Insider: Hold or Fold

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You've got to know when to hold 'em
Know when to fold 'em
Know when to walk away
Know when to run
You never count your money
When you're sittin' at the table
There'll be time enough for countin'
When the dealin's done

Kenny Rogers, The Gambler

Kramer: Roger's can't sell chicken around here, we got chicken places on every block.
Jerry: He is the gambler.

Seinfeld, The Chicken Roaster

I alluded briefly in an earlier installment to a scenario where you would find a card on a buylist for an unacceptably-low price. There are several things you can do in this scenario, and I have a system that I put into place that seems to work for me.

So how do you determine what isn't a good price for a card? What do you do with it if no one is offering an acceptable price? How do you get Dr. Pepper out of the cloth interior of a Honda Civic if you have to wait until the end of a road trip and you're pretty sure the stain has set and you know it's probably your fault for not opening the cap just a small amount to see if it was going to fizz over, but you really didn't count on Ryan dropping your Dr. Pepper and then not bothering to tell you, and he only dropped it because his hands were full and how hard is it to just ask the clerk for a bag?

We'll get to most of these topics today, because you all deserve it.

Easy One First

If you think the price of a card is too low, put it in a separate box for similar cards.

. . .


That's It? That's All You Have to Say?

Well, I mean, I can elaborate a bit, but does it really have to be that hard? If you think a card is underpriced on all of the buylists, don't sell it to the buylists. That's a no-brainer.

But while you would jam all the cards that are not nor will ever be picks in boxes of "pure bulk" for later disposition, you want to keep these picks separated. Don't put them by the bulk or they will get mixed in. Don't just say, "Well, I guess no one is buying Birchlore Rangers right now, guess it's trash!" and flush a potential quarter down the turlet.

One of these suckers.

OK, that brings up a good point. We're talking about potential quarters sometimes. So that means you have a longbox in one corner of your work space, and if you identify a candidate for the "hold" box, jam it in there quickly.
Time is money. If bulking it is half a cent and setting it aside means a quarter or dime later, don't spend too much time. You're paying yourself pretty poorly if your entire "hold" box sells for $25 later and you spent five hours on it.

That is a hyperbolically-low price and a hyperbolically-long amount of time spent, but my point stands. Don't waste too much time on your hold box.

Should you arrange it alphabetically? No, you should not arrange it alphabetically. Should you dig through it every time you buylist? No, you should not dig through it every time you buylist. Should you wait forever? No, you should not wait forever.

One way to deal with cards in this box is to figure out what price they would sell for if the spread were more reasonable and just jam them in an ogred box. If a dealer feels like a Birchlore Rangers is an okay buy at a dime, you'll be glad you didn't just bulk them out.

In fact, I don't do this in two separate steps. I have several boxes with cardboard partitions that divide the box into ten sections roughly as long and wide as a card laid horizontally. I label the different "wells" with a price--mine are $0.05, $0.10, $0.25, $0.35, $0.50, $0.75, $1, $1.5 and $2.

What goes in are both cards I intend to ogre and cards that are good "hold" cards due to their high spread or inexplicable absence from any buylist at that time. "Hold" doesn't mean "never sell," it just means, to me, "Don't bulk or buylist this right now because you'll make more money if you don't."

Keeping your ogre box next to your work area allows you to jam cards in there as you come across them. This allows you to avoid sorting them later because they are arranged by price. You'd arrange them alphabetically or some other way just to make it easier to look the price up, and if you're ogreing, they're sorted by price already.

This efficiency allows you not to get sidetracked too much when you come across a card that seems like a good hold. If you get into a rhythm, stopping dead in your tracks will hurt you.

On the other side of the coin, just flipping these absentmindedly into a pile to deal with later isn't the best either, because you will have to look everything up again to figure out what to try and sell it for. I feel like jamming them in an ogre box by price is the perfect solution to reconcile these two scenarios.

Now the Harder One

So how do you determine if the price being offered on a card is not acceptable? Presumably, these buylists are populated by dealers; people who know what they're doing. If they aren't buying the card or aren't buying it above a certain price, the card must not be worth that price, right?

Eh, maybe. Maybe not though, and to sell for too cheap is to lose money, and to lose money is to do it wrong.

Before I talked about how to quickly identify cards that are worth a surprisingly-high amount by using Trader Tools. To briefly recap--


Click there to bring up the set.


Click there to sort by buylist price.

You will see the cards on the buylist for the most money and some may surprise you. However, some obvious picks are way lower on the list than they should be.

Say what? Breakthrough is worth $1.50 and buylists for $0.32?

So how inclined are you to fork over Breakthrough for $0.32? You may think your two options are to buylist it or sell it on TCG Player--and with TCG Player inclined to chop $0.50 plus another $0.152 for their fees, plus shipping costs because some other dude already has them listed for $1.52 with free shipping, you might opt for buylist. Losing that much on TCG Player seems awful because then you're stuffing an envelope just to make practically buylist.

Both of those are garbage options. The only option three you may be able to think of is to chew up four ambien and go take a 28 hour nap.

Leave those pills unpopped, readers, because you have other options! Jamming the Breakthrough in an ogre box for $0.75 or even a modest $0.50 is going to lead a dealer to see Breakthrough in your ogre box and even if he says "These aren't on my buylist," you can say, "You sell those for $2" and I bet someone snaps them for $0.75. Either way, it's better than selling for $0.32.

If they sit in the ogred box for a while and you look them up later, maybe they'll be going for more money as dealers run out of stock. Maybe in a little while you'll care less about wringing and extra $0.40 (to be fair, 40 cents is an extra 125%) out of the card and just jam it in a buylist order. Maybe you'll find someone who wants to trade for it at $2. Maybe your house will burn down, and the insurance check will pay for a new jet ski and you'll leave this life behind and go fight crime that occurs near water.

You don't know what can happen, but you can be sure that you don't take either bad option of "sell for too little right now," and, "put a little more work in to still sell for too little".

So, selling a $1.50 card for a fifth of that is obviously bad. But how do we determine a good cutoff point?

These are all cards that I can't justify shipping for the price dealers want to pay, at least not until I have exhausted other avenues.

Sometimes other dealers will be paying more and the issue lies with the small sample size of dealers you're looking at. If you only sell to Card Kingdom, you'll end up with a big stack of gas that other dealers pay well for but Card Kingdom has in abundance. Increasing the size of the net you cast can help you avoid these awkward scenarios.

But adding more dealers adds to your processing and shipping costs and hassle. I keep it to three or four dealers and even then I only ship when I get to about $1,000 worth of cards to sell between the four. If we're keeping our dealer net small for most of what we do, we can set aside these "hold" cards and ship them to another dealer or look at another site like bidwicket or individual store online buylists.

Know When to Hold 'Em

So how do we quickly and easily determine which cards to hold? The same way I picked which cards to use as examples in the article!

I used Trader Tools to sort by buylist percentage instead of price, and I went through a few sets until I found good candidates, with prices around $1 or $2 and a buylist amount for a fraction of that.

Do you see what all of my examples have in common? Go back and look. Did you catch it right away? It's a spread of 75% or more. A high spread means a lot of things, and we're not getting into that right now. The point of looking at spread in this context is that a high spread is going to show us cards not worth buylisting.

Ideally, you're buylisting cards under $10 that have a spread of around 40% +/- 5%. Ideally. Once you start getting a higher spread, that means you're losing more money. Remember when I said losing money was doing it wrong?

If a card's spread is something like 75%, just put it aside. I glance at its sell price and if one of my designations is close to 40-50% of its value, I put it in that slot. I have Breakthrough in the $0.75 slot in my ogred box, but I'll take $0.50 because I know the alternative is buylisting it for $0.32. If someone wants to trade for it at $2 or whatever it is on SCG, super. If a dealer wants to pay $0.50, super. If I can't get rid of it for more, I know I can always buylist it for $0.32 if I want to.

If you see a buylist price with a 10% spread or something obscene like that, hurry. Get that sent off as quickly as possible, because it's likely this is an emergency price because the dealer wants to restock in a hurry. However, a high spread means the price is not going to change anytime soon, and if it does, it will be for the better. You can afford to sit on cards with a high spread until it improves, you find a better out, or you get sick of sitting on the card and just ship.

Check the spread and if it's too high, maybe you want to try to get more money elsewhere. You can "fold" and ship that card for the buylist price anyway, if you want. Just don't be afraid to hold.

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Jason Alt

Jason Alt is a value trader and writer. He is Quiet Speculation's self-appointed web content archivist and co-captain of the interdepartmental dodgeball team. He enjoys craft microbrews and doing things ironically. You may have seen him at magic events; he wears black t-shirts and has a beard and a backpack so he's pretty easy to spot. You can hear him as co-host on the Brainstorm Brewery podcast or catch his articles on He is also the Community Manager at and writes the odd article there, too. Follow him on Twitter @JasonEAlt unless you don't like having your mind blown.

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One thought on “Insider: Hold or Fold

  1. Just started buying collections and this clears up a ton of questions I recently came across and now I can go thru “??? pile” (yeah, real original) I have been accumulating and figure out the plays. Got there with this article Jason, Thanks!

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