Snapping a losing streak is a daunting task, and nothing is quite worse than having a winning streak quashed by back-to-back losing sessions. Yes, in a blink of an eye, I went from riding the high crest of emotions that come with being a winner to dealing with the dismal lows and turmoil of being bogged down in a losing streak.
That happened to me at the end of October. I was killing the tables and grinding out a worthy profit online. It appeared as though I was going to have one of my best months of 2008. I had been primarily playing $5-$10, $8-$16, and $10-$20 limit hold 'em. I found my groove playing short-handed tables and I only posted a handful of losing sessions during the entire month. Then things got ugly.
Some days, everything goes wrong at the tables. I missed a couple of draws. My big pocket pairs did not hold up. I continuously whiffed with big slick and I couldn't flop a set to save my life despite the seemingly endless number of middle and baby pairs that came my way. Towards the end of that first ugly session, I started playing an overly aggressive style and bled away even more chips. I had been multi-tabling so I wasn't aware of the exact amount of my losses until the session was complete. Then I realized the horrendous amount. Yeah, I had one of my worst sessions of the year.
Although I misplayed a couple of hands, I wasn't too hard on myself because the majority of my decisions were optimal. The results didn't match up and I got kicked in the junk by the rough end of variance. The next day, I was eager to get back into the fight and was inspired by that old Japanese proverb, "Fall seven times, get up eight."
The session started out bad and became progressively worse. My stack was obliterated. I took a dinner break and should have quit right there but I didn't, and returned for another ugly session. I was chasing my losses, which is never a good thing to do. I was a bad-beat magnet, compounded by the fact that I couldn't hit a flop. My results were even worse than the previous day. I posted my two biggest loses of the year on consecutive days-it bothered me so much I studied my hand histories which helped me to identify a leak.
I needed a break from the tables and took a day off. Since I was in New York City, I went for a walk in Central Park, checked out a museum, and I stopped off at a bookstore. I quickly found myself at the poker section. I thumbed through Super System 2 and re-read Jen Harman's chapter on limit hold 'em. I also read a couple of chapters from the Psychology of Poker by Alan Schoonmaker. Before I left the book store, I made quick visit to the philosophy section where I re-read a couple of essays from Alan Watts, specifically from a book titled Become What You Are.
The trip to the bookstore was unexpected but educational. I took advantage of an opportunity to re-read different books on poker and philosophy in order to get my head on straight. When I returned home, I re-read excerpts of Advanced Limit Hold 'em Strategy by Barry Tanenbaum. I allowed everything to sink in for another day before I made my triumphant return to the tables.
I posted a modest win, nothing too exciting, but the losing streak was officially over. The best way to end a losing streak? Take two days off. Use the first to make a complete break from the game and enjoy yourself. On the second day, re-read poker books and examine your hand histories. Then you'll be ready to jump back into the fight.
Paul "Dr. Pauly" McGuire is a writer, poker player, and avid traveler from New York City. He's the author of the Tao of Poker blog which can be found at taopoker.blogspot.com.