McHaffie: MCU lesson 069 / Quit when ahead

Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published in Poker Player newspaper in 2006.

This is part of a series by Diane McHaffie. She wasn’t a poker player when she began writing this series. These entries chronicle the lessons given to her personally by Mike Caro. Included in her remarkable  poker-learning odyssey are additional comments, tips, and observations from Mike Caro.

Diane McHaffie index.

Diane McHaffie is Director of Operations at Mike Caro University of Poker, Gaming, and Life Strategy. She has traveled the world coordinating events and seminars in the interest of honest poker. You can write her online at

Diane McHaffie

Lessons from MCU

— With bonus content by Mike Caro (pending) —

Lesson 69: Why didn’t you quit when you were ahead?

When I was just getting started with this column in 2003, I passed along one of the first major poker concepts Mike Caro ever taught me. I’d like to take a fresh look at it today. He talked about what he termed, “Poker’s silliest question.” The question is essentially, “Why didn’t you quit when you were $4,000 ahead,” although the amount doesn’t matter.

I’ve watched Mike play in many poker games and often wondered why, when he was winning a great deal, he didn’t just pack it up and go home. If I were in his shoes, I’d probably have quit and gone home, happy with my winnings. But, maybe not. That old adrenaline would be flowing, wouldn’t it? If the cards are falling right, the money is piling up; you’re feeling good about things. Why quit?

A bad question

One night I couldn’t resist asking an innocent question, the one most poker players hate with a vengeance. I didn’t know it was a “bad” question. He’d been winning impressively, up $10,000. Later he was walking to the cashier with only a $1,500 profit, seeming unperturbed. I looked up at him, puzzled, “Mike, why didn’t you quit when you were $10,000 ahead?”

First he told me about a night in the 1970s when he was winning $30,000 in a mid-level game and had ended up losing $15,000. I repeated a different version of the same dumb question, asking why he hadn’t quit when he was up $30,000. Then he told me a closely related story. In his youth, he was with a girlfriend, playing poker at a friend’s house with several of his buddies. The game was dollar limit, and Mike was winning, feeling pretty smug about his demonstration of patience and conservativeness.


But, when you’re a gambler, lady luck isn’t always dancing at your side. One of his buddies decided he no longer wanted to play the dollar limit, claiming “that was for girls”. He wanted to up it to five dollar limit. Not wanting to appear girlish, even though they weren’t financially able to handle this, the friends reluctantly agreed. A couple of the guys were out almost immediately, but Mike was hanging in there feeling pretty good; he’d doubled his bankroll and was now winning $200.

Then lady luck seemed to just sit down in his buddies lap, and smile wickedly at Mike. Mike’s chips were rapidly diminishing, when his friend stood up and declared he was quitting for the night. Mike sat staring at his winnings, “a paltry $6 profit.”

That’s when his girlfriend leaned over and whispered in his ear, those hated words that I had asked years later, words that Mike says makes every gambler “cringe”. “Why didn’t you quit when you were $200 ahead?”

No logical reason

Mike says, “There’s no reason for you to suppose when you’re winning any stated amount — $200 or whatever — that you’re more likely to lose from that point on than to win. If you have the best of it and feel like continuing to play, there’s no logical reason whatsoever to quit. When you have an advantage, you have an advantage, period. That means every additional wager has a profitable expectation, whether luck is kind to you or not.”

He explained that if you quit now you’re not saving money, because you’re probably going to return tomorrow. Are you going to run good tomorrow because you are today? If you start running bad today, you might still be running bad tomorrow. There aren’t any guarantees.

Lose profit by quitting

As Mike says, “You can’t protect your money by quitting, and if you have an advantage you theoretically lose profit by quitting. It’s just that simple. Here’s a question you’ll never hear asked. The next time you win $1,000 or more, is anyone going to criticize you by asking you why you didn’t quit when you were $200 ahead?”

Well, that made me think. You know, he’s right, no one’s going to ask that question. If you’re winning, you don’t know if you’re going to continue to win. If you’re feeling comfortable, and the cards are being good to you, the chips are stacking up, why quit? Why, indeed? — DM

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