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All poker players are going to experience periods of time where everything seems to work against them and they are unable to win. Many of us call this variance. These losing streaks can last anywhere from a matter of days to months.

How a poker player handles a losing streak can impact their long-term success in the game. Today we will discuss these streaks and give some tips on combating them.

How Long Have You Been Losing?

The first question to explore is how long you’ve been experiencing your losing streak. Have you only been losing a couple of days or has this been going on for a longer period of time? The longer your streak, the more likely that your streak is less about variance and more about potential issues in your game.

There is a caveat to this. If you’re a player who puts in light volume, this can skew your sample size. For example, if you’re someone that plays one or two Sit & Gos a day or 30 minutes of cash games each night, your stats are going to be slightly skewed. You will need a bit more time to determine whether it is variance or bad play.


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Are Your Games Prone to Higher Variance?

Some games by nature are going to be prone to higher variance due to their structure. Spin & Go tournaments on PokerStars are a great example of events that can be high variance. Also, if you like to play in Turbo or Hyper-Turbo tournaments, you’re going to suffer more losses than from standard events.

What Types of Losses Are You Experiencing?

Not all loses are equal. For example, I recently went through a rough patch in Badugi where I was getting outdraw after catching big hands. One example of how crazy it got was a game where I was dealt three cards to a six Badugi and then caught a 6-5 Badugi on the first draw.

The pot was capped and my opponent drew one. The rest of my chips went in before the third draw and my opponent drew one again. He caught a wheel (A-2-3-4 Badugi). When you regularly suffer coolers, that is just poor luck and you just have to sit that out.

However, if you look back and you aren’t seeing a pattern of coolers, it may be more than mere variance. Also, how much are you losing? Are the losses staying somewhat consistent or are they steadily growing each time. Sometimes we tend to play too much when losing trying to recover and end up losing more.

Are You Putting in Enough Time AND Study?

How do you get to Broadway? Practice, Practice, Practice. How do you win at poker? Refer to the prior answer. If you are not putting in time at the tables, you will not improve. Also, if you are not studying the game, your game will not develop.

The average rule of thumb is to put in as much time studying the game as you spend playing. If you play 10 hours a week, you need to study 10 hours a week. Also, the quality of material that you study matters. For games like NL, you want to focus more on study material that have been written in the last few years rather than material written pre-Boom. Exceptions to this are books related to psychology and intangibles at the table.

For many players, adding more study to their game will improve their results dramatically. The reason is that most players focus solely on playing, and that’s understandable. In this modern era, you really need both components to advance as a player.

You May Need to Seek Help

If you are having trouble determining whether you are experiencing variance or if your “variance” has become a long-term losing streak, it is time to seek a bit of help. It is time to honestly evaluate your game and see whether you have leaks causing your streak.

You can start by discussing hands with friends that also know poker. Let them take a look at your hand history or even have them sweat your session. Talk about your game and listen to their input.

If you don’t have friends that you can bounce ideas off of, consider enlisting the help of a poker coach. They will honestly evaluate  your game and tell you where your problems lie. Yes, this may cost you a bit more money, but their help will earn you money long-term.

Should You Walk Away from Poker for a While?

If you have evaluated your game, worked to improve your game and still find that you are not winning, it may be time to step away from the game for a while. No, we are not saying retire from the game. We are advocating a bit of a break, or vacation if you will from the game.

Walking away for a while may help improve your overall mental state and help you recharge your batteries for when you come back to the game. Stop playing for a period of time and maybe even consider taking a vacation.

My favorite example of someone having success using such a tactic comes from an old school player named Mickey “Mouse” Mills. He is well-known by those that have been playing in California since 2000.

Back in 2006, Mickey was going through a bit of a losing streak. With the exception of a couple of WSOP cashes, he had gone without a single live cash from Mid-June through near the end of September.

Suddenly, he took down two preliminary events at the 2006 National Championship of Poker and finished 4th in a third. He did this all in the span of three days. Amazed at his turnaround, I actually phoned him to discuss his wins.

Mickey told me that he had gotten so frustrated with his losing streak that he packed up his family and took a month-long vacation to Mexico. He said he didn’t even touch a deck of cards during that trip. Upon returning, he said that he hadn’t changed much about his game but his mindset was more attuned to playing poker and this resulted in his incredible run.

I’m not saying you should go take a month-long vacation like Mickey, but the concept is the same. Taking an extended break can help you recharge physically and mentally and could put you in the right mindset to play poker and finally crack your losing streak.

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James Guill

James Guill began his poker career in 2006, spending two years traveling the US tournament circuit. Since 2008, he has covered the game extensively for some of the biggest names in the industry. When not writing about the latest poker news, he can be found hunting for antique treasures in Central Virginia.