Making Sense of Vicious and Virtuous Cycles in Poker

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BetMGM Nov 04, 2022, 4:36 AM

Similarly to stock markets, playing a game of online poker is never plain sailing. There are upswings, downswings and lulls in between. Unfortunately, it’s unrealistic to assume you will win every round or finish each game having made money.

In events where the victor is decided by a combination of skill and luck, anything is possible. We discuss the vicious and virtuous cycles in poker.

What are vicious and virtuous cycles?

In economics and society, a common phrase is that the rich are getting richer while the poor are getting poorer. Vicious and virtuous cycles give clarity to why this is happening.

The virtuous cycle

A virtuous cycle is linked to a chain of positive events that support each other and is a thesis as to why the rich are getting richer. Focusing on poker, it occurs from a positive result within a game (winning a round in poker) and leads to another positive outcome.

When playing online poker for real money, a virtuous cycle can formulate from the simplest of things. An example of players experiencing a virtuous cycle in poker would be receiving a strong hand in poker, such as an ace–ace. After the first round of betting, the dealer places another ace on the table. This pushes your hand up to a three-of-a-kind. Following this, your opponents decide to bluff, which increases the value of the pot. And at the end of the round, you win. In essence, a virtuous cycle is an accumulation of positive events that reinforce one another.

It’s not just in poker where virtuous cycles exist. It’s everywhere. Psychologists explain that a virtuous cycle is predominantly facilitated by thoughts, behavior and the development of fresh strategies. For instance, if an individual is willing to put in extra hours at work, they will gain experience and become more confident and knowledgeable about their practice. This can lead to several virtuous events, such as a promotion and outranking your peers in the eyes of managers. The Matthew Effect, a key part of poker theory, argues that people who start from an advantageous place, such as more wealth, intelligence or skill, have more of a chance to experience a virtuous cycle.

However, from experience to beginner level, it’s crucial to remember that anything can happen in poker. You could go from holding 70% of the table’s chips to losing big in a round and ending up with 25%. Yes, gambling is enjoyable, fun and interactive, but it should not be viewed as your viable source of income.

The vicious cycle

In contrast, a vicious cycle is a series of negative events that reinforce themselves; hence the poor getting poorer. Essentially, it is a downward spiral of results that worsen an individual’s situation. For example, a low-income household having to deal with the increased cost of living. This causes them to shop for low-quality brands, which means they’re eating less nutritious food, thereby impacting their health and productivity.

Vicious cycles occur in many ways during a game of online poker, and when it rains, it pours. Downswings can be detrimental to a player’s game and their positioning. Our brains release serotonin when we do something right, making us feel more confident. When we make a mistake, such as folding a strong hand to a player who was bluffing, it puts doubt into our brain. This can have a negative impact on the rest of the game, causing you to play cautiously and make out-of-character decisions. Basically, you divert from your innate playing personality, which is never a good thing. 

Scenarios like this can cause players to tilt in online poker. In worst cases, a vicious cycle can spiral out of control, causing players to take a break or quit. A great way to overcome this cycle in poker is to play in lower-skill ranked games in order to get some wins under your belt and regain your confidence.

Tilting in poker and how to avoid it

Tilting in poker occurs when a player is gambling in a poor state of mind (such as frustration) and making bad decisions with costly implications. It is the result of playing when tired, making mistakes, experiencing a bad beat, stress from work and so on.

Experiencing a vicious cycle in poker often leads to tilting, so it’s important to know how to overcome it – a crucial part of poker strategy. Playing while tilting can cause players to overbluff, play too quickly or be overly aggressive. When this happens, you should take a break from the game.   

To overcome tilting in poker, you mustn’t dwell on your mistakes. Rather pick yourself up and move on – even experienced players make mistakes. Additionally, don’t be too harsh on yourself. Enjoy the moments of success and learn from failure.

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Our BetMGM editors and authors are sports experts with a wealth of knowledge of the sports industry at all levels. Their coverage includes sports news, previews and predictions, fun facts, and betting.

Our BetMGM editors and authors are sports experts with a wealth of knowledge of the sports industry at all levels. Their coverage includes sports news, previews and predictions, fun facts, and betting.