What keeps losing poker players coming back?

by PokerAnon ~ May 10th, 2011. Filed under: Gambling, Poker and life, Poker psychology.

What keeps bad players coming back? Or, losing players in general. Why do they keep trying? Why do they keep playing? Why do they keep depositing/buying in?

I think that there are many factors. Some factors overlap and often more than one will be in play for a specific person at any given time.

  1. Fun of playing the game
  2. Social interaction – particularly live home games with friends
  3. Intellectual challenge – more challenging than playing cribbage with friends
  4. Emotional triggers – highs and lows of the game may be more exciting than watching sports or movies for the emotional releases that they provide. Players who seek these triggers may play above their bankroll and skill level because the low stakes games aren’t exciting enough.
  5. Competition triggers – people who love competitive sports may find the competitive aspect of poker attractive
  6. Aggression release – connected to competition triggers. Poker allows plenty of opportunities to express aggression by shoving all-in or by continually betting to pressure players to fold (submit to their aggression).
  7. Lack of understanding of odds combined with selective memory – leads players to think that they are better than they actually are and to undervalue the skill component of the game
  8. Love to gamble / addicted to gambling – odds are not as important as the chance to win big or to hit your hand. For some people the cost of chasing the inside straight eleven times in order to hit once is worth it even if they only win a small pot with the win. The satisfaction of winning and even the excitement of chasing seems to outweigh the costs as the monetary losses pile up.
  9. Trying to win back previous losses
  10. Dreams of big wins – some players who play large field poker tournaments also love to buy lottery tickets for the same reason
  11. Propensity toward gambling combined with stressors in their current life – we all need something to lean on when things are not going well; a drinker will tend to drink more, a gambler will tend to gamble more
  12. Still learning poker – fun plus intellectual challenge, but the beginner may lose for a while
  13. Still adjusting to a higher play level than they were previously at
  14. Trying to earn rewards from other sources – bonuses, rakeback, free rooms/meals at gambling hotels

Some of these reasons apply to winning players as well, like competition triggers, fun of playing, or adjusting to higher play levels. Others, like lack of understanding odds, trying to win back previous losses, or addiction to gambling are detrimental to the makeup of a winning player. I once tried to hang out in a discussion forum for gambling addicts but left because I felt badly. I could ignore the probes that tried to prove to me that since I was there I must have a gambling problem, but everyone else had a real problem which I didn’t have, at least not in the same way. Even though I was honestly there to learn and perhaps gain insights that I might be able to pass along through this blog and other mediums I felt awkward trying to hang out .

There is a much darker tone to some of the reasons than to others. For example, fun and learning sound like good, positive factors. Playing poker because of stress, or because you are seeking aggression release, or because you are trying to win back previous losses have a much darker tone. I know that I’ve tried to “dig myself out of a hole” during a session that starts down, or started a poker session and later noticed that I’m trying to take pots away from players by betting/raising far too often. And I know that sometimes I’ll start playing poker as an escape from an uncomfortable situation or recurring unpleasant thoughts. Usually I’m able to restrict those sessions to playing the cheapest tournaments in order to avoid too much damage to my bankroll. Not every poker player is able to divert themselves out of danger like that though. I’m aware that it still costs me a few dollars in bankroll and some emotional stress in these situations so I can see how someone with less patience or a more tumultuous living situation could be caught in the undertow.


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