We've all done it at the cash game tables-dug ourselves into a hole so deep that it might as well be our grave. You can blame variance, the fickle poker gods, or that idiot from Helsinki who chased a gutshot and cracked your set of aces. But freaking out and placing the blame on your horrendous opponents won't solve your problem. Rather, you must remain as calm as possible in order to focus on getting unstuck, otherwise you might as well start picking out coffins and making funeral arrangements.
The most satisfying sessions are the ones when I dig myself out of a hole and break even. Those gritty and determined bouts mean more to me than the ones when I annihilated my opponents and ran over the table. I thrive on competition and welcome strenuous challenges. And what can be a more troublesome obstacle than being stuck a couple of buy-ins early in a session?
Losing a significant amount of your stack at the onset of a session can be a recipe for disaster. Being able to withstand an attack is vital to your survival. Weak-minded players often succumb to desperation and give up when confronted by a burdensome situation. Meanwhile, the true warriors harness their inner strength and buckle down for a brawl. They're not going to give up any more of their chips without a fight. Even with limited reserves, unwavering players grind their stack back up to even by regaining control of their emotions.
Some players tilt after enduring an early beat and slide down a disastrous path. They play less than optimally and lose all self-restraint. They chase and gamble instead of wisely investing their money. They play impatiently and force the action. All of a sudden they are down a couple of buy-ins and on the verge of busting their bankrolls.
While it is important to maintain composure after an early assault, you also have to be aware of the always changing conditions at the tables, especially online because the action progresses so rapidly. The most successful players adapt to changing conditions in a seamless manner. Players who quickly adjust to the shifting dynamics will often end up the richest because they capitalized on the slow-moving herd. Don't be a sheep because sheep get slaughtered.
If you get stuck early, keep an eye on your mark. I'm presuming that you're a competent player and lost a chunk of your stack because an inferior opponent misplayed a hand and sucked out on you. Instead of berating the donk and spewing venom in the chat box, you need to chill out and relax. Take notes and then methodically stalk your target like an assassin. Bad players make mistakes more frequently than good players, so if you act patiently, it won't be too long before they make another error that you can capitalize upon. If you don't end up getting your money back that session from your target, then on the positive side, know that you invested a small amount of money to locate a bad player. Tag him and hunt him down another day.
Sometimes you're in a hole because it's your own fault and you played poorly. When that happens, you need to take a break and sit out a few hands, similar to when a coach calls a time out or goes out to the mound to talk to a struggling pitcher. You need to relax, refocus, and return to fundamentals. Otherwise, it's time to quit before you inflict more damage to your bankroll.
In the end, only you can get yourself unstuck. Even though that can be one of the most overwhelming circumstances at the tables, nothing is more satisfying than climbing out of the hole and stepping onto even ground for the first time.
Paul 'Dr. Pauly' McGuire is the author of the upcoming book 'Lost Vegas'. You can read his poker blog, Tao of Poker, over at www.taopoker.com.