Thursday, July 31, 2014

Slow Losing Poker Sessions - Here is How to Make Sense of Them

Understanding Slow Losing Poker Sessions
We've all been there. They happen quite frequently even to the biggest winners especially at any stakes above NL10. They are those slow losing poker sessions where you can't quite put your finger on exactly what went wrong. It is not as if you ran into a bunch of coolers or bad beats all at once. That is something that I call a "hell session" where you simply cannot win a hand to save your life. They also seem to have the nuts every time. No, it was just a slow decline. You actually thought that you played pretty well. However, when all was said and done you were a couple buyins worse the wear.

Making sense of these sessions is difficult especially for newer players. It is also hard for people who have marginal or negative winrates because they will happen very, very frequently to them. It is important to realize though that these sessions are a natural occurrence for everybody who plays poker. They are part of the variance that comes with playing this game. The key is to make sure that they were unavoidable and you were not the problem.

The Most Important Stat

The first stat that I always look at when analyzing a slow losing session like this is WSD (W$SD% for HM2 users). In more precise terms this refers to the percentage of the time that you won money (the pot) when you went to showdown. In Pokertracker 4 this stat should already be added by default. The same goes for any other poker tracking program. If it is not, then add it right away.

Most winning players have a WSD that hovers somewhere between the high 40's and the mid 50's (if your WSD is significantly outside of this range then there might be some deeper fundamental issues with your game). If you had a slow losing session then it is likely that you will be in the mid or low 40's. Anywhere below this (in the 30's for instance) is definitely a hell session.

The difference between a winning and losing session can often be a very fine line. Often it will boil down to just a few key pots. However the cumulative effect of losing just 5% or 10% less often at showdown than you normally do can easily make the difference as well.

Win/Loss Ratio of Medium Sized Pots

As I talked about in a post earlier this year about how to conduct a session review it is easy to filter for pots between a certain size in PT or HEM. Again, in these small losing sessions it is assumed that the big pots (you stacked someone or they stacked you) roughly even out. So I want to know what happened in a bunch of smaller pots of roughly 30bb-100bb in size.

Most winning players over the long haul should have a decided advantage in winning versus losing pots of this size. In a slow losing session though you will likely have quite a few more than normal in the losing category. It is key that you examine the losing hands carefully and make sure that the reason you lost them was outside of your control.

As I talk about near the end of Modern Small Stakes there are a number of key questions that you should be asking yourself when reviewing these hands.

  • Could I have won this pot with a different line?
  • Did I correctly make use of all the HUD data that I had on my opponent at the time? (i.e. imbalances that can be exploited)
  • Did I put my opponent on a correct range based on the action in the hand and the player type?

If you are satisfied that in the majority of these hands that there is no better way that you could have played it, then you just have to move on and accept the results. If not then this is the time to note the mistakes that you made and make adjustments in the future.

The Long Run is Long

As we know winning poker is just a series of good decisions made over the long run. At limits above NL10 where the winrates for most long term winning players are typically not above 5bb/100 a sizeable number of your sessions are going to end negatively even if you did everything right. It is important to understand that this is simply a reality in today's games.

As long as you are confident that you made good decisions most of the time (nobody is perfect) then you have nothing to worry about. I often don't even bother reviewing these types of sessions anymore. The WSD stat usually tells me everything that I need to know. But for newer or struggling players it is a good idea to review your medium sized losing pots frequently. This is often where the difference between winning and losing players is found.

Anybody can stack someone with a set when their opponent has an overpair. Everybody goes broke when they run KK into AA. These pots play themselves. You need to make sure that you are doing everything in your power to win the pots when nobody has anything (or at least anything very good). Everything else is just a part of the natural cycle of variance in this game that we all go through.

How do you approach slow losing poker sessions?

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Nathan Williams aka "BlackRain79" is a poker player, coach, DragTheBar instructor and the author of Crushing the Microstakes and Modern Small Stakes.

8 comments:

  1. Hi I bought your first book but I do not speak Spanish by English translations alespaƱol for when your second book? '

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  2. Hi,

    I don't have any plans right now to do any translations for Modern Small Stakes. It is possible in the future but it will be many months away at least.

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  3. hey BlackRain ,
    I use Hold'em manager 2 and I think the same stat you are talking about in holdem is W$SD% .

    I have one curious question, I recently started looking at it, I didn't used it until today.
    I play at NL2 and NL4 . The funny part is today after a session I had W$SD% = 30 for NL4 in 823 hands and W$SD% = 50 for 1200 hands at NL2 .
    I don't get it, why is the difference so big ? Also I had a winning session .

    I think it has to do something with the size of the sample overall.
    If I look at my play on a sample of 60k hands mixed at NL2/NL4/NL6 I have a W$SD % of 47% .

    What do you think ? It has to do something with the sample ? Or I am just a very bad player at NL4 ?

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    1. Ya I think thats what they call it in HM2. Thanks, I have edited the blog post to include it. It has to do with the sample and the fact that you probably ran fairly bad in that NL4 session.

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    2. You are saying that I probably ran fairly bad in NL4 session in terms of how I play or if it's a winning session or not ? ... because the wierd part is it was a winning session... yet I had a very low W$SD ...

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    3. Running bad refers to not being able to win many pots, getting coolered, bad beat etc. It is possible to have a low WSD and have a winning session by losing a lot of small pots but winning a couple big ones.

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  4. I just finished with my today's session and I had a hell session I made a commit with myself that i can't see my result until 30 day after but I felt that my today's session was bad then I remembered this post and I chcked my w$sd% it was 23.5 is it a hell session?

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    Replies
    1. Yes 23.5% is insanely low. Most people's long term W$SD% is in the low 50's. You probably had one of those sessions where there is just nothing you can do except try to lose the least.

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