I often blog here about hands I played, or sessions I played, and usually the story has a happy ending.  Often enough that one might think I never lose, or at least that I don’t like to talk about it.  Truth be told, I don’t really like to focus on negatives, so I don’t talk about losing sessions too often.  Of course, everyone has losing sessions.  Even the best players in the world, the Phil Ivey’s and the Tom Dwan’s, don’t win every single time the play.   Thus is the nature of variance.

When I play cash games I tend to have more winning than losing sessions, so this gets reflected in my blog.  But this weekend I had one of “those” sessions.  Not just a losing session, but one that I call a “sometimes it’s just not your day” session.  Ever had that feeling at the poker tables before?  Of course you have, we all have.  I was marginally winning the war of small pots, while remaining fairly inactive.  But I played 3 big pots and went down in flames on all 3:  A flopped set, that got all in on the turn vs. a flush draw and lost.  A turned 2 pair that got all in on the turn vs. a flush draw, and lost.  And a turned nut flush with which I check-raised a big fish large, and he called the large check-raise with bottom 2 pair (82s on a board of Q82T in case you’re curious, and yes the pot was raised preflop) and filled up with a deuce on the river.  

So what should we do when things are going wrong?  Here’s what I recommend:

-Tighten up:  When we’re losing, our image is poor and players will naturally play better against us, so it’s prudent to tighten up a bit, entering the pot with stronger values and giving ourselves a better chance to showdown some strong holdings and restore our image.

-Take a break:  Get up and walk away, stretch your legs, get your head clear, which should help you stay focused on the task at hand.  This is especially critical if you start to feel impacted emotionally by current events (tilt).  

-Change tables:  Getting a table change can serve as a “reset” of a bad image to neutral.  Not only that, but the table you’re at may be tougher than  you realize, and even if the line up is weak, with your poor image it is almost certain the line up is playing better than normal against you specifically at the moment.  

-Call it a night:  If you are getting that feeling that this is just not going to be your night, you’re right, it’s not.  No need to press it into what is likely to be more losses.  You’ll only do more damage to your bankroll and feel much worse about the session when it’s done.   Sometimes a table may be very good, but it’s just not good for you.  It happens.  Go do something positive, your bankroll and your psyche will thank you for it later.  The shortest session I’ve ever played was 1 orbit.  It was online, I sat down at a $10-$20 limit hold’em table, and in the first orbit I was dealt QQ, AA, QQ, and AK and lost all 4 of those hands.  I didn’t post my next BB, as I had that strong feeling it was not going to be my night.  I went downstairs and asked my wife if she wanted to watch a movie.  “I thought you were working tonight?” she said.  “So did I” I replied.  We had a nice evening together, I felt good the next day and ended up booking a very nice session my next time playing.
One thing I’ve had students say about this last part, is they don’t like to call it a night because it makes them feel like a quitter, and they don’t like to quit.  If this thought resonates with you, get over it.  This type of thought process is destructive at the poker table.  You’ve no doubt heard analogies of poker to war, and that poker is one long game or one long session.  You’ve probably also heard the phrase you can lose the battle but still win the war.  And in poker you can (and will) lose some battles, but can still win the war (long term results).  The most successful Generals accomplish this by recognizing a bad situation and not being afraid to make a strategic retreat.  That’s all you’re doing at the poker table… consider it a strategic retreat.  Poker will still be there tomorrow and you’ll live to fight another day in a situation that will probably be better served towards you winning the war.