Sign Up For Card Player's Newsletter And Free Bi-Monthly Online Magazine

Eight Habits of Unsuccessful Poker Players

by Conrad Brunner |  Published: Aug 01, 2006


I am not qualified to accurately outline the habits of winning poker players. I mean, how would I know? If you want to learn the secrets of successful poker, let me refer you instead to the works of Doyle Brunson, Stewart Reuben, and David Sklansky. They are all fine poker sages who have written with authority on the dangers of sandbagging, the value of playing premium starting hands, and the importance of "position." Their writings, approached with a serious mind, can genuinely help improve your game. They are also excellent sleeping aids.

If, however, you want to know the habits of losing poker players … well, now you're talking. This is a subject on which I can hold forth with confidence, drawing on several years of personal experience and observation. Listen up, because here is a man who really knows what he is talking about.

Drink, please

There is a remarkably close correlation between drinking alcohol and losing money. If you are sober, you win sometimes; if you are drunk, you lose always. Try doing your accounts with a bottle of Jack Daniels on the table, and you can watch the columns becoming blurred and black holes of debt start opening up. For some reason, however, we believe that a glass or two of hard liquor provides us with genuine fortification against the financial swings of poker. Experience tells us there is no evidence to support this preposterous view, but hey, a game of poker wouldn't be the same without a bottle of whiskey, would it?

The loser says: "Mine's a large one."

Cold play

Nobody practices poker, do they? I mean, this is a game of wit, courage, and perception, isn't it? And yet an excellent way of losing money is to arrive at the table, several days after you last played, to compete against a group of well-grooved opponents. Some of the guys I play nowadays not only squeeze in a huge number of live games, but also multitable online, churning obscene numbers of hands an hour. It's practically cheating. I know that if I don't practice, it will cost me money. It is not simply that you need practice, it is also that you need table time to get in touch with your own weaknesses, and, hopefully, the weaknesses of others.

The loser says: "If you want to practice, go play the piano.'"

Don't get up

We losers have a very high opinion of our own powers of concentration. After marathon sessions of uninterrupted action, we are sure that little gets by us at the poker table. That is why we sit for five to six hours at a time without even getting up to stretch our legs and refresh our minds. There is only one thing that can get us off our rear ends, and that is a lack of funds, a point reached sooner or later – usually sooner.

The loser says: "One more hour, then I'm done."

When we British players arrive in Las Vegas, usually after nine sleepless hours in a plane, plus a three-hour stopover chasing luggage in Chicago, the first thing we do after checking in to our hotel is sit down to a game of poker. Everyone knows it's madness and everyone does it – but we just can't help ourselves. And yet tiredness is almost as conducive to financial loss as drunkenness. We all have found ourselves yawning at the table several hours after our normal bedtimes, and the effect on our game is predictably disastrous. I'll let you in on a secret: The winner at your table probably slept 11 hours last night, followed by a power nap in the afternoon.

The loser says: "No, really, I'm fine."

My blue period

In my weekly game, the "blue period" is usually between 1 a.m. and 2 a.m., sometimes a bit earlier, sometimes a bit later. It is the time when the chips really start to fly and we finally learn who will be the big winner and who will be writing the checks at the end of the evening. Drinking and tiredness play their part, but the single biggest factor during the blue period is impatience. If you've been waiting all night for a decent hand, this is the moment you decide – to the delight of your opponents – to run the most ludicrous and expensive bluff when holding absolutely nothing.

The loser asks: "Where did all my chips go?"

High stakes

Graduating to higher stakes means maximising your winnings – and your losses. It can turn a bad night into a terrible one, especially if you are not used to the amounts involved. Shifting up to larger sums – like impending death and marriage – concentrates the mind wonderfully. Raising the stakes supplies the adrenaline and excitement we losers crave, but it also introduces an element of fear and discomfort that is not helpful to profitable poker. When you play big for the first time, expect to lose big, too.

The loser says: "I'm in the big time now!"

Attention span

Poker is a social game. I'm not just there to gamble but to chat about whatever comes into my head, to catch up on my text messages, and to keep half an eye on the football game on the TV. Online, I can listen to podcasts, and read the sports reports and MSN while multitabling sit-and-gos. What's wrong with that? Some opponents, however, get irritated by my lack of concentration, complaining when I miss my bet for the umpteenth time. And – even worse – they take advantage of my wide range of interests by focusing their greedy attentions on my dwindling stack of chips. Don't they know it's supposed to be a social game?

The loser asks: "Is it up to me?"

S—- happens

It is one of the characteristics of us losing players that we are baffled and bewildered when fortune goes against us. If we have the best hand going into a pot, only to see the expected profit turn into painful loss, we are outraged, gutted, gobsmacked. "The Goddess of Chance has spurned me! It shouldn't be allowed!" We then proceed to tell anyone who will listen all about our bad-beat experience, a discourse we find fascinating, unlike the listener who finds it very boring, indeed. So, you had a pair of aces cracked by J-10 offsuit; what's so amazing about that? It happens all the time. Writer Jesse May hit on a genuine truth about poker when he said: "Poker is a combination of luck and skill. People think that mastering the skill part is hard, but they're wrong. The trick to poker is mastering the luck."

The loser asks: "How unlucky is that?"

Virtually all of the "Eight Habits of Unsuccessful Poker Players" were summed up by George C. Scott in The Hustler. You remember the scene: It's just after the all-night pool contest in which Paul Newman has Minnesota Fats beat, only to throw it all away. With withering sarcasm, Scott lets Newman know exactly what he thinks of his performance: "Sure, you got drunk, you got the best excuse in the world for losing. No trouble losing when you got a good excuse. And winning that can be heavy on your back, too, like a monkey. You drop that load, too, when you got an excuse. All you gotta do is learn to feel sorry for yourself. One of the best indoor sports is feeling sorry for yourself; sport enjoyed by all, especially the born loser."

The schedule of season three of the EPT, sponsored by, is now available at The buy-ins have been raised to €5,000; otherwise, it's business as usual.

Conrad Brunner is European head of communications for