Here’s a poker factoid: Downswings are inevitable. There – I’ve said it. Every single poker fan on the planet, from new players just starting out on the quest for masterdom to those fortunate to have arrived at that target destination, nobody can escape downswings. They happen to us all and will continue to do so – the trick is to take these times that make us feel like the poker gods have conspired against us, step aside from the negative and remind ourselves that things will get better. Note that there’s even a clue in the name that should help us put things into perspective – namely the ‘swing’ part! If there’s swing down, then it follows that at some point there’ll be a swing back up. Its just a case of knowing this will indeed happen and the balance will be restored, and not letting poor fortune (or our own poor play) from the past have a detrimental effect on the future. This might – when we feel powerless and vulnerable and our confidence is low – appear to be easier said than done, but that’s a phrase I’ve never really been a fan of because too many use it to excuse themselves from trying, or from feeling sufficiently positive to even try.
Here’s some practical advice to help cope with downswings in a practical, positive way.
Don’t go into your shell!
There’s a natural tendency when it seems nothing is going our way to become so timid and passive, because we’ve had the confidence knocked out of us due to the downswing, that we withdraw so much we approach each new hand with a level of fear that we dare not do anything. When there’s a choice between the tight/safety first option and a course if action that we’re even aware is the right one, we can close up shop and slip into total passivity. Rationality goes out of the window and is replaced by a persistent, pessimistic voice that says something along the lines of ‘Calling might look best, but what if it all goes wrong again? What if they have us beaten? What if their flush draw comes in? Let’s fold this time. Wait until a stone cold certainty comes along’… We’ve all experienced that kind of (very) negative thinking, and apart from being far from easy to shake it off, it’s possible that being laughably, chronically nitty can become such a bad habit that we don’t allow ourselves the chance to climb out of the downswing, and instead our self-sabotage has taken such a strong hold that this ultra negative version of our poker self becomes the new one.
It’s an absolute imperative that we don’t allow fear to cloud our judgement and derail what should have been an effective way to play before the latest downswing reared its ugly head.
We all want to limit our losses. That’s common sense. But we do that by making prudent decisions rather than recklessly throwing our chips away on plays that aren’t justified. But folding where calling is a given, and calling where a raise is screaming out to be made – this failure to play properly because we’re afraid of being stung again is equally reckless. Good poker is predicated on making good decisions, and our decision-making process should be founded on pragmatic choices borne out of level-headed, coherent analysis based on practical considerations. If we let our emotions and fears hijack that process, then we’re effectively holding ourselves to ransom, as well as paying the price! We cant make the proverbial omelette without breaking eggs, and if poker (more than other games and sports) should teach us anything, it’s that we can avoid breaking eggs on our way to making omelettes…
Don’t bet too big
Fear elicited by a downswing can also manifest itself by our being so afraid of losing that, when we have big hands, we bet so big that we might as well announce to the table what cards we’re holding. One of the tricks to good poker is, of course, to win chips from those players willing to invest in hands that are good but not as good as ours. That, of course, does require us to accept that, occasionally, not everything goes to plan, and we will lose hands that we ‘should’ win. C’est la vie, as they say. But the upside is that, over time, we’ll win enough of those hands to more than compensate for the ones that went the ‘wrong’ way. By scaring off potential donors when we’re strong by conspicuously over-betting is a massive mistake, and another very bad habit in the making.
A new dawn, a new day
A good way to help stabilize ourselves mentally by drawing the proverbial and stepping over it, leaving the baggage of the latest downswing behind us, is to treat each new poker session as the brand new one that it is. The slate has been wiped clean, and we’re ready to start a new chapter in our poker adventure. However bad things might have seemed, all of that was in the past, and we’re looking only into the future – a future in which we’ve come prepared, ready to take the downs as much in our stride as we are to avoid letting the ups go to our heads.
The more we appreciate now – away from the tables – how our negativity and all its implications can cause more damage (especially in the long term) than the downswing that prompts it, the less likely we are to succumb to such pessimism and irrationality when we’re next unfortunate enough to suffer a run of bad fortune.
Good luck at the tables!