborative teachings.

Doyle Brunson

Here’s some advice: If you’re coaching a basketball team in the summer Olympics, don’t look at the scoreboard. Just tell your guys to use the same strategy, all the time, whether they’re up by two points or down by two points as the final buzzer approaches. Oh, and here’s some more advice: Never look at your bank statements until you’re ready to withdraw your money.

I said it was advice. I didn’t say it was good advice; and I didn’t say it was my advice. Kenny Rogers sang about poker advice. Remember the song, the Gambler? In it, there’s the line, “You never count your money while you’re sittin’ at the table. There’ll be time enough for countin’ when the dealin’s done.” That’s one of my favorite songs, but that line runs contrary to poker wisdom. In fact, I don’t know of a single top-ranked poker player in the world who heeds it.

Keep track

In poker, just like any other sport, you need to look at the scoreboard. You want to know how you’re doing. World-class players, whether they’re completing in a regular poker game or in a tournament, almost always have a good idea how big their stacks are at all times. Many can tell you right to the penny. Furthermore, the best players try to keep track of how their opponents are doing, too. They want to know which players are succeeding, which are surviving, and which are suffering. That’s because your opponents play in different ways, depending on how fate is treating them at the moment – and you need to adapt to that present reality.

In no-limit games, it’s critical to know how many chips you have and how many your opponents have. For example, it’s not possible to determine if a flush draw is worth playing unless you know what’s the maximum you can win.

Flawed logic

This reminds me of a game back in Texas. A young man seemed shocked when another player, Kentucky John, began to carefully count down his chips. “Don’t count!” the kid warned. “It’s bad luck!”  Well, John politely told the kid in a fatherly way that counting chips was just part of the game. But the kid argued, “No it isn’t! All the poker books tell you not to count.” That common piece of flawed poker logic predated Roger’s song by many a decade.

The kid had amassed a whole lot of chips and they tottered in disorganized stacks in front of him. But then this apparently good-hearted, but naïve young man’s luck changed. He unraveled. He cussed and threw cards. When his chips had diminished to a tenth their previous glory, he put a lucky penny atop the only stack he had left. That penny just followed his remaining chips down to the cloth.

In the end, Kentucky John couldn’t resist. As the kid was walking away broke, John chirped, “I see what you mean about not counting chips at the table. If you wait long enough, it’s much easier to do.”

I always keep track of how much money I have at the table. If you treat the game of poker seriously, then you need to see the scoreboard.  — DB

Next entry in this Doyle Brunson series (pending)


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