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Losing Streaks in Gambling – Embracing the Suck

| February 20, 2019 12:00 am PDT
Losing Streaks in Gambling

No gambler has ever gambled who hasn’t lost at some point.

And no gambler who ever gambled has not also had periods of time, sometimes lengthy periods of time, where winning didn’t even seem like a possibility.

That’s life, we tell ourselves.

Still, for some of us, it’s like eating at a Chinese restaurant and discovering your cookie has no fortune.

It is an abomination. It goes against everything we know about ourselves and how smart and skilled and very, very lucky we are.

Sure, we’ve seen others with this malady. We may even have felt something akin to pity for these poor fools who never seem to win. We call them losers and coolers and move away from them on the instinctual suspicion that what they have is contagious.

What if it is contagious? What if it’s like girl cooties in third grade, which—if you caught them—you could never rid yourself of them? Ewwww.

Losing a Losing Streak

Let’s face it. Losing sucks. We expect it to happen occasionally—just often enough that we can show what a good sport we are about the whole thing.

But every loss affects us, and with each successive loss, we begin to seethe with anger and confusion while searching for something or someone to blame. That guy who beat us with that freaking runner-runner gutshot straight, for example.

Or the slot machine that, despite the hundreds of dollars we have sunk into it, refuses to pay off. It’s obvious the casino has that one rigged. There oughtta be a law.

Our brains are hardwired to recognize patterns. This is a good thing. Sure, it can be fun to arrive at the correct conclusion based on incomplete data (the very purpose for pattern-recognition), but it can also give us plenty of false positives, such as it often does when it comes to gambling.

“They can’t get lucky forever,” we mutter as we post our blinds for the next round of hold’em. “This slot’s bound to hit soon,” we say, reloading—for the bonus, we tell ourselves, just for the bonus.

If the streak goes on long enough, however, some (but not all) of us will arrive at the same simple-but-true conclusion: I lost because I bet, and I continued to lose because I continued to bet.

This is a harder conclusion to reach if you play mostly skill games such as poker. You know the odds. You know your outs. You even know the outs your opponent has for the hand you strongly suspect he has.

Sure, you know about luck, but you call it variance, and this allows you to pretend luck doesn’t exist except as a mathematical construct.

There is a difference, of course. Variance is bloodless, cold, logical. Luck is redolent of worry beads and burning joss sticks and just might be a bit mystical. Luck is emotional, swinging wildly between surprised joy and abysmal depression.

Luck, in the final analysis, is no lady—assuming for the moment that ladies are not bipolar heiresses who carry a switchblade in their boot.

Luck exists, my friend. Oh yes. Just ask that idiot who matched your all-in and filled that runner-runner gutshot straight. He won’t be blessing his “variance.”

Tip #1: It’s “Follow the Money” Not “Chase the Money”

Gambling lessons are expensive enough without adding the lagniappe required during an attempt to end a losing streak.

Throwing money at a losing streak is like treating measles with mumps. It’s not gonna work, and the most likely outcome is that you will then have measles AND mumps.

A wise man once said this.

“The key to winning at gambling is minimizing your losses.”

What he meant, of course, is that you typically have little control over most of the aspects of a gambling situation. You may choose to call or to fold. You may choose to draw more cards or stand pat. You may choose to bet it all or bet the minimum allowed.

Winning happens, and so does losing. Recognize the losing streak for what it is, and as quickly as you can, adjust your play accordingly.

Bet less. In some cases, stop betting completely. Perhaps you were meant to win tomorrow, or the next day, but not until then. Why waste time and money you can spend more effectively elsewhere?

Your winning streak might just be there, right where you left it, when you get back.

Tip #2: Hate the Game, Not the Player

That idiot with the gutshot insane odds runner-runner win, the one who bumped you off the final table at the local hold’em tournament?

He’s just an average Joe like you (although he could stand to cut back on the Axe body spray, know what I’m sayin’?). Yes, he made a bad call (okay, it was a stupid call), and unfortunately for you, his bad call turned into a winning hand.

Sure, you could stalk the guy for months, cataloging his every habit, inventorying his relatives and associates, until entire walls in your apartment are covered with pictures and drawings and maps—all covered with circles and arrows, and all held up with sharp objects like knives and scissors stabbed into them, you know, to keep them from falling.

But trust me on this, that whole scenario is not gonna work out the way you meticulously planned.

Tip #3: Remember That Chance Is Neutral

According to some wise guy, “This, too, shall pass.” What he meant was everything about life is ephemeral, ever-changing, and the only thing absolutely true about whatever your present circumstances are is that they will change with time.

Call it luck, fate, or joss, or whatever—chance happens.

Sometimes it’s heads, sometimes it’s tails, and sometimes the damn vending machine just takes your quarter and refuses to give you that Zagnut you wanted.

Ah, well. Sic transit gloria mundi, amirite?

Tip #4: It’s Okay to Rest on Your Laurels

Our past victories are never so sweet that they can’t be obliterated by a long losing streak—but why is that?

You won before, perhaps decidedly so. Why should you ignore that? Perhaps it was luck, perhaps it was skill, but in all cases, your winnings were real. And they were spectacular (go with me on this one).

Let’s meditate on that for a while. When we lose, we tend to spend hours, maybe days or even longer, pondering and examining each and every aspect of our losses, hoping to find a reason (or an excuse) for those losses.

So why don’t we spend the same amount of time looking for reasons (or justifications) for our winnings?

You won at hold’em because you spent the time and effort to learn about odds and how to read people. You won at slots because you found the machines with the highest probability of payouts and played those carefully and exclusively.

You won at video poker because you chose the game with the best pay tables, and then played every hand flawlessly.

You studied baccarat until you played it successfully enough to buy that white dinner jacket you’ve had your eye on, and now just look at you, standing there with an urbane smirk on your face as you sip from your shaken-not-stirred martini, you magnificent bastard—

I took it a little too far, didn’t I?

Still, you get the point. You should spend more time patting yourself on the back for your successes. Not in a bragging way, but more in quiet recognition that you have succeeded in the past. That makes it much easier to realize that you will succeed again in the future.

Tip #5: Stop Telling Everybody Why You Think You Lost

Sorry to break this to you, but nobody cares. They’re just being polite. And you’re probably not correct in your reasoning, anyway.

Why else do you keep telling people the same story? You’re looking for affirmation, aren’t you? You’re looking for validation that your explanation is the correct one.

Who knows? Maybe it is. But it’s boring, just the same. If nothing else, think of your poor wife. She’s heard that story 57 times already. Trust me. She would love you even more if you would just shut your piehole.

Tip #6: The Money Hum

No, not the Wolf of Wall Street money hum. I’m talking about the original money hum: “om mani padme om.”

On second thought, sure, why not? Go ahead. If humming music from movies helps you attain peace and harmony with your current losing streak, you’re doing it right. Never mind what I said about that jewel-in-the-lotus gobbledygook. It didn’t work out all that well for Randy Quaid, anyway.

However you do it, this is an important, final step: Embracing the Suck.

A losing streak is just that, a streak. Other types of streaks include blue, naked, and winning. None of them lasts long and frequently provide only limited happiness.

Enjoy each as much as you can, and don’t dwell on those that you cannot.

You Have Begun to Learn, Grasshopper

It’s actually kind of surprising, at first, to discover that some things you thought were incredibly important or immutable are, in fact, often insignificant and ephemeral.

Unless you are a professional gambler, the game you enjoy is entertainment. Lucrative entertainment, yes, it can certainly be that, but it really is entertainment.

And like all forms of entertainment, it’s best to leave while you still want more.

Everybody loves the Grateful Dead (go with me on this one, too), but listening to a Dead concert that lasts 48 hours would have you bleeding from the ears and secretly considering ways to smother them in their sleep. And not just the Grateful Dead, either. At that point, you’d probably be happy to do the whole village, man.


The losing streak I’ve been discussing in this article refers to a lengthy succession of losses, the sort that happens to major league ball clubs and video poker players alike.

I’m not talking about the sort of streak that results in losing your car, your house, your family… well, you get the idea. That’s not a losing streak. That’s a problem. An addiction, in fact. If you are experiencing this second sort of “losing streak,” well, this article isn’t going to be enough.

Winning and losing are part of life, but gambling should never be more than just a part of it. If gambling has taken a larger role in your life than it should (and losing your house, for example, would indicate that it has), please seek help from one of the many organizations like Gamblers Anonymous that exists because—let’s face it—everybody needs a little help every now and then.

J.W. Paine
J.W. Paine

J.W. Paine is one of the most experienced writers at GamblingSites.com. He's written for television and the printed media, and is a published novelist (as Tom Elliott).

Paine loves writing about Las Vegas nearly as much he loves living here. An experienced gambler, he's especially familiar with thoroughbred horseracing, poker, blackjack, and slots.

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