Poker can be a cruel mistress. You’ll have losing sessions and downswings; these are guaranteed. The mental aspect of poker is a subject that has always fascinated me and often caught me out. I have made many efforts over the past few years to ensure that I can deal effectively with not only a single losing session but multiple in a row.
It’s important to focus on your well-being and stay positive throughout your poker career. So today, I’ll be discussing steps we should take to move past negative sessions and help us turn them into positive ones.
Many of my articles reference this self-awareness trait that is so vital for all good poker players to have. There’s no use in lying to yourself about either your ability or situation. After having a losing session, you must be honest with yourself, study your decision-making, and find the true cause of your losses.
Was it simply due to variance? i.e., a bunch of coolers or always walking into the top end of your opponent’s range, or was it partially your fault? Were you playing in a way that was destined to fail from the start?
What if the Losing Session Was My Fault?
One of the best things to do when deciding that a losing session was self-inflicted is to study. Work hard away from the tables, looking at where and why you thought you went wrong in either a specific hand or the session. You should not dwell on these mistakes. Instead, you should acknowledge them, learn from them and move on. By studying, you’re keeping yourself involved in the game and also preparing yourself to deal with bad variance, as you can be happier that your decision was the right one and it was simply the outcome that was bad
After being truthful and concluding that your session resulted from factors beyond your control, it can be just as frustrating and make you feel as rough as if it were your fault. As a poker player, you must be comfortable with downswings occurring and embrace them. Popular poker blogger Brad Owen spoke about this in a video recently where he talked about having perseverance and how sticking to a winning game plan, and trusting that with time the results will come. You must not beat yourself up in the short term.
Try staying overwhelmingly positive and understand that the game is a two-way street. The results and bad beats will swing your way at some point in the future, which will help your negative emotions dissipate quicker. Poker is a great game for teaching you that you can make the optimal decision yet still have an in-optimal outcome; this happens in life all the time.
In the meantime, you should look after your mental game to ensure that your emotions don’t affect either the future sessions you play or your mental health outside of poker.
Poker is a true mental game, and you should only be playing when your mind is firing on all cylinders. It can be very emotionally demanding at times and requires great mental fortitude to succeed. You can help yourself achieve this by looking after yourself physically, sleeping, and eating well. It’s also important that you talk about your mental health with family, friends, or other people in the poker community.
It’s vital that you take breaks. Not just throughout a session but also during the week or month. It can be tempting to just keep playing every single day, but you will find yourself feeling burnt out and generally feeling worse, especially if a downswing continues.
I would also recommend having a hobby outside of poker that you can turn to if you are feeling overwhelmed by the game. Personally, every other Sunday, I like going for a hike all day, trying to do nothing poker-related at all. This, alongside big study sessions, has helped me get through some particularly bad downswings.
- Be self-aware, i.e., what was the reason behind your losing session?
- Learn to accept and embrace variance
- Always be looking after your mental health
- Have hobbies outside of poker
- Take breaks, do not feel as though you need to play every day
- Study hard and learn from your mistakes