Let’s face it: losing is part of the game. And how you handle yourself during a losing session is as important as how you handle yourself during a win - perhaps more important. If you can take your losses on the chin, while learning from them, you will become a better player.
Having faced some losing situations recently, I’d like to offer some Dos and Don’ts for handling a loss. Keep in mind that these are precepts I am trying to follow myself, though I don’t always succeed.
Do remind yourself that when you have a commanding lead in a hand and someone outdraws you (especially when the odds of him winning the hand are slim), it can be a good thing. It means your opponent is willing to pay you off the other times when he doesn’t make his hand. If someone is drawing to a flush in a heads-up situation, he is getting the worst of it. Over time, he will lose more than he will win in this one instance where he outdraws you.
Do exercise self-discipline. The more you coach yourself to behave well and focus more intensely on the game when things aren’t going your way, the better things will be in the long run. I know one player who forces himself to fold, without looking at his hole cards, for several hands after taking a bad beat. He doesn’t want to risk misplaying a hand. While this strategy may not be for everyone, it would have protected me from losing a hand with A-Q recently. Right after a bad beat in No-limit, I found myself with this hand, but instead of making an opening raise with it, I just called. An early position player flopped a set of fives when the board showed Q-5-8 with two clubs. I bet away and he just called. He was a tight player and might have just folded to my pre-flop raise. But I was feeling cautious and, instead of licking my wounds after the previous hand, I played the A-Q timidly before the flop. By the time I started betting it, it was too late.
Do take a break after losing a hand. Go for a walk, go to the bathroom, go anywhere except the bar. You don’t need to compound your problems by drinking.
Don’t leave the table to go try to win your money in the pit, if you are at the casino. You are there to play poker, not gamble on craps, roulette or blackjack.
Don’t blame the dealer. It is not the dealer’s fault that the cards went against you. It is random!
Don’t ask for a deck change, unless you think cards are marked or missing. It’s not the deck’s fault that you got beat, either. But note when other players ask for a deck change. I’ve never known a winning player who thinks his results depend on the deck. On the contrary, winning players know that it isn’t even the cards you hold that make you a winner - it’s the way you conduct yourself at the table. If you have a commanding image, you can control the game no matter what you are dealt.
Don’t blame the player who beat you. He is just there to play, the same as you are. He has every right to call you and outdraw you. If you start berating his choice to play, he may wise up and not call the next time he is an underdog. This will affect everyone’s results, not just yours. And in line with this:
Don’t attempt to educate players at the table. Why do you want them to think about how to play better? When you have pocket Aces, you want an opponent with pocket 10s to call you to the river, even though once in a blue moon he will hit a set or make a straight.
Do request a seat change. Often, if you move and win a big hand, other players’ perceptions of you will change. I have gone from being the goat, losing my buy-in, changing seats and doubling up, to suddenly becoming the most intimidating player at the table. So much depends on your image in poker, and changing seats can often result in an improved image. Strangely, when you change seats you often trigger other players’ superstitions - if you start winning in the new position, some of them may see it as a lucky seat and play more cautiously (and thus less well) against you.
Do analyze the hands you lost. Was there anything you did wrong? Could you have played the hand differently and minimized or avoided the loss? Relentless self-analysis will help your game tremendously. Since everyone loses at times, take advantage of the situation’s opportunities for learning.
Perhaps the most important thing about handling a losing session is to try and minimize your losses. Sometimes, the only thing that will save the day is to just leave. One of the best poker players I know, a consistent winner, attributes much of his success to the way he handles losses. His goal is to lose as little as possible during a losing session. If he is stuck, he says, he does not attempt to get unstuck. He tries to play well, and if he feels the losses are affecting his abilities, he quits for the night. Players attempting to ‘get back to even’ have lost fortunes. Don’t fall into this trap, especially if you are tired or frustrated or the game you are in is not good. Sometimes you just have to take the loss and live to fight another day - your bankroll mostly intact.