Fear is everywhere in life, including at the poker tables. Fear of losing can cause great players to be afraid of even playing, which results in procrastination and a habitually low hand volume.
Fear of losing can also force you to make bad decisions while you play. Loss aversion is a very powerful phenomenon which proves that people will make suboptimal decisions in order not to lose.
Ever been near the end of a session, with a stack just over where you began? I bet you noticed that you really did not want to go below that original stack, and may have made some cautious decisions because of that.
There are also other less common ways that fear of losing can affect you. Bottom line, it’s something that you should continually work on and try to reduce. We’re going to look at the process you should follow to do this.
Realize that Having a Losing Session is No Big Deal
Poker is a game of variance, even the best players have frequent losing sessions, some of which are large. If you haven’t yet, run a few simulations on a poker variance calculator. With a great winrate and low standard deviation, you’ll still lose in at least 30-40 percent of your sessions over the long-term.
Now really think of why you don’t like losing. Are you really that disappointed that you didn’t play perfectly? Or that you just didn’t make any big hands? Probably not.
At some point you’ll realize, you’re not afraid of losing, you are afraid of the consequences – losing money.
Now that you know what you’re afraid of, let’s look at how you can address it.
Have the Right Bankroll
Do you think when Warren Buffett invests in a company he’s worried that he might not get his money back? No, of course not. He fully expects that only a certain percentage of his investments will be good ones, but he has so much capital that one bad investment doesn’t even matter to him.
Whatever your bankroll is right now, pretend you’re sitting at a table 1/200th the size of it. For example, if you had a $1000 bankroll, pretend you’re at a 5NL table. Even if you had a horrible session, losing 3 buy-ins, or $15, would it really bother you? Unlikely.
While having a bankroll that large isn’t always feasible or practical, different players require different sized bankrolls. If you notice that you feel stressed by losing a certain percentage of your bankroll, simply drop down to a lower level or add more money to it. All of a sudden, you’ve eliminated a great deal of your fear.
Focus on Playing Well
This is perhaps the most difficult mentality-switch to make as a player, but the most important as well.
When you focus on the monetary gains or losses, you’re subject to the loss aversion phenomenon we touched upon earlier. The only solution is to focus upon something else.
The best thing to focus on in poker is decision making. You know that in the long run, if you make better decisions than your opponents as a whole, you will win money. Quite logically, your focus should be on making the best decisions you can, and money will be the result, not the cause of your decisions.
Making this switch isn’t always easy. Start by not checking how much you’ve won or lost in a session, just make a note of it once in a while after a session or time period (days or weeks even). If you have a tracking software, see if you can’t hide any display that tracks your winnings/losses for a session.
Next, take satisfaction and pride in making great decisions. When you review your sessions, don’t just go over the hands that you made mistakes in, go over hands where you made solid decisions (which may or may not be your largest winning pots). A good fold is just as important as a good bet. Learn to equate a good decision with long-term results and you will make a habit of focusing on making correct decisions.