McHaffie: MCU lesson 057 / How to handle losing

Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published in Poker Player newspaper in 2005.

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 McHaffie

Lessons from MCU

— With bonus content by Mike Caro (pending) —

Lesson 57: How to handle losing

In poker, as in life, things don’t stay on an even keel. You have good times and then you have bad times. The good times are much easier to handle, of course. It’s the bad times that have a tendency to cost us more than they should if we don’t know how to handle them correctly.

Mike states, “The main reason skillful players go broke is that they don’t know what do to when they’re losing.” One of the most important things to do is to continue to “play your best game all the time.” Mike stresses this over and over.

Sessions and streaks

There are two types of losses that Mike talks about in his 42nd MCU class lecture and they are losing sessions, and losing streaks. During losing sessions, the player begins to feel frustrated as he loses one hand after another. Then what happens? His opponents, who may be playing badly, are still playing better than he is. Because of the player’s aggravation about losing, he isn’t concentrating on playing his best game. Instead he’s absorbed with the fact that he’s losing and desperate to get even.

Losing streaks are more damaging, Mike warns, as he’s experienced them first-hand. All poker players will experience long losing streaks. What they do then is panic and become engrossed in trying to win. It’s all they think about, winning. They forget about making good decisions. Their game suffers. Mike reassures us that winning eventually will come with patience and good decisions.

Good decisions – bad decisions = lifetime profit

“Your lifetime profit will be the sum of your good decisions minus the sum of your bad decisions,” Mike teaches.

When you sit down at a table you shouldn’t think of it as a session to be won or lost. If you think like that, it’s too easy to allow the need to win to consume you. Then if you start to lose, you’re concentrating on trying to recoup your loss and before you know it, you can be in over your head. That’s when “Caro’s Threshold of Misery” takes control and can destroy you. “Caro’s Threshold of Misery” is when you’re losing and you continue to play, thinking that a little more loss isn’t going to feel any worse. But it will, sooner or later.

As Mike reminds us, it is very important that you make the right decisions all the time. Every hand is a new one. You’re starting fresh with each deal of the cards. If you lose a hand, forget about it, don’t dwell on it. The next hand could be the one that you win.

Starting new

Mike says that you should think of streaks in the same fashion as sessions. You’re always starting new; each hand, each session is a new one. Just play your best and make the right decisions every hand. The cards aren’t smart enough to decide whether your streak will last or not; it’s how you play that will decide your fate.

When you are losing, here are some things Mike suggests you should consider doing, largely because your opponents are viewing you in a different light now and are probably taking advantage of your hardship by playing better.

  • Starting hands must be better than  normal
  • Bluff less
  • Raise less
  • “Value bet” less

What you do matters

Mike advises trying these mental tricks with yourself when you’re losing:

  • Tell yourself that you are exactly even right now.
  • Remember, what you do now matters, whether it seems that way or not.

Here are some things Mike recommends doing during a losing streak:

  • Pocket your small win and leave.
  • Take advantage of smaller games.
  • Try to determine why you’re losing, then adjust accordingly. If you are unable to find a reason, play your best game and be patient.

As Mike advises skillful players: “The secret is simply to play your best game all the time. If you do this, you’ll soon see a profit.”  — DM

Next entry in Lessons from MCU series


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