Why Do People Lose at Poker?

There are as many reasons for losing as for winning.  Good luck leads to winning while bad luck leads to losing.  Of course!  But poker is a lot more complex than just being a matter of luck.  So, why do some players lose at poker while others win consistently? 

The Role of Luck

The specific poker game you play is less important than how you play the game.  So, whether you like Omaha or Texas Holdem, these habits to avoid and overcome are valuable additions to your overall poker skills.

Luck in poker is vastly over-rated!  This doesn’t mean that it plays no role.  That is clearly not the case.  Every player who has suffered a truly bad beat knows that luck plays a prominent role in poker as in many other games and in life as well.

Still, poker is primarily a game of observation, evaluation, analysis, and general competence.  All of these factors, when players do them well, contribute to a higher percentage of winning sessions than losing sessions.

Some players confuse mistakes in observation, evaluation, and analysis with bad luck.  This is a very grave mistake.  Bad luck is when you have the winning hand and your opponent has only one out and gets it on the river. 

A good example of a mistake in evaluation is staying in a hand with connected suited cards and you get a card that gives you three to a flush on the flop.  This kind of hand mesmerizes a lot of players.   Even when there are opponents with clearly better hands, some players will stay in to see the turn and then fold.  This is not bad luck; it is poor judgment.

Playing at a Level above Your Own Level

This is a mistake that many players make when they are too impatient to stay at the level that gives them the combination of valuable experience and low risk.  It might be said that the mistake is impatience but impatience is a lot broader than just trying to play at a higher level than you are competent for.

Many players also express the error of hubris.  They feel that it is demeaning to play at very low stakes even though they are winning at very low stakes and will probably continue to win at those stakes while getting a lot of poker experience.   So, a lot of players try to move up before they are ready and then they start to lose.

These are players who most often blame their new losses on bad luck rather than blame their losses on impatience and hubris.

Becoming Predictable

This is a problem for two reasons.  The first has to do with opponents reading you without your being aware that they are doing so and, even more pernicious, if you become predictable it will lead to boredom and boredom leads to distraction or simply not paying attention and that leads to betting mistakes.

Even if you sense that you are playing against different players all the time, you might be playing against the same player or players who are simply using a different handle and avatar.  If you use the same handle and avatar, they will recognize you!  Then, if you do become predictable, they will catch on quickly.

Even in low stakes games, if an opponent understands that you are betting with a poor hand, they will find a way to get much more money out of you on individual pots and, in the long run, you will end up losing.

This is not the result of bad luck; it is the result of playing too close to the vest and not taking any chances at all.

The boredom that results from predictability is as dangerous to your bottom line as any mistakes in evaluation and observation.  Poker is a game that requires a lot of attention to detail and if you are having bad luck with your hole cards, it is easy to become bored. 

Similarly, if opponents know that you only bet with very good hole cards, they will get out of many hands that should be lucrative for you and that will leave you with little profit to show for your good hands.  If opponents know that you generally bet only with good hole cards but are also getting bored, they will sense when you stay in a hand with poor hole cards.

Not Being Honest with Yourself

This is connected to trying to move up a level or two before you are ready for such a move but it also applies to games at the best level for you.  If you get the idea that your opponents are gross incompetents, you might be entirely correct or, more likely, you are very, very wrong.

You really do need to know your own level and the ability of the people you are playing against.  This is a big part of the observational skills we have spoken about here.  Your opponents are observing you; you have to observe them.  If both sides are doing a good job as observers, it raises the game to a higher level.  That makes the game a lot more challenging.

However, if your six or seven opponents are doing their due diligence and are observing everyone else at the table and you are not being honest with yourself, you will fall behind them on every hand!

Being too Emotional

Poker is a game for the long term.  It is very demanding even at the low stakes level.  It requires keen skills that can be developed in observation, analysis, and evaluation.  Boredom is a factor that can lead to impatience or simply to mistakes.  Emotionality leads to all of these problematic conditions but it increases the detritus that gets left in its wake exponentially.

Poker players refer to excessive emotionality as tilt.  This is a condition that is rampant in our advanced societies as cities get more crowded and traffic becomes more snarled, as flying becomes a lot more time consuming, as simply waiting in line somewhere becomes a bigger emotional challenge than it used to be.

We need to control our emotions in creative ways.  One way is to read on airplanes even if we never curl up at home with a book or magazine.  We can read while we sit in a waiting room…waiting.  We can get good earphones and listen to music.  We can also listen to self-help recordings.

In short, in everything we do these days, there is the possibility of tilt occurring and we need simple yet creative ways to avoid and overcome tilt.  In poker, we need to recognize that tilt means that we will almost certainly make mistakes down to road.  When we feel a tilt coming on, we can always leave the game!  This is often the very best solution to tilt.

Once we have left the game, a wide world of possibilities opens up to us!  We can go for a swim or a walk.  We can peruse the internet or the few cookbooks we still have at home for an interesting dish to prepare.  The possibilities are endless.  They won’t take away the emotionality of a bad beat but they will redirect the bad emotions into good emotions ant that will get us ready for the next poker game!

Staying the Course

The bottom line is that there is no quick way to become really good at poker.  There are many positive skills we need to cultivate and some negative habits we need to stop in their tracks.  We hope this short article has shown a path to better poker play here at Juicy Stakes Poker!

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