Handle a downswing

It’s a fact of poker life that a so-called downswing – when it seems that everything that can go wrong does go wrong, and for a prolonged period of time – can bring down even the best, most experienced players. There is no accounting for when a downswing will appear, nor for how long it will last. We don’t have a magic remedy, but we can contemplate such a scenario beforehand with a view to handling the situation as well as possible when it does happen. Not only do many players fail to do this, but it’s easy to make matters even worse. In this article we discuss the five most common mistakes to avoid.

We have no influence whatsoever on the cards dealt, nor on whatever the poker gods have in store for us. We must simply accept things as they are, and that just as we’ll experience bad fortune, so is good luck also waiting in the wings, too. Everyone gets their fair share of both over time, it’s just a pain when there’s a period during which all that seems to come our way is bad luck. That’s variance.

However, what we can (or, importantly – should) control is the our attitude when faced with a downswing, and the decisions we subsequently make. How to properly deal with this unpleasant situation in online poker is actually quite simple – at least in theory. No matter if we experience a downswing or a fortunate upswing, it must never influence our decision-making process. We must continue to adhere to what should be our sound strategy, make the same solid, logical decisions that have promised the most positive possible expectancy thus far and which, in the long-run, will lead to profit. It’s an absolute must that we remain steadfast and true to the overall cause, and not change our game.

Avoid the domino effect

A downswing can often take a long time. It is completely up to us whether we are able to put things in  perspective, successfully contain the problem and avoid compounding it and prolonging and worsening the nightmare.

During a downswing many players go through the following phases:

  • The downswing gnaws at the mindset and leads to depression.
  • Because of this, we do not play our A-Game because we’re simply not free to concentrate properly.
  • Our results deteriorate unnecessarily.
  • We begin to doubt our own game and change it unconsciously (it doesn’t need changing!).
  • Our win rate shrinks, thus increasing the likelihood of further poor results.

What often happens is that the bad run continues and we leave ourselves at the mercy of two possible outcomes: we survive the downswing intact, and possibly even manage to get into an upswing, or we go broke. It’s probably best to make sure we avoid the latter(!), and to increase our chance of success it’s important to have a clear mind. This is easier said than done, because we are all human and nobody likes to keep losing. But discipline and a healthy frame of mind are essential in poker.

Realistic win rates and bankroll management

A realistic attitude towards both our win rates and bankroll management is a must.

It’s easy to get carried away after a couple of extra big wins in recent sessions, and then let ourselves think that we’re doing better than we actually are. It’s tempting in that situation to want to create a new, more impressive win rate, perhaps by deleting from our sample earlier sessions or chunks of hands where we didn’t do so well. But this kind of creating accounting is good for no more than inflating our ego, and runs the risk of fooling ourselves into thinking that we’ll keep having big wins, thus setting ourselves up for disappointment, or, worse, we might feel justified in stepping up a level or two. Neither is healthy, and both leave us either ill-prepared to deal with the inevitable reversal of fortune, or even more likely to create one! Beginners and inexperienced players tend to often make this kind of fundamental mistake when experiencing a good run which, unfortunately, can lead to an early downfall.

Prudent bankroll management is the basis for long-term success. Many players wonder at the beginning of their poker quest why such a conservative BRM is recommended, and this question then answers itself as soon as the first downswing arrives. Solid bankroll management is also good in terms of being able to play with a relaxed mindset. It’s far better psychologically to sit down with the security of knowing we have a cushion of 60-70 buy-ins than if we were down to 20, for example. The smaller the bankroll the greater the internal pressure.

Be prepared!

Dealing with a downswing is much more palatable if we’re already aware if its potential implications. Even taking the time to read these words and contemplate what is one of the worst aspects of poker is going to be a big help because it avoids having to essentially re-invent the wheel by having to cope from scratch when we do experience a terrible run of results. Even the best players in the world are not immune, and skill at the tables is quite different from being able to cope mentally when luck keeps going against us. The right kind of philosophical, positive mindset is key.

And this state of mind should promote an attitude to the game in which the word ‘downswing’ in itself is not part of our vocabulary; rather our thought process should be something along the lines of we’ve been running way below average expectancy lately.

In conclusion, downswings happen, but that doesn’t mean that catastrophically bad things will follow. The reality is that this is a phase during which an above average number of hands have turned out worse than expected. That’s variance! We should accept that it’s part of poker, stick to the gameplan and continue to make decisions that have a long-term positive expectation. Variance will recover at some point, so it’s a matter of weathering the storm with minimal damage, and not compounding the problem by failing to keep things in perspective.

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Daniel Berger

Hi Guys, I am Daniel the chief content manager of YourPokerDream.
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The last changes of the page “How to Handle a Downswing” was made by Daniel Berger on December 14, 2020