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Stop Losses in Poker

Stop losses are one of the best self made tools to help ensure a safe bankroll. If you are unfamiliar with the term, a stop loss is a number set where a player decides to quit. The most important aspect of a stop loss is a player’s individual ability to not only set a stop loss, but to actually stick to it. The difference between setting a stop loss and sticking to a stop loss is the difference between going on a diet and actually staying away from bad foods.

The catch 22 with stop losses is that they are best for players who can’t seem to generally control themselves when they are losing, but players who can’t control themselves are less likely to adhere to a stop loss. A stop loss is the perfect example of something that is great in theory, but that could be useless if not properly implemented.

Your actual stop loss will depend on a number of factors. For example, a very wild player who is used to major swings would not need to set their stop loss at five buy ins. The real goal of a stop loss is for it to come into play at the exact right time, so you avoid tilt. The obvious problem is that it can be a challenge in and of itself to know when you are about to tilt. Hindsight is usually the best aid in determining when you tilt, but this is no use in real time.

In order to effectively set a stop loss that you intend to actually follow, you should consider the limits you are playing, your emotional tolerance, and what normal variance is for your game of choice. A five or ten buy in downswing might be a critical loss for one player but completely normal for another. This is why it is vital that players look at stop loss figures on a case by case basis rather than as general guidelines.


The limits you are playing are important in configuring a stop loss because they will help to determine what is normal and what is not. A 2NL player should not be going on regular 10 buy in downswings. In games this small there is no excuse to be losing with any bit of regularity. It is certainly within the realm of possibility that a 2NL player could go on one, maybe two, downswings of this size over the course of a few months, but it should hardly be a habit.

In contrast to this example, a 200NL player might find it incredibly routine to be in the midst of a 10 buy in downer. While this is hardly ideal, it is not necessarily something that would be cause for concern. If you are using a loose aggressive playing style in mid stakes games, double digit downswings will happen.

With all of this in mind, it is easy to see that smaller stakes players will use smaller stop losses. Don’t go nuts if you lose a handful of buy ins in a mid stakes game (assuming you are a winning player), but consider where you stand if it continues to happen at the micro stakes tables.

Emotional Control

Tilt and general emotional control are two of the biggest concerns for all poker players. There are never ending loads of players who have gone broke or quit the game completely due to their inability to control themselves at the table. With online poker, tilt is even more difficult to get a grip on. The pace of the games allows for any player to go crazy and lose a ton of money in a very short period of time with little to cool them off.

In a live environment it is much easier to walk away or collect yourself. If you feel like you lose focus rather quickly when something doesn’t go quite as planned, your stop loss should be on the lower end of the spectrum. There is little reason to set a 10 buy in stop loss when you are actually off your game by the time you have lost just five buy ins.

Normal Variance

Players often confuse needing a stop loss for excessive losses and using a stop loss for normal variance. If you are playing in a very volatile game, turbo heads up sit and gos for example, you shouldn’t get worried when you run into a number of five buy in downswings. If you are not comfortable with the amount of variance that you are consistently experiencing, there is a good shot that you shouldn’t even be playing in the games or limits that you are.

Take a look at what other players similar to you encounter in their normal variance. If it is very different than yours, a game or limit change may be in order. If other players have variance much like yours, find a number that is abnormal for you and set that as your stop loss. For example, if you and other players like you regularly go on five buy in downswings, you might set your stop loss at eight or 10 buy ins. Using other player’s advice is an effective tool in setting a stop loss that will be truly useful.

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