Unless you’re an absolute sicko, you probably hate losing money.
But if you play poker regularly, it’s impossible to never have stretches during which you lose a significant amount of money.
Learning how to emotionally handle losing is one of the many factors that separate the elite players from the rest. And one of those elite players is high stakes live poker specialist Garrett Adelstein.
Garrett recently appeared on an episode of Doug Polk’s Podcast, on which the two discussed many things ranging from mental health to poker strategy.
But arguably the most interesting and valuable topic was how Garrett deals with big losing sessions. This article breaks down his approach to (hopefully) help you deal with your own losing sessions better.
(You can watch the full podcast episode here.)
There’s no way to avoid losing in poker, and sometimes your swings will be huge.
Check out what Garrett had to say about losing streaks (I’d bet you’ve felt similarly before):
I remember being in that moment where it felt like everything went wrong for me for months straight. It doesn’t matter who you are. I have a lot of belief in my decision making at the table, but I remember I went home that day and I was like “this is it. I don’t think I have it anymore. How many times am I going to get bitch slapped by good players in a row?”
But sometimes, that’s just the deck. Sometimes the deck just forces you to get owned. In live poker, you play so few hands. It’s super easy to have a six month period where you lose a huge number and you lose more than three-fourths of your sessions. Time goes so slow in live poker so it’s devastating sometimes. Especially when we’re talking about really big numbers.
But the opposite is also true. There are times where I play poker and I can’t lose a hand. Every time I enter the pot I have a set or better. If you can’t feel good about that and recognize that when it rains it pours and vice versa, I think you’re really going to struggle from a quality of life perspective.
Remembering that variance goes in both ways is crucial in order to accept the downswings for what they are: temporary.
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So with the inevitability of variance and losing streaks, how does one of the world’s best high stakes live cash players handle his emotions?
He accepts the sadness, tries to be kind to himself, and aims to make good decisions and avoid spiraling:
It’s weird. Even if a session is completely inconsequential as it relates to a fraction of net worth, the dollar amount still matters. I still live on Earth. If I lose a quarter of a million in a session, I’m very aware of how much money that is. It really fuckin’ hurts.
There’s so much work I do the morning of the next day. After a bad session or long session, I try to make decisions that aren’t too destructive the rest of that night. And I just give myself the space to tell myself that I’m in a lot of pain, and that’s okay. I try and gently ask myself to be ready to have a good day the next day. I’m a lot more gentle with myself than I used to be.
Even after a really bad session, I’m able to ask myself:
- Did you do all the things for your morning ritual that you needed to do this morning?
- Was I able to stay in emotional control during the session?
- Did you try your best?
- Did you not quit?
If I did those things, I can fall back on that and pat myself on the back for those wins.
By keeping himself level headed and focusing on things that he is able to control, Garrett is able to avoid spiraling, which benefits his poker life and his life off the felt.
Sometimes, whether it’s due to losing streaks or mental health reasons, the best thing you can do for yourself is to play less poker.
While Garrett used to grind 100 hours of poker week, he now plays much less volume. This has had great benefits on his mental health:
My mental health has really struggled at times. There was a time where I reached all of my financial goals and then some, and I was still deeply unhappy. I had to take several steps back in how I wanted to construct each day to not feel that way.
Playing less poker really became the solution to that. I almost did it out of necessity for my mental health. Spending 15-20 hours per week on poker related activities really became this sweet spot.
I have so many more interests now. I used to wake up every day and my goal on Earth was to be the best poker player I could possibly be. That is nowhere close to a goal of mine right now. Now I wake up and ask what I am going to do today that is going to make the lives of the people I love better. Or just in general be a positive contribution to the world. Once a session ends, I immediately transition into what choices are best for my life.
Stepping away and focusing on other things can sometimes be just what you need in order to get out of a funk.
Final Thoughts from Doug Polk
Let’s wrap this up with some encouraging words from Doug Polk from the podcast:
No matter how good you are, you’re always one really bad run away from being humbled. I would have the occasional 30-40 buy-in downswing in heads up. I want to say I had a 50 buy-in downswing along the way at some point. When that happens, you just question if you can do basic things right.
There’s a healthiness to that. The reality check of that is that it keeps you a little more grounded. It makes you realize you have to keep working hard and keep your focus up. It also lets you appreciate the good times more. If you’re a good player, eventually you’ll get out of it and find your way back.
So that’s how one of the world’s very best players deals with the worst downswings poker has to offer.
Want to learn how to decide when to quit in the middle of a losing session? Read Doug Polk’s article The Smart Approach to Losing Poker Sessions (3 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Quitting).
Thanks for reading.
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