How To Deal With A Downswing

Dealing with the highs can be tough: there’s no knowing what to do with your score; your adrenaline. There’s the chance that no matter how much you win, it will never be enough. But the lows can be tougher, and it’s hard not to let a downswing get the better of you. 


In theory, it may seem nice to always be riding high. To be winning big. To be the master of fortune, and so on. In reality, lows are a necessity of life, and by extension, they're a necessity of poker. In fact, considering poker is an amped up microcosm of life, arguably, some of the delirious highs and crippling lows are most apparent at the tables.

Dealing with the highs can be tough: there’s no knowing what to do with your score; your adrenaline. There’s the chance that no matter how much you win, it will never be enough. But the lows can be tougher, and it’s hard not to let a downswing get the better of us. 

Every hand you play is part of the giant session of life. Whether you win it or lose, this one single incident is not going to make or break you. Subsequently, your decisions in your hand should not be based on whether you're winning or losing: you play to the cards, your stack, your opponents, the game flow, your position and to the best of your ability. 

Same goes for each session, each week or each month. Sure, your winning should outweigh your losing over the course of a couple years, but just like you'll see huge, successful companies experience downswings and massive variance over the course of days, weeks and months, so will successful poker players. The ONLY way how whether you're winning or losing will impact how you play is when you consider how your opponents may react to thinking you’re winning or losing. They will often use different strategy for a player they think is on a winning streak (more tight/more passive) as opposed to one they think is on a losing streak (more aggressive/a little looser). 

Stop Looking at the Graph

Poker software can magnify the highs and lows, since the graphs give us a stark visualization of just how well (or poorly) we've run. It's important not to put too much stock in these features, since while they serve a purpose, it’s easy to get caught up in details instead of looking at the big picture. Think of poker software as a scale to someone who is trying to lose weight: it is a good overall measuring tool, but you don't want to be getting on that sucker every day (or even every week). Weight, like poker, can be volatile and a few pounds can be gained or lost for no tangible reason and this could lead us to over or underestimate the value of our recent efforts. But if you only weigh yourself every month or so, you're far more likely to see (and be inspired by) real results.

If you look at the poker software graph and expect yourself to be at the top all the time, you're going to be living with a lot of disappointment. That's not the way it works. Variance is a bitch, and the graph will not really reflect how you're playing. So don't look at it, or look at it less frequently, and if you can't stop looking for hard visuals, look at your Poker Tracker number since it will affect you less emotionally; numbers being less influential than pictures. 
But again, it's better not to check your Hold'em Manager or Poker Tracker during your session, since it will probably impact the way you play. If you see that you're stuck, you're going to grind to get out and most likely take some unnecessary risks. If it looks like you're winning a lot, on the other hand, you could also get reckless. Same poor behaviour for different reasons. You will react to it. I don't say this much (if ever), but in this situation, your ignorance is bliss. 

Don't Look at Wins/Loses

You can also filter out ‘won or lost’ from your tracking software and look at results that may be more indicative of how you're playing. Just because it's in your default setting doesn't mean you have to keep wins and losses. 

Same goes for looking at your win rate or hourly rate. Being this results-oriented early in your career is not good for business. Of course, if you're not someone who is affected by these stats, then by all means, check 'em out, but if you are someone who plays worse when you're losing and/or different when you're winning, then I suggest experimenting with not looking at your bankroll or dollar results for a full week, and seeing what happens. Hell, you can do it for a month. As long as you have enough in your account to cover what you want to play and you're not taking shots, and as long as you're working in your bankroll limit, then knowing exactly where you stand isn't that important. Ignore the dollars and focus on making good decisions. This is what will have you playing better at the table. Stay confident. If you're doing well consistently over many hands, there's a reason for that. Don't let a bump in the road throw you off course. 

Whether you're winning or losing doesn't determine how good you are at playing the game

So next time you sit at the table after having a small loss, take a moment, take a few deep breaths, and ask yourself if you're making good decisions. If the answer is yes, then ignore the meaningless static that's your fear and play on. If the answer is no, stop your session and ask yourself why you're making poor decisions. Then fix it. Saw a downswing in your graph that threw your off? Don't look at your graph. Have problems handling loss? Remember that's part of the game and as long as the wins are bigger than the losses, you're doing solid work. 

If you could make good decisions in the past, you'll be able to make them again in the future. Remind yourself of this and you'll be unfazed and unstoppable, regardless of a downswing.

Photo Credit: Nicki Dugan Pogue | Flickr