5 Signs You Are a Losing Poker Player

5 Signs You Are a Losing Poker Player

This article was written by blackrain79.com contributor Fran Ferlan.

Most players lose money over the long run playing poker, and only a handful of players manage to win big. In order to be one of the select few winners, you need to work on improving your game.

Since becoming a winning poker player can be hard, it may be worthwlile to filp the script and figure out what makes people lose in poker instead.

After all, you can’t improve if you don’t figure out what you’re doing wrong in the first place. 

This article will show you 5 common signs of losing poker players, and what you can do to fix it.

Assume You Are Losing

Before we get into the signs that you may be a losing player, let’s point out the obvious first: most people actually lose money over the long run playing poker. 

So it’s important to realize that being a losing poker player is actually the norm, not the exception.

That’s because poker is a zero sum game; in order for you to win, someone else has to lose and vice versa. 

When you add the fact that you also have to pay rake for the pleasure of playing, the more you play, the less money there is in circulation. 

So you have to beat both other players AND the rake in order to be a long term winner.

So in poker, there’s a handful of big winners, while the vast majority of players end up poorer for their efforts. 

This has to do with Price’s law: 

A mathematical principle that states that the square root of the number of people in a given system will produce roughly 50% of the output.

For example, imagine 100 hypothetical poker players playing a cash game. Only 10 of them (the square root of 100) will end up with 50% of all the money.

Or think about a poker tournament: in the end, one player will win all the chips.

This means that the results will be disproportionately stacked at the top, while the vast majority will stack at zero (or below zero).

Price’s law is often used in business and economics to describe the distribution of wealth or productivity within a company or industry.

It may sound bleak, but that’s just the reality of iterative gameplay. Play for long enough, and eventually only a small minority takes all the spoils.

Check out Nathan's recent video on why the vast majority of poker players end up losing.

Now, it’s important to realize that the Price’s law is not a hard and fast rule of the universe, because the reality is much more complex than that. 

It only serves as a mental model to explain the uneven distribution within a given system.

Here’s the good news: Price’s law can work in your favour, too. 

You don’t have to be the very best poker player in the world to make money in this game. You just have to be the best player at your table. 

If you are the best player at your table and you keep playing for long enough, you’ll keep stacking your opponents over and over again (after variance is accounted for, of course).

If you’re currently a losing poker player, don’t worry, because most players are. 

The good news is that you can transition to a winning player if you put a bit of effort into improving your game.

In order to do so, it may be worthwhile to drop some habits or thoughts that may be holding you back from that goal.

Here are some of the common signs of losing poker players, and what you can do differently to improve your results.

1. You Think Poker is All About Luck

If you know that poker is a skill game, it doesn’t guarantee you’re a winning poker player. However if you think poker is all about luck, you’re guaranteed to be a losing player.

Why is that the case? Well, as mentioned, poker is a zero-sum game. When you take the rake into account, it’s actually a negative sum game.

A negative sum game is a type of situation in which the total value or utility of the resources involved is decreased, rather than increased, as a result of the actions taken by the participants. 

In other words, the total "pie" of resources available is reduced rather than expanded by the actions of the players.

So if poker is all about luck, and we assume that in this context luck means randomness, the results of the game (i.e. who wins and loses) are arbitrary, and outside of the control of the participants.

Let’s take the lottery as an example. 

Everyone will agree that winning the lottery is a matter of pure chance. There’s no skill or strategy involved, so you never know who’s going to win (the odds are, no one will).

Contrast that with poker tournaments. Sure, there is a luck element involved in tournaments, and everyone can theoretically win.

Yet, when you look at high stakes tournaments, you see the same people showing up year after year. 

Some players manage to win multiple tournaments and amass huge lifetime winnings.

Daniel negreanu tournament winner

Yet there are not many people that manage to win the lottery multiple times.

These players that consistently rake in money are either the luckiest people on the planet, OR there might be more than luck to this game after all.

Check out my recent article on why people think poker is all about luck.

Here’s the thing: if you think poker is all about luck, there’s no point in even trying to become a winning poker player, because it’s not within your control to do so.

However, even if you are a losing player, but recognize that poker is in fact a game of skill, at least there’s something you can do about it. 

That’s a much more hopeful outlook than just dismissing everything as pure chance.

Recognizing that poker is a game of skill is the first step to be able to actually increase your skills. 

If your poker results improve as a consequence of improving your skills, that makes poker a game of skill, not luck.

Doesn’t the thought of it make it at least worth it a try?

Check out my recent article on how to quickly improve your poker skills for more info.

2. You Chase Losses

Winning poker players dont chase losses. They keep playing their best despite how good or bad they’re running. 

If they can’t keep playing to the best of their abilities, or if they feel like the cards are simply not falling their way, they quit and live to fight another day.

In fact this is one of the secrets to success in poker: you keep playing when the games are good and you’re playing well, and stop playing if you can’t play to the best of your abilities.

This is the exact opposite of what most players do, and that’s why most players lose money over the long run. 

When they’re running and playing well, they quit early to “book a win”, and when they’re behind, they keep playing to “get even” despite the fact that they’re not able to play to the best of their abilities.

In other words, losing players chase their losses.

To chase losses means to keep playing with the intention of “winning your money back”, which is usually accompanied by abandoning the fundamental winning strategy  in favour of more risky, suboptimal playstyle.

Also, chasing losses could mean jumping up the stakes to get even quicker, and playing the stakes beyond your skill level and/or bankroll.

This is the most extreme way of chasing losses, and it can be absolutely catastrophic for your bankroll and your results.

Players who chase losses tend to:
  • Play too aggressively
  • Call down too much / too wide
  • Make fundamental mistakes they otherwise wouldn’t have
  • Target specific players to get even (or just out of revenge or spite)
  • Get frustrated easily
  • Keep playing despite not being able to play their best
  • Jump stakes beyond their bankroll

The list goes on. The problem is that these problems tend to feed off each other, creating a negative feedback loop that’s hard to break. 

For example, if you get frustrated, you make more mistakes, which causes you to lose even more, which leads to more frustration and so on.

It’s worth mentioning that it can take a long time to build a bankroll and move up the stakes, but it doesn’t take long to completely deplete your bankroll and destroy all your work. 

A lot of poker players are losing not necessarily due to their lack of skill, but due to a lack of discipline. 

In today’s age, it’s not overly difficult to learn the fundamental winning poker strategy. But the ability to stay the course when that strategy is not producing the desired results is an entirely different thing.

When cards don’t fall your way, the best you can do is accept that you will sometimes experience losing periods despite your best efforts, and try to keep playing your best.

This is obviously easier said than done. We’re all humans, and sometimes poker can be so incredibly frustrating you can’t keep your cool despite your best efforts.

In times like these, the only thing you can do is take a break and live to fight another day. Once you lose your cool, trying to regain it is fighting an uphill battle.

Taking a break when you’re losing does not mean admitting defeat. It means having enough self awareness and discipline to know that you currently can’t play your best. Taking a break means your rationality winning over your lizard brain, which is a feat in and of itself.

Of course, quitting every time you lose a coin flip is not a great long term strategy. Sometimes you’ll just have to suck it up and keep playing, because poker will never stop being cruel at times.

So in addition to taking much needed breaks, you should also work on fixing your underlining tilt problems as well.

Check out my other article on how to deal with poker variance for more info on the topic.

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3. You Never Study Poker

Poker is a game of skill, and like any other skill, you get better at it with practice. But merely playing poker for a long time does not necessarily mean you’ll get better at it.

It doesn’t take long to learn the rules of the game, but knowing the rules obviously isn’t enough to win. 

You also need to be familiar with the winning strategy, then work on implementing that strategy in your game.

And this requires studying. And lots of it.

Starting hands poker

I don't mean just knowing the basic hands to play, but you should definitely start by knowing that.

Beneath the surface, poker is an incredibly complex game. This becomes all the more apparent the more you learn about it. The more you learn, the more you realize how much there is left to learn.

This can be daunting to a lot of players, so they don’t even bother with it in the first place. And as mentioned, some don’t even see the point since they think it’s all about luck anyway.

But that’s obviously not the case. The best poker players are the ones that have the superior knowledge of the game. And they’ve attained that knowledge by studying the game for a long time. 

Back in the dark age before the internet, there was no way to learn the winning strategy except through direct experience. 

Players had to study their own game, and learn what works and what doesn’t through trial and error. This meant that improving took a lot of time and effort.

In today’s age, it’s easier than ever to learn new skills, and the best part is that you don’t have to learn the hard way through your own painful mistakes. 

Instead, you can learn from the pros who have already been there and done that. This way, you get the benefit of learning from their experience, and finding out what works and what doesn’t.

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4. You Call Too Much

As a general rule, calling is the last option you should consider when playing poker. 

As the old saying goes, if it’s good enough for a call, it’s good enough for a raise. 

You should take this with a grain of salt, of course, as there will obviously be spots where calling is the most +EV option.

But the point still stands. Winning poker is aggressive poker. Therefore, simple logic would dictate that passive poker is losing poker.

That’s because when you play passively (i.e. check and call instead of betting and raising), you’re letting your opponents dictate the tempo, and you’re agreeing to play on their own terms.

In fact, one of the most reliable way to quickly recognize a losing player is to check the difference between the number of hand they play and the number of hands they raise with preflop. 

The bigger the difference, the weaker the player.

If you’re playing poker online and use a hand tracking software like PokerTracker 4, you can check your opponents stats to quickly figure out what type of player they are.

The two key stats you should look for are VPIP (voluntarily put money in pot) and PFR (preflop raise).

poker fish hud stats

The former tells you the percentage of hands a player plays, and the latter tells you the percentage of hands they raise with preflop.

You can also check your opponent’s aggression factor (AF) to see how aggressively they play post flop. 

For example, a player with a VPIP of 46 and PFR of 7 plays way too many hands and is playing them very passively. This is without a doubt a recreational player who is losing money over the long run.

Conversely, a player with a VPIP of 23 and PFR of 20 is much more likely to be a winning poker player over the long run.

These numbers are just examples, of course. There’s no one-size-fits-all answer as to which stats you should be aiming for. 

That’s not what winning poker is about. It’s about being able to make the best decisions possible with the information you have available.

Check out my other article to learn EXACTLY which hands you should play preflop for more info on the topic.

Also, check out this article on the most useful HUD stats.

These stats examples are meant to illustrate that winning poker players tend to play aggressively, both preflop and post flop.

Being the preflop aggressor is statistically proven to be more profitable than being the preflop caller. If you’re using PokerTracker 4 you can check these stats yourself.

Bottom line: You can't win at poker by just checking and calling.

Since most players tend to play too passively, chances are that you can drastically improve your results by upping your aggression.

This is discussed in more detail in Modern Small Stakes.

5. You Complain About Your Bad Luck

In poker, everybody loses from time to time. 

Winning poker players don’t pay too much attention to their losses, because they know they are beating the game over the long run. 

As long as they keep making fundamentally sound decisions, losing is only temporary. 

Losing poker players, on the other hand, ruminate on their losses, and insist they never get their share of good luck.

fishy poker players

What’s ironic is that they don’t appreciate good luck when they’re running well, and just feel like it’s owed to them in a way. 

Yet, when they lose, they quickly forget about the periods they’ve actually been running well.

If you have a feeling you never get your fair share of good luck, there’s a strong psychological mechanism behind it called the negativity bias.

Negativity bias refers to the tendency for negative events or information to have a greater impact on your thoughts and behaviors than positive events or information. 

This means that we are more likely to remember and be influenced by negative events, and that they can have a greater effect on your overall outlook. 

This bias is thought to have evolved as a way to help us survive by paying more attention to potentially harmful or dangerous situations. 

As useful as the negativity bias was to our hunter-gatherer ancestors, it’s absolutely detrimental at the poker table.

There’s no denying poker can be incredibly punishing at times. 

If you’re feeling like you’re constantly getting the short end of the stick, you very well may be right. Sometimes it can seem like you’re getting punished for playing the right way.

But again, this is just the nature of the game. The comforting fact is that everyone will get the short end of the stick sooner or later. 

Nobody runs hot all the time, just like you’re not running cold all the time, even though it may seem that way at times.

You can’t control how you’re running anyway, so there’s no point in wasting mental energy on bemoaning your bad luck, ruminating about bad beats, setups, and all the other small injustices you’re forced to suffer.

Instead, focus on the things you can control, and that is trying to play to the best of your abilities.

Another way to mitigate the negativity bias is to practice gratitude. Think about the positive things in your life, and bad beats and suckouts won’t feel as much of a big deal anymore.

Also, try to recognize positive variance as well. Even though it may be hard to admit, sometimes you’re the one that’s the beneficiary of good luck. 

Recognizing spots like these will in turn help you deal with the inevitable periods where cards simply won’t fall your way. 

People that have the most “luck” are the ones that are able to recognize it and appreciate it in their life. 

Conversely, the self-proclaimed unlucky people take good things for granted and focus on the negative because it’s just easier that way.

Luck plays a certain role in everything you do in life, and poker is no exception. But it's not the only thing that determines success or failure.

The more you focus on things you can control, namely playing to the best of your abilities, the less important luck becomes in determining your results.

5 Signs You Are a Losing Poker Player - Summary

To sum up, here are 5 signs you may be a losing poker player:

1. You think poker is all about luck. 

Players who think poker is all about luck conveniently always think of themselves as unlucky. Realizing that poker is a game of skill is the first step to actually improving your results. 

2. You chase losses.

You can’t control how you’re running session to session, and trying to force action to “get even” is a recipe for disaster. This is especially the case if you jump to stakes beyond your bankroll or beyond your skill level.

Losing poker players keep playing despite not being able to play to the best of their abilities, and stop playing when they’re ahead to “book a win.” This is the exact opposite of what you should be doing. 

3. You never study poker.

Playing poker is fun. Studying poker can be boring, but without it, you can’t improve your game. Nobody starts out as a winning poker player. You can only get there by making an effort and working on your game, and unfortunately, there’s no quick way to improve without a bit of studying.

4. You call too much.

Losing poker players tend to call too much, meaning they stay in hands far longer than they should, chase all kinds of bad draws and have a hard time folding what they believe to be a strong hand. If you think you have the best hand, bet or raise more. When in doubt, fold. 

5. You complain about your bad luck.

Poker can be brutal, and sometimes you will lose despite doing everything right. But nobody is exempt from this, and everyone will get their fair share of good and bad luck, respectively. 

Losing players can’t get over their short term results, which compromises their ability to play well.

Winning poker players learn to take the bad with the good, and keep playing their best despite the negative short term results.

Lastly, if you want to know the complete strategy I use to make $1000+ per month in small/mid stakes games, get a copy of my free poker cheat sheet.

5 Signs You Are a Losing Poker Player