Why Poker Players are Like Taxi Drivers...and What You Should do About it!

 photo preachercasy151: Poker coach and player, specialising in the psychology of decision-making. Sport Psychology Masters. www.christykeenan.com
Why do most poker players get their grinding schedule backwards? Christy delves into the world of academia to find out for you...

Poker players are like taxi drivers.

No, I don’t mean that card games make them fantasise about going on Travis Bickle-esque vigilante killing sprees.

Although, I’m sure everyone has wanted to take out the dealer from time to time ;)

But the main similarity between a lot of poker players and cabbies is that they get their volume backwards – they tend to work fewer hours when things are going well, and more hours when it’s just not their day.


The Cabbie Paradox

An interesting study considered the working habits of New York taxi drivers. I’ll spare you the dry academic text, and skip straight to the interesting bit:

Logic would suggest that those who can select their own working hours should take advantage of inclement weather and subway breakdowns etc by putting in as many hours as possible when demand is at its highest.

This would free them up to take more time off when the sun is shining and nobody is interested in hopping into a Joe Baxi.

However, logic is not always the guiding force that it should be.

You see, it turns out that cabbies are driven (NPI) by money, rather than volume. So when they hit their target figure for the day, they call it quits and go get a beer. Maximising their earn is not their priority – a pretty heinous error for those whose income is at the mercy of variance.

I’m going to call this the Cabbie Paradox.

As a poker coach, this sounds eerily familiar.

It is very common to find people who still define a session’s success by its results, rather than whether or not they hit their volume target.

The logic runs thus:

If I can make $1000 in 50 games, then surely I deserve to take the rest of the day off, rather than play the other 100 games that I had initially intended?

In a word


There was a reason why you hit $1000 in such a short time frame. Perhaps you ran well. Perhaps the games were softer than usual. Perhaps you were in a great state of flow.

Whatever the reason, you don’t know when the next time that you hit the perfect storm will be. It’s not a tap that you can switch on and off at will – regardless of how easy it feels when things are going your way.

Just as taxi drivers are prone to thinking that the procession of customers will never end when the rain is teeming down, poker players who are upswinging think that they can take it easy because it will always be this easy.

Poker Squirrel and the Nuts Joke

It stands to reason, then, that when things are going well, you should maximise it. You should be a poker squirrel, hoarding nuts away for when times are lean – as they inevitably will be, someday soon. If you have a volume goal (and you definitely should!) this is the time to smash through it. Maximise that upswing by putting in the hours on those days when the game feels easy!

If you do this, then the trade-off comes when it’s not going well. You can treat yourself to a shorter day, for the nuts have already been squirreled away in more bounteous times.

The Cabbie Paradox is one whose origins are easy to trace. For self-employed people like poker players and taxi drivers, one of the most appealing attributes is the way of life. Being able to pick your own hours is a giant two fingers to the 9-5 grind, and when things are going well it is hard to find the discipline to still hit volume.

After all – who amongst your friends can say that they woke up without an alarm clock, made four figures by lunch, then went to the zoo to drink from a hip flask and take funny selfies?

Getting Unstuck

On the other hand, when things aren’t going well, many players give themselves no option but to play until they get unstuck. This determination is bizarre for the following reasons:

1)      Most people don’t play their best when they’re getting crushed – so why choose this moment to play more?

2)      It’s a results-orientated, short-termist outlook. Day-to-day goals should be volume-based, for volume is entirely within your control and results are at the mercy of variance.

3)      Poker is about making good decisions. You may or may not get unstuck by busting past your volume target, but regardless of outcomes, doing so is likely to be a bad decision – something that should be anathema to a poker player.

Let’s Be Logical

It’s clear that there is a severe logic breakdown, when it is spelled out like this.  Unfortunately, the poker world is littered with people offering bad advice.

So next time you feel the urge to slack off and quit your session early, ask yourself this:

‘Am I behaving like a taxi driver?’


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