Winning money at poker over time is not just about having an edge, though that’s a necessity. The amount you win is determined by how much spread there is in ability between yourself and the field minus your costs. The expense of rake and tipping affects that spread.

We’re programed from early childhood to cherish victory; it’s winning that counts. And in most games that’s true. If you’re playing football a 7-6 victory is a win, and it doesn’t really matter if you win 52-0 or 7-6. But in poker whether you win $1 or a $1,000 makes an enormous difference. Contrary to what many believe, you’re not playing poker to achieve a good win-loss record; you’re there to win the most money you can over time. And taking that concept into account will improve your overall success.

Obviously, it’s much better to win 40% of your plays and be ahead $1,000, than win 80% of your plays and be $100 ahead. But many players fail to grasp this issue. Emotionally, they feel better when they’re winning, causing them to quit great games small winners and conversely play in poor games when stuck in an attempt to “claw out”. But what they fail to remember is that over time, the spread in effective edge is what makes you the money.

That means that you should play in good games when you’re winning, rather than quitting to ensure a win. You should quit bad games when you’re losing, and your spread is either small or non-existent. You should change games when a much better game is available. You should develop skillsets in games/situations where your spread in edge is high. You should not push yourself when you’re not playing your best, and you should push yourself when you are playing your best. You need to have the a self-awareness to know how well you’re playing. And you should maintain yourself mentally and physically to exploit the opportunities that present themselves.

It’s also important to not be too afraid of good players. Assuming you play reasonably well, you’re unlikely to be giving up much to them. The big edge comes from the weak players. Don’t judge your game solely by who plays well, quantify it by the number and quality of poor players.

So, if you’re in a game and you don’t think there is much spread in ability between yourself and your opponents, and the situation is not likely to improve soon, find a different spot. That spot might be at the next table, or it might be the next day, or the coming weekend. But, if your poker goal is to win money, don’t sit in spot where your edge is small or non-existent.

Your time would be better spent working on your game.

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