I recently traveled to Atlantic City, New Jersey for a World Poker Tour event at Borgata and I was shocked at how many players were willing to voluntarily miss numerous hands at the table, presumably to go on a smoke break, go to the bathroom, or try to get off tilt after a tough loss. Most of these players would simply get up and stroll away from the table with no concern for the hands they were missing. In reality, these players mucked a significant amount of equity.
It is important to figure out how much skipping an individual hand costs you. Each hand, you win some amount of equity based primarily on your position. You have much more equity in late position compared to early position. While you will always lose money from the blinds, you will lose significantly less by being present at the table and defending your blinds intelligently. While it is possible to figure out how much each hand from each position is worth, based on your average win rate from each position, that is not necessary for this article. I will also not account for various tournament payout implications. I will keep things simple.
Let’s assume you are playing 100/200 with a 25 ante. You are playing a $1,000 buy-in tournament that started you with 5,000 chips. This means each chip is worth $.20. So, each 25 ante chip is worth $5 ($1,000/5,000 = $5). This means that each time you ante and fail to look at your hand, you lose at least $5. Remember, you lose more based on your position. While losing $5 may not appear to be a huge deal, it is. If you profit $300 per average in this specific tournament when you play every hand, if you skip five hands per level for the first six hours of play, your equity will diminish to the point that you could easily become a break-even player. Skipping hands becomes a gigantic blunder once the blinds get large. Suppose you make a deep run and are playing 2,000/4,000 with a 500 ante. At this point, each ante is worth $100. Skipping even a single hand is a disaster.
It is important that you plan ahead to ensure you never have to miss a hand. If you smoke, stop smoking. There is a world-class online player who used to constantly step away from the table to smoke a cigarette. He would miss roughly 20% of the hands. One day he asked me why I thought he did so well at online poker but so poorly at live poker. I told him to quit smoking and see what happens. He gave my advice a try and instantly started crushing live poker.
When ordering a beverage (non-alcoholic obviously) from the cocktail waitress, time it such that you will not have to use the restroom until your scheduled break. I know it takes 90 minutes for water to get through my system. This means that I have my drink 90 minutes before the next break. Figure out what works for you and plan accordingly.
If you routinely step away from the table to try to cure a tilt issue, clearly the best strategy is to stop tilting. I co-authored a book with Dr. Patricia Cardner called Positive Poker that will likely help you. Assuming you cannot control your emotions, you must accept that unless you are blatantly bonkers while on tilt, you should stay at the table and play premium hands. While tilting is never a good thing, if you tighten up while on tilt, the loss in equity will be somewhat negated. In the WPT event, I witnessed a guy get unlucky for a large pot and proceed to go all-in blind for the next 10 hands until he lost with K-4 versus A-Q. If you are that guy, perhaps taking a quick stroll away from the table is ideal!
I recognize that sometimes you simply have to go! When that is the case, it is usually best to wait until you are in the hijack or lojack seat, depending on how far away the restroom is and how long you routinely take. This will usually give you enough time to finish your business. Do not be the player who pays his blinds then runs (skipping the late position hands), or the player who gambles and waits until he is in second position (possibly skipping the blinds). The goal is to ensure you play from late position and the blinds. If you are a cash game player, meaning you never have a scheduled break, I generally suggest you follow this strategy of going when you are in middle position. I discuss the concept of when to skip hands in cash games in depth in my book Jonathan Little on Live No-Limit Cash Games, Volume 1. Believe it or not, hand-skipping-strategy is vitally important in cash games!
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