Recently, I saw the documentary Bet Raise Fold and listened to several poker pros talk about the disconnect between money and reality, as well as what inevitably happens to players when they face long, drawn-out bad runs.
I realized the phenomenon they were discussing is burnout. Last issue, I provided some overview to what burnout is. A poor attitude, loss of joy, a sense of dread, insurmountable obstacles, lack of satisfaction, appetite changes and self-medication are all burnout symptoms that demand attention. The real question to ask yourself is: Are you prepared to accept the inevitable results of long losing streaks and what they do to you?
Pro Phil Galfond said it best in the movie: “It is a fear that you won’t come back, that you can’t overcome.”
It seems like you have lost “it” and are afraid you won’t regain it. It’s also true this burnout may have nothing to do with how skillfully you’re playing. A good poker player, recreational or pro, understands you can play your most skillfully and still lose. So counter to putting your nose to the grindstone, learn and succeed instead; put in the time and effort and you’ll succeed. This is so counter to our culture. We expect to do well if we do our jobs skillfully, but the job of poker involves so many factors outside your control (cards, other people, luck, variance) that it’s not always possible.
Some folks would tell you to play through it; others to get away for a while; others to find something else you enjoy.
I’ll tell you sometimes getting away from the game/job doesn’t help. You might not want to go back. At work, you don’t have this option, but in recreation you do. Remember, intervention is not without consequence.
Instead of going away, analyze what’s happening and then intervene and decide if you’re willing to accept this as part of “poker life.”
If the variance is getting to you, the only thing you can do is get better at accepting variance because it’s part of the game. If you have gone broke, you may decide you don’t want to invest any more money, but then you have take a realistic look at why you were playing.
If you play to make money, then you need to put more at stake. If you’re playing recreationally, you have to decide how much you’re willing to pay for recreation. Maybe all you need to do is decide “How much am I willing to pay for this recreation?” But there’s the rub: Most think they’re going to win. For recreational players, winning is a perk, not the only reason to play. If you’re a recreational player, find the level where the losses won’t affect your desire or ability to play. Here’s hoping you can keep your head in the game.
— Dr. Stephen Bloomfield is a licensed psychologist and avid poker player. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.