Nobody likes to lose when playing poker, yet how you react to losing can shape you as poker player.
Losing is an important part of poker. Think about it, if nobody lost a hand then nobody could win. The sooner you start to accept that you are not going to win every hand that you play, the sooner you will find your overall enjoyment of the game increases.
There is no special formula for dealing with losing at poker and do not allow anyone to pretend to you that there is. If it were as simple as applying “Fix A” to your game, then every poker player in the world would be a happy beacon of light regardless of his or her results.
Below are some hints and tips that have helped me cope with losing over the years. Feel free to combine one, two, or all of them into your own coping mechanism.
Practice Good Bankroll Management / Play With a Large Bankroll
I cannot stress enough how important bankroll management is. Time and time again, I have read forum posts and poker players’ blogs where the author has gone broke due to poor bankroll management. There is no excuse for it.
Having a large bankroll — that is money that is 100% set aside with which to play poker — can take away some of the stresses of losing.
Imagine the following scenarios: (1) you are playing in a $0.05/$0.10 no-limit hold’em cash game online and have a bankroll of $50 (or five full buy-ins); (2) you are playing in an identical game and have a bankroll of $300 (30 buy-ins). Should the inevitable happen and you lose a stack, which of the scenarios do you think you would be able to cope with the best?
In both scenarios you have lost $10, but losing $10 when you only had $50 with which to play is a much worse prospect than losing $10 when you have $300 at your disposal. Personally, I feel more comfortable with an even larger bankroll behind me. This means it takes longer to move up levels when I want to, but it also means I have never gone broke in the nine years I have played this crazy game.
Try Not to Think of Your Bankroll as Money
Following on from practicing good bankroll management, try not to think of your bankroll in terms of actual monetary value. This may sound crazy to some of you out there, yet not thinking about the monetary value of your bankroll during your wins and losses will aid your ability to cope with the swings of poker better.
Losing 10 buy-ins is easier to swallow than losing a week’s worth of groceries, for example.
Think of the Game as One Big Session, Not Many Smaller Ones
Whenever you sit down to play poker, be it cash games or tournaments, do not label it as “a session.” Doing so can lead you to thinking negatively about how your last few “sessions” have gone (especially if you have had numerous losing sessions), which can see you enter a downward spiral that is difficult to get out of. Instead, if you think of all of your sessions as part of one long game, you'll be less likely to be overly affected by what happens — good or bad — in a single night of playing.
Resist the Urge to Complain
Perhaps the most solid advice I received came from a British cash game pro a year or so ago and it struck a chord with me from the second I heard it. I had just taken to social media to bemoan my bad luck. I’d gone on a run of games where I lost 80 buy-ins for the turbo 180-man SNGs I was playing at the time. It was starting to have a negative effect on my confidence, causing me both to start questioning my own ability and to go online and whine.
This pro told me that one of my problems was the fact I would also take to social media to celebrate — or, truthfully, to brag — about my wins or a decent run of in-the-money finishes. He said that by getting overly excited about winning, the low caused by losing would feel worse and that I should try to become almost numb to the fact you have won or lost.
Thinking about this, when was the last time you saw a top, established pro bragging about wins? There are exceptions, of course, but most of the time those who are winning consistently are more likely to reference their good fortune or thank people for their support. Indeed, many of the best players never bother to publish their wins or losses — it can’t be a coincidence.
Review Your Play
Instead of trumpeting to the world your results when finished for the day, go through and review your hand history files to see if there were any areas in which you could have improved. Often, you will discover that there were spots you should have folded and saved yourself some chips, and times that you could have played more aggressively and accumulated extra chips. Then the next time you play, you can focus more specifically on improving upon those areas of your game.
By constantly reviewing your play you will improve at poker and make fewer mistakes, which in turn reduces the amount of losing sessions that you will have.
Play More Poker!
Sometimes when things aren’t going your way at the tables, taking a break might be in order. But gathering more experience is also a great way to become better equipped to handle losing. The more hands you play, the more you will experience both winning and losing and the more likely it is that you will be able to shrug off losing more easily.