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At every level of the game, poker players suffer losses. In free-play online poker or at a home game, losses may be easier to handle by forgetting, letting go, or learning from the situations. But at higher stakes, where significant money, not to mention reputation and image, is on the line, a big loss can be tougher to process.

daniel negreanu 2015 WSOP

A poker loss can vary from one situation to another as well. One player might consider a bad beat a loss that he or she carries around for a long time, replaying that hand in his or her mind numerous times. Another player might view a loss as a losing cash game session, or an entire tournament that went badly.

No matter the nature or size of the loss, a player must know how to deal with it in order to learn a lesson and move forward in poker.

The five steps of a poker loss are quite similar to those offered by the Kubler-Ross model in the world of psychiatry: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

5 stages of grief


For poker players, the stage of denial typically lasts a very short time. When the river card seals the deal, the player knows that the loss is real. It may take seconds of staring at the board, but there is little denial in the reality of the cards. A big loss at a cash game may take a bit longer to deny, but walking away from the game minus the cash or chips doesn’t allow long for denial to reign.

Matt Affleck 2010 WSOP

Credit: PokerStars


This stage of poker grief can take some time. Some poker players exhibit outright and even physical signs of anger, whether by slamming fists on the table, knocking over a chair, or even punching a wall. Most players show anger in more subtle ways.

The problem is that the anger can seethe for quite some time. The best way to get past this stage of grief is to discuss the hand or tournament or session with someone who understands poker. Being able to fully understand the odds or even the mistake can quell the anger and push the player to the next stage.



Many players go through the bargaining stage when discussing or working through the loss. This is done by misrepresenting the loss or making it seem less severe than it truly was. By putting the onus on an opponent for making the call or playing so aggressively, the player can refuse to accept his or her own responsibility for the loss.

Another way bargaining happens is by chasing that loss. In other words, a player may try to come up with money to reenter the cash game, feeling that another shot will turn out differently when, in fact, a break is absolutely necessary to regroup.

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Many players stay in this stage for quite some time. If the loss was substantial or the outcome of a situation particularly disappointing, and especially if it is the culmination of a downswing, a player may wallow in the grief for weeks or months. He or she will replay hands in their heads, hold grudges against opponents, and even badmouth the online poker site or live poker room where it happened.

As with the anger stage, the best way to overcome this is to talk to other poker players. Talk about the hand or the session, review good and bad plays, and take whatever lessons are available. Learning from the experiences is the best way to emerge from the depression. At that point, dipping one’s toe briefly back into poker may reinvigorate and help players emerge from the depression.

sad poker player


This is the point that the poker player is truly ready to reenter the game. The loss has been accepted, and the player has taken a lesson from the experience in order to become a better competitor. Some players can then openly discuss the incident or simply put it behind him or her in order to move forward.

Poker is a game of constant learning and improving. Sometimes, the losses are hard to take, and players must learn to work through them to keep that poker game going.

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Jennifer Newell

Jennifer has been a freelance writer in the poker industry for a decade. She left a full-time job with the World Poker Tour to tell the stories of poker. She now lives in St. Louis, writes about poker while pursuing other varied interests, and speaks her mind on Twitter… a lot.