Avoiding Burnouts in Poker
Nov 25, 2005  
2005 Jason Kirk  

Few things can be as dangerous to a serious poker player as burnout. The key to building a bankroll over time is to play a high volume of hands, and hitting burnout makes accomplishing that goal much more difficult than it ought to be. It's important to know the warning signs of burnout because it often reveals itself slowly and subtly. Picking up on it early can save a substantial portion of your bankroll from disappearing in the blink of an eye. If you familiarize yourself with these warning signs of poker burnout you'll be much more likely to recognize it when it eventually rolls around.

1.) Results-oriented thinking

Results in poker are important as a way of gauging how we're playing. After all, if we're losing every time we play A-A we must be doing something wrong. Noticing such poor results is the first step to taking corrective action, but noticing a hole in your game and fixing it is fundamentally different than being focused solely on the results of your play. If you find yourself upset with every opponent who draws out on you, or if you find that yourself unhappy with any session where you're a net loser, you're focusing only on the results of your play. It's very important to re-orient yourself before playing many more sessions. Remember that poker is a game of decisions - if you concentrate on making proper decisions rather than the results of those decisions you will play better and maintain a healthier state of mind.

2.) Determination to get even

A typical characteristic of someone who's thinking solely about his results is a determination to leave every session even. This is a particularly dangerous way of thinking if you're even remotely concerned about the health of your bankroll, because any loss as you get close to being even will only send you further down the spiral. It's important to always remember that poker is "one long session" - the long run may be a mythical point no one ever reaches, but each session brings us closer to it. Your results in one particular hour don't matter as much as your results in one particular year, and the results in a particular year don't matter as much as your results in a particular decade. If you can keep this perspective it will be hard to be concerned with getting even, and avoiding burnout will be an easier task.

3.) Ignoring odds

Solid players who have reached burnout but have yet to realize their newfound affliction are often guilty of chasing draws without paying any attention to their odds. The reason for this is simple: any draw to a big hand looks tantalizing to someone who is in the midst of burnout. Variance can do funny things to even the best poker players, and convincing them to ignore definitely falls within this range. If you find yourself continually chasing weak draws in small pots it might be time to step away from the tables for a bit and re-orient yourself. Chasing too many draws is one of the holes that can sink your game faster than any other. If you absolutely have to keep playing when burned out, find an odds chart for filling your draws and keep it handy - at least you'll plug the biggest hole while you try to dig your way out of your hole.

4.) Obsession with statistics

In one way statistics in poker are much like statistics in baseball - they can describe a game to us in intimate detail, and give us a sense of where any particular session stands in relation to the big picture. But when burnout rears its ugly head, statistics can quickly become an unhealthy obsession. You'll find it impossible to stop thinking about the fact that your aces have been cracked by junk hands 6 of the last 10 times you've held them, you'll lament that every 18-outer you've held in the last two months has failed to get there, and you'll wonder why horrible players crack your big hands instead of being happy that they called you down before hitting their miracle river cards. The statistics obsession is one of the most dangerous symptoms of burnout because it's self-perpetuating. The best thing to do - although it's one of the most difficult - is just to step away from the tables once you hit this point. Come back when nightmares of being at the tables stop, and you'll play a much better game.

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