Win A $1,000 Tournament Ticket To The Event Of Your Choice!

Thinking Like a Loser

It’s sure to keep you losing

by Ed Miller |  Published: Dec 24, 2010


Most poker players think like losers. I know this because most poker players tell me in excruciating detail how they think about the game. Whether I like it or not, I’m going to hear a player’s lesson on why raising with pocket tens is a dumb idea — and then I’m going to hear how lucky I was to spike a 10 on the river.

Thinking like a loser is sure to keep you losing. Why? Because it means that you are focused on the wrong things, and this poor focus will prevent you from improving. Here are some things I hear players say that represent loser thinking. I’ll discuss why they are bad, and then suggest some ways to turn that negative energy around.

1. Bad-beat stories

Bad-beat stories are the worst. They are pure negativity. No amount of brooding will change even a single river card from now to eternity. Thinking about a bad beat is guaranteed to improve your play not one iota.

And when the bad-beat thinking takes over, it shoves all other constructive thought out of the way. If you’re still thinking about that 10 on the river two hours later, that’s two hours that you weren’t playing your best, and two hours from which you have almost no chance of learning anything.

Of course, once the bad-beat monster gets into your brain, it’s hard to get it out. Bad beats happen all the time, so the next fix is always just around the corner. There’s no sure way to get past a beat, but here’s what works well for me:

First, play with a comfortable bankroll. If you’re worried, really worried, about losing the money that you have on the table, you are setting yourself up to think like a loser. On the other hand, if you keep five buy-ins in your pocket when you play, you will never have the thought, “Wow, if I lose this buy-in, that’s it.” Playing on a short bankroll is playing scared, and when you do experience a bad beat, you’ll naturally resent it that much more.

Second, book some wins. If you’re focused on bad beats, it probably means that you’ve been losing lately. Obviously, you can’t just will yourself to win, but you can decide to call it a day the next time that the natural ups and downs of poker have put you ahead a couple hundred bucks. Mathematically, it makes no difference when you quit your sessions, but booking a win or two can be just what it takes to clear your head.

My hope is that the next time you’re tempted to tell a bad-beat story, you’ll think of this column. Dwelling on bad beats is self-defeating, and it’s thinking like a loser. Get up and walk around. Reminisce about that tournament you won last year. Count sheep. Anything! Just get the beat out of your head.

2. Complaints about opponents

Here’s another doozy: “How am I supposed to win with that jerk in seat 8 calling every hand to the river?” Unless the jerk in seat 8 is Phil Ivey, chances are, he’s not causing your problems. He’s just playing like an idiot. People who play like idiots lose their money. They may not lose every single time they play, but they do eventually lose. And most of the time, they lose fast. If you don’t believe me, try playing like an idiot for a few hours and see where it gets you.

Poker is a zero-sum game (minus the rake, of course). That means that if the jerk in seat 8 is losing money (and he is), someone is winning it — and it should be you.
Here’s how it goes: Let’s say there’s a guy who is calling with 75 percent of his hands preflop and then calling to the river with any pair. Twice in a row, you had A-K, and you missed the board while he flopped bottom pair. He called you down and won both times. That’s frustrating, for sure. But here’s how many players react: The next time they flop a pair against this player, they bet it once and then just check it down, hoping to win the showdown. Then, when they win, they shout, “Hallelujah,” and stack the tiny pot.

That’s thinking like a loser. They’re too focused on the fact that this crazy player has beaten them, and are not focused on why what this player is doing is crazy in the first place. The player is crazy because he pays off too much with weak hands. Therefore, to take advantage of this, you should bet your real hands harder than you usually do. Checking the pair down to try to “win cheap” is self-defeating. Instead, you should bet, bet, bet.

If you find yourself tempted to complain about an opponent, stop yourself. He isn’t the cause of your problems. Instead, he’s an opportunity. Think about what he’s doing wrong, and then adjust your play to take maximum advantage of it.

3. Waiting for a better spot

OK, most people know that bad-beat stories aren’t productive (although, judging by how often I hear them, most people also haven’t taken the lesson to heart). And many people know that bad opponents don’t beat you in the long run. But there’s something I hear all the time that has entrenched itself as sort of a conventional wisdom. Yet, it’s loser thought.

“I kind of thought that he might be bluffing, but I folded anyway. I figured that I’d wait for a better spot.”

I cringe whenever I hear people say that they “waited for a better spot.” Nine times out of 10, it means, “I was too chicken to take decisive action, so I took the easy way out and folded. I can’t embarrass myself if I fold, right?”

This one’s a little tricky. I’m not saying that folding is a bad thing. It’s what I do almost every hand. But, habitually waiting for a “better spot” is a big problem. Why? Because people who do that often end up waiting for a near lock before they put their money in. There’s another word for that playing style: nit. Being a nit isn’t bad because it’s “uncool.” It’s bad because it’s not very profitable in most no-limit hold’em games.

Good players take some chances. If they get a read that someone might be bluffing, they pull the trigger and call or raise. They don’t say, “Well, I think it’s a bluff, but I think I’ll fold anyway, and maybe I’ll flop a set in a few hands and he’ll get it in with me.” That’s wishful thinking, and it’s thinking like a loser.
Evaluate every decision on its own merit. Ignore the mythical “better spot” that may or may not arise. If a daring play seems like the right play, take the chance. You’ll get burned sometimes, but it’s the only way to learn. ♠

Ed’s latest book, Small Stakes No-Limit Hold’em, is available for purchase at He is a featured coach at, and you can also check out his online poker advice column,