Making Sense of Vicious and Virtuous Cycles in Poker

Nathan Bennett
Nathan Bennett
3 Min Read

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.

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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


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