Poker Strategy: Understanding the Inevitable Downswing is Half the Battle

Jason Lake

Monday, March 2, 2015 10:08 PM GMT

Monday, Mar. 2, 2015 10:08 PM GMT

No matter how good you are at poker, you’re going to go through periods where you’re losing money. Knowing this ahead of time is half the battle. Your overall poker strategy needs to deal with the other half, too.

About a year ago in this space, I talked about some basic concepts for tilt management that can be applied as part of your poker strategy. If you haven’t had a chance to read that article yet, please do. It’ll prepare you for this piece about dealing with downswings. And you’ll get a dose of Mr. Spock at his finest; everyone here at the home office would like to pay homage to the late, great Leonard Nimoy.

For those of you who prefer the Coles Notes version, I talked about the need to prevent your emotions from affecting your decision-making process. While it’s impossible (and undesirable) to completely separate emotion from your game, if you combine sound poker logic with good physical health, you can minimize the number of mistakes you make at the table. That’s tilt management in a nutshell. But what about more specific situations – like the inevitable downswings we all go through?

 

Analyze This
Let’s start at the beginning, with logic. Even if you have an optimal poker strategy, and you apply it with absolute precision, you’re going to lose a lot of poker hands along the way. The distribution of those losing hands will not be smooth; sometimes you’ll “run good” and win almost every time, sometimes you’ll “run bad” and your opponents will win almost every time. It is what it is.

Embracing this truth is vital, but it’s not enough. You can’t just shrug your shoulders when you’re on a losing streak, chalk it up to running bad, and keep doing what you’re doing. That’s because your own personal poker strategy is not optimal, and you’re not absolutely precise in applying it. Are you aware of the mistakes you’re making at the table? Do you use software to analyze your hands? How about coaching, or poker forums like the ones here at SBR? This is something you should do even when you’re on a heater, but it’s even more important to improve your game and increase your win rate when you’re running bad.

 

Large and in Charge
The other part of the solution is time – or more specifically, volume. If your poker strategy’s a good one, you’ll be a winning player in the long run, which means over a large sample size of hands. How large? Infinitely large, if you want 100-percent certitude. Otherwise, there’s always a risk of ruin when you play poker. We talked about this last summer in another article about variance.

In order to ensure you get to play as many hands as possible without going busto, not only do you need to keep improving your poker strategy, you also have to exercise proper bankroll management and game selection. Plenty has been written about the bankroll side of things. Game selection is a bit more subtle, but if you’ve had good coaching up to this point, the idea will have been drilled into your head by now: Most of your profit at the table comes from weaker players than you. Are you letting your bankroll bleed out because you’re butting heads with the best of the best? Don’t let pride cloud your judgment – play softer games in times of need.

Taking these positive steps, however incremental some of them may be, will minimize the amount of time you spend in a downswing. I can’t stress enough the importance of action, and taking charge. That’s the great thing about poker: You may not have ultimate control over the results, but you are given the power to do exactly as you see fit. The coach isn’t going to leave you at the end of the bench. Your teammates aren’t going to hog the ball. The referee isn’t going to “T” you up because he doesn’t like your cornrows. You are in charge, but only if you take charge.

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