A gambling question they never ask

Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was originally published (2002) in Casino Player.

Sure, I’ve grown up and become a gambling authority. I’m a big boy now, having done my own research. I pride myself on my credibility and the fact that I honestly explain, from a scientific point of view, which games you have a chance of beating, which you don’t, and why.

Personally, I specialize in poker, because that’s player-versus-player, not player-versus-the-casino, and the better players win in the long run. But I’m also fascinated with the games I don’t play often, and I can understand why others enjoy them.

Fine. Today I speak and people listen, because they know I won’t lie or make up mystical wagering systems that mix fantasy with superstition. But people didn’t always trust what I said about gambling.

Hung around

I remember, when I was quite young, my girlfriend hung around one night while I played poker in a private home. I had a few hundred dollars to my name. That’s all. While she watched TV in the living room, I gambled with my buddies on one of those wobbly folding card tables meant to accommodate four players, not the seven we managed to seat. The game was dollar limit, and there were plenty of wild cards.

I started winning. My girlfriend dropped by occasionally to admire my stacks. My buddies were all losing – not a single winner among them. I was accumulating their chips with precision.

There was a reason for this. My main poker weapon at the time was to play much more conservatively than my freely gambling friends. This selectivity and patience was enough to make me the favorite. I knew that eventually I had to win, and the law of averages was already making itself known.

Luck can be ornery

However, things can turn against you when you gamble. Even if you’re a long-term favorite, luck can be an ornery companion in the short-term. And that’s what happened. Suddenly, Fred – the biggest loser – proposed, “Let’s not do this dollar limit. That’s for girls. Let’s make it five dollar limit.”

Now, I’m sure none of us was funded adequately to play five dollar limit, but nobody wanted to be a girl, so we reluctantly went along. I continued to win for a while. Two friends ran out of money.

Soon I was winning over $200, which was enough to approximately double my bankroll, and I was happy. So was my girlfriend who left the sofa to lean on my shoulder and admire my chips.

Then Fred started to get lucky. This, in itself, wasn’t a bad thing. The bad thing was that he was getting lucky specifically against me.


My stacks of chips dwindled quickly. Finally, about an hour after increasing the stakes, Fred decided to quit, and the game broke. I had scored a paltry $6 profit for the night.

As we were leaving, my girlfriend whispered words that made me cringe. I’m betting that these are the same type of words that have made millions of gamblers cringe for thousands of years. What did she whisper? “Why didn’t you quit when you were $200 ahead.”

Something you’ll never hear

Now, folks, there’s no logic whatsoever to that common question. Whenever you’re confronted with it, you have a right to be mystified. From a rational viewpoint, 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.

You don’t save money by quitting now, scoring that $200 win, and continuing the next day. The next day is just an extension of right now. You might run bad now, but you might run bad tomorrow. 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.

And now I’m going to prove it to you. Here’s the question you will never hear asked. The next time you win $1,000 or more gambling, do you think your wife, your husband, your friend, or anyone is going to criticize you by asking, “Why didn’t you quit when you were $200 ahead?” Think about it. — MC

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Mike Caro

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Known as the “Mad Genius of Poker,” Mike Caro is generally regarded as today's foremost authority on poker strategy, psychology, and statistics. He is the founder of Mike Caro University of Poker, Gaming, and Life Strategy (MCU). See full bio → HERE.


4 thoughts on “A gambling question they never ask”

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  1. What you s, Mike makes perfect sense, but there have been times (and I’m sure there will again) that I just want to take the money and run.

  2. mike,
    how do you protect yoursef from opponents’ wild-crazy plays? I guess simply folding hand after hand doesn’t do it for me, I play my A game, and opponent chases me with mid pair, J10, turns a 9, and river an 8 for a straight… donkeys like these clear me out of my profitable games so often! at the moment of the play though, i think our ego is at stake, and it’s hard for us to play our best game after opponents continue to get “lucky”. I think it’s that the most of us go on “tilt” or mini-tilts, wouldn’t it be a good idea to use separation to regain your strength and games together? Or is this just an incomplete post to lure in the donkeys for future bad plays?

  3. Dear mike,
    u just state exactly the main problem in poker, I used to heard that silly quote couple of times too, in fact, you gain more confidence, and more option for you to be a little bit more creative with your bet that sometimes can confused opponents!
    my question is, does it apply too in other card games when you up againts the dealer in casino?


      Hi, Edify –

      You shouldn't play casino games where the odds are against you. It's always time to quit those games, whether you're ahead or behind.

      The advice applies to any form of gambling in which you have the advantage, though.

      Straight Flushes,

      Mike Caro

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