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Evaluating Steve Zolotow’s Stop Loss Strategy

Whether you are a beginning poker player or one with years of experience, you should consider using a stop loss as part of your bankroll management. A stop loss is a cutoff point where you abandon a game before you decimate your bankroll. For example, in a fixed-limit game, this is usually around 30 big bets. In NL Hold’em, it is around three to five buy-ins.

Professional poker player Steve Zolotow in the past has recommended a flexible stop loss system that goes outside of this standard wisdom. Today we will look at this system and argue the merits and downside of this approach.

Adjust Your Stop Loss Based on How Juicy the Game Is

Zolotow approach is dependent on game dynamics. He evaluates a game and based on how good the game is, he will adjust his stop loss accordingly. He says that for a mediocre game he will abandon it either after 25 big bets in Limit or two buy-ins for NL.

For a good game, he will do raise it to 35 in Limit and three buy-ins in NL. A great game he will commit to 50 bets in Limit and five buy-ins for NL. For games like PL Omaha, he says that he might give himself a bit more leeway depending on the game.

Weighing the Consequences

While Zolotow’s approach seems like a novel idea for a stop loss system, one must consider both the advantages and the consequences. The main advantage of this type of system is that it does account for short-term luck in the game.

In some games, you will have times where you will lose big early on in the game while you are either working out your opponent’s styles or based purely on bad luck. When this is sorted out, your skill can then take over and allow you to rebuild your stack and take a profit.

The major disadvantage of this type of system is that it can be very swingy depending on the caliber of player. Just because a game is good, that does not mean it will stay good. In addition, are you skilled enough to take advantage of a good game while it is good?

Also, this approach can lead to big hits to the bankroll when players are in downswings. The truth of poker is that even the best players are going to go on downswings. Sometimes it is due to bad luck, but often it is because of a problem in your game that you’ve failed to identify.

Next, the biggest flaw I see in Zolotow’s approach is a player’s ability to determine the quality of the game. As mentioned earlier, game dynamics could change. A player must be able to accurately determine how good a game is and also when game conditions change.

A bad game could become a great game based on the change of one player depending on how the other players adjust. A great game could go cold or even break if a big fish leaves. This is the most common change you’ll encounter, especially if you’re playing at a casino with a lot of regulars. One or two tourists entering or leaving the game can change the entire dynamic and turn a rocky game into a juicy one and vice versa.

Zolotow’s Approach Can Work, But Be Careful

For those that use Zolotow’s approach or are considering using the approach, please make sure you are able to consistently find and beat the games he mentioned. Also, be willing to tighten up your standards if you start to downswing. Since his approach can be swingy, it can be murder on your bankroll during a downswing.

My personal suggestion would be to use a bit of a hybrid of Zolotow’s system and a strict stop-loss. If you are confident that you’re playing your best game and can make the proper evaluations mentioned above, then Zolotow’s approach can be profitable.

However, if you have even the slightest doubt about your ability to evaluate the game, or you are in the middle of a rough downswing, then a strict stop loss is the best approach. While most of us don’t want to give up on a game that might be good, sometimes discretion is the better part of valor. It is better to quit today and protect your bankroll than to let your ego continue in a game where you cannot win.

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