McHaffie: MCU lesson 017 / Winning streaks


Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published in Poker Player newspaper in 2004.

This is part of a series by Diane McHaffie. She wasn’t a poker player when she began writing this series. These entries chronicle the lessons given to her personally by Mike Caro. Included in her remarkable  poker-learning odyssey are additional comments, tips, and observations from Mike Caro.

Diane McHaffie index.

Diane McHaffie is Director of Operations at Mike Caro University of Poker, Gaming, and Life Strategy. She has traveled the world coordinating events and seminars in the interest of honest poker. You can write her online at diane@caro.com.


Diane McHaffie

Lessons from MCU

— With bonus content by Mike Caro (pending) —

Lesson 17: Why winning streaks can be bad for your bankroll

I was flabbergasted when Mike told me that not all winning streaks are good in poker. How could any winning streak possibly be bad?

He explained that you must consider what is causing the winning streak. Sometimes poker players will play their best game, content to stay or leave whenever they believe the time is right, whether they’re winning or losing. If they do that, it’s good. However, that isn’t what usually happens.

Usually players hate to call it quits when they’re losing, unless recovery is hopeless. They don’t want to walk away from the table with less money than they started with. These misguided players have a deep-seated need to win back their money, plus a dollar more. So they do exactly what they shouldn’t do. They continue to play, often in the wrong games, hoping for even a small win.

When they achieve this minimal goal, they get up and walk away from the table. Mission accomplished. They don’t take into account all the money they risked chasing that insignificant win. Often they continue playing long after they should have left. They succeed this time, and the streak is still alive. But at what cost?

Manufactured wins

Those are what Mike calls “manufactured” wins. It was a new concept to me. Yet, apparently many poker players attempt to manufacture their wins. If they’re on a winning streak and are losing today, they will continue to play, even when it isn’t in their best interests. They are losing and can’t handle it, so they persist in playing until they finally win a few dollars or lose hope. The win won’t be enough to brag about; yet, to them, one win is just as good as another if it keeps the streak going. Only then can they can go home and watch TV.

Many poker players who have a tendency to produce their own winning streaks are content with winning only $10 or $20, when they could stay and win more. If you’re only considering plusses or minuses, this type of win qualifies as a plus. Some players are fearful of breaking up a wining streak by accepting a small loss, meaning when they lose, it’s a lot. But, they do settle for small wins, when they could be playing much more profitably for larger ones.

The most important thing

Here’s something important I’d like you to remember. When you’re losing, it’s often because the game itself is less profitable. When you’re winning, it’s often because that game is more profitable. That’s not always true, and you could be in a highly profitable game, running horribly unlucky or in an unprofitable game, running great. But, overall, games tend to be better when you’re winning and worse when you’re losing.

Isn’t that sort of a given? So, when you manufacture a win streak, you stay when you’re losing, often under unfavorable conditions. And if you’re winning a little in a good game, you’re tempted to quit, satisfied with a small win, leaving all that extra profit on the table. When you manufacture wins, you spend more time than you should in bad games and less time than you should in good games.

Don’t accept a small win, just to be winning. And don’t risk a huge loss just to cash out ahead. If you play to win in the long-run and not just for today, you’ll find yourself in more profitable games and win hundreds or thousands, instead of just a paltry few dollars.

Players who try to manufacture wins often succeed. At least, they succeed in producing win streaks. But they fail to produce successful poker careers, settling for small wins and occasional great losses.

Always remember that it isn’t important whether you leave a single game winning or losing. What matters most is whether you win or lose in the long run. You’re likely to spend more time in profitable games when you’re not trying to “manufacture” a winning streak. — DM

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