Why Poker Losses Upset Us More Than Wins Make Us Happy

PBC Project
03 Jul 2024
03 Jul 2024

Upswings and downswings are inevitable in the career of any poker player.

However, while an upswing is often taken for granted, a downswing triggers much stronger emotions and distress. Why does this happen?

This can be explained by a concept known as "loss aversion" or the "loss effect," a term popularized by Daniel Kahneman in his book Thinking, Fast and Slow

The main idea is that people tend to feel losses more intensely than gains of the same size.

Reasons for Loss Aversion

Evolutionary Reasons

In the course of evolution, survival and safety were more important than potential gains. Losing resources could lead to a threat to life, so people became more sensitive to losses.

For example, losing fire or weapons often meant death, while an extra mammoth, when food was already available, was seen merely as a bonus, especially in the absence of refrigeration and preservation methods.

Psychological Reasons

Losses can threaten our sense of control and security.

We react more strongly to events that we perceive as threats to our resources or well-being.

Loss Aversion in Poker

In poker, loss aversion is particularly vivid, as players often face situations where they have to make decisions under pressure and uncertainty. This can manifest in several ways:

  • Cautious Play: Players may become overly cautious, avoiding profitable situations because they fear potential losses.
  • Aggressive Play to Recover Losses: Conversely, some players react by playing more aggressively to recover their losses, which can lead to even greater losses.
  • Emotional Responses: Strong emotions such as disappointment, anger, or despair can hinder rational thinking, leading to impulsive decisions.
  • Perception of Losses and Wins: Players often overestimate their losses and underestimate their wins, resulting in unwarranted pessimism and decreased self-confidence.
  • Reliance on Luck: After a series of losses, some players start relying on luck, hoping that fortune will eventually turn in their favor, which is not a sustainable strategy.

How to Handle Loss Aversion in Poker

  1. Stick to Your Strategy: Maintain your game plan even during tough times.
  2. Be Aware of Your Emotions: Recognize and document how you feel during games. This awareness can help you stay objective and avoid emotional decisions.
  3. Follow Bankroll Management: Adhere strictly to your financial plan for playing. Proper bankroll management not only prevents you from going broke but also reduces stress.
  4. Analyze Your Game Regularly: Identify moments when decisions were influenced by loss aversion and adjust your strategy accordingly.
  5. Develop Psychological Resilience: Techniques like meditation or relaxation can help manage emotions and make balanced decisions. Building resilience can help you handle the ups and downs of the game more effectively.

Understanding and mitigating the effects of loss aversion can significantly improve your performance and mental well-being in poker, helping you maintain a more balanced and effective approach to the game.

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