So how can you pull yourself out of a never ending poker downswing and at least save your sanity? Well, unfortunately we don't always have control over the short term luck factor in this game.
However, there are several ways to at least help yourself handle these tough stretches better and not lose your mind along with your bankroll.
Here are my top 7 methods to get yourself out of a poker slump.
1. Tight Up Your Poker Game
While tightening up might sound fairly obvious in theory, I think from experience most people don't actually do this when they are running bad. In fact often if they are on tilt, they will do just the opposite.
The biggest reason why it is better to play less hands during rough stretches in poker is that you are often not playing at your best. You might not be on tilt, but you aren't thinking 100% clearly and your confidence is almost certainly low.
So this isn't the time to be pushing every small edge. This is the time where it is ok to pass up on small equity advantages in order to preserve your sanity and maintain your focus at the poker tables.
A lot of people will call this last statement blasphemy. You have to push every tiny edge in this game even if it is just 50.1%, they will tell you.
I disagree with this though because it ignores the fact that we are human beings playing this game, not cold number crunching machines which do not tilt.
If avoiding a few coinflips that might set you off to a path of destructive tilt means giving up a tiny bit of marginal equity, then so be it.
The bottom line is don't try to be a hero when nothing is going your way at the poker tables. Tighten up, go into a bit of a shell even. And don't be afraid to even pass up on a few small edges in order to prevent huge amounts of tilt.
2. Lower the Stakes
Another method that might seem obvious is to simply lower the stakes. A lot of people once again in my experience though don't actually do this when they should.
Possibly it is because some people view this as a sign of defeat or resignation. And as a highly competitive person I totally get that.
Ego sometimes needs to take a back seat in this game though. You do not have to follow any kind of rigid structure for what limits you decide to play.
The only thing that matters is that you are playing within your bankroll.
So during a rough period in poker when I can't seem to win a hand I will often choose to just lower the stakes for the day in order to play against weaker competition and try and regain some of my confidence back.
I might choose to play again at my regular stakes the next day regardless of the results. But what this temporary drop in limits accomplishes is two things:
- Better chance of "booking a win"
- Keeps me playing
Even though poker is a long term game and the results of individual sessions do not matter, there still is a psychological impact that is very difficult to avoid.
Sometimes just a simple winning session can do wonders for your confidence. And this is more likely to happen at lower stakes versus weaker competition.
The other benefit of temporarily lowering the stakes is that (at least for me), it makes me more likely to play. It requires less effort to get going and there is less thinking involved against the lower stakes opponents.
As I talk about all the time, it is very important to be consistent with playing and also studying the game. I would rather put in a few hands at some lower stakes than not play at all.
3. Play a Different Format
One of my favorite distraction techniques during a downswing has long been to simply play another format.
This could mean anything from playing some MTTs, SNGs, Omaha or even Stud. Some of these games I can't really say I am much of an expert in. I might not even have an edge at all. But this is why I play at the lower stakes against weak competition.
The real key here though is that I completely switch it up and just bring the fun factor back to the game. You know, the whole reason that we all started playing this silly card game in the first place!
Also, for me, getting away from the cash game grind for awhile and playing some tournaments for example definitely aids in this because of the chance of hitting a big score and the excitement of a possible deep run.
I actually really love the 180 man tournaments that Pokerstars created many years ago because they are kind of in the middle between an SNG and an MTT.
The reason I don't play big multi-table tournaments all that often is because I don't want to be chained to my chair all day.
However, these 180 mans usually finish in 2 hours at the most. And they also have enough people in them that there is a decent score for hitting the top 3.
The bottom line is that if things aren't going well in your regular games, play something totally different for awhile. This is a great way to get your mind off of things and just have some fun again.
4. Write About Poker
This might not work for everybody but I often found in the past that simply putting my thoughts down on a blog like this one (or even on paper if you are old school) can be helpful.
That is in fact why I originally started writing this thing some 8 years ago. It was my own personal journal to record my thoughts and keep track of my goals.
This allowed me to gain a better perspective on things during rough stretches and sometimes get some encouraging words from others who have been through a similar rough stretch.
You definitely don't need to write a novel every time or feel obligated to write every day or even week. But sometimes the simple act of calmly recollecting your thoughts and getting some feedback from others can be useful.
There are tons of totally free blogging tools out there from Blogger to Tumblr, Wordpress and so on. You simply type something and then hit the publish button. It couldn't be any easier.
If you take poker seriously, then I recommend blogging even just as a way to keep track of your goals in this game.
5. Hire a Poker Coach
Getting a coach in poker is another one of those things that isn't for everybody. However, sometimes the simple act of getting an outside perspective from an experienced winning player can be helpful during a rough stretch.
The reason why is that during a downswing we are often not thinking or playing at our best abilities. A calm and cool outside perspective is sometimes needed in order to know if you are simply getting unlucky or actually playing bad.
Because this is a fine line that we walk during a bad run like this. In my experience even the very best players play bad during a rough stretch. We just like to think that it is all bad luck.
So getting an outside perspective can be helpful with this. Hiring a coach can just be a one time thing as well. You can view it like a paid session review.
Another free option is to simply ask one of your poker friends (who is hopefully a winning player) to help you go over some hands. You could return the favor for them some time when they are running bad.
The bottom line is that when you are in a poker slump, get an outside perspective to look over your play. You want to make sure that it really is bad luck that is keeping you from winning and not bad play.
6. Review Your Poker Sessions
You can also review your poker sessions yourself. The most important thing is to do this when you are calm and relaxed and not still stressed out from another bad session.
This is why when I am in a bad downswing I prefer to simply shut the computer off for the rest of the day and go do something totally different.
Then, on the next day, prior to my next session I will review the hands from the previous day. I will be focusing mostly on the big and medium sized pots that I lost.
Once again I want to make sure that it was bad luck and not bad play that kept me from winning them. The great thing about modern tracking software like Pokertracker is that you can instantly see the equity (or odds) involved.
As long as you had the edge when the majority of the money went in the middle, then you don't need to worry about anything. If you are getting all the chips in with the worst of it though on a regular basis, then there might be cause for concern.
7. Take a Break
Sometimes when things have been going badly at the tables for a long time it is simply better to just not play at all.
I know for me, when I am running bad for weeks on end my fuse becomes shorter and shorter at the tables. It might only take a couple bad beats to set me off.
Most poker players also have big drops in their confidence during these bad stretches and a hopeless feeling at the tables. If you find yourself in this state, then it might actually be more profitable for you NOT to play the game!
Getting outside and getting some fresh air can often be the best antidote in this case. I know this might sound like a bit of a crazy idea to some online poker shut-ins.
But seriously, just take off for the weekend with some friends or even go solo. Go camping, go hiking or snowboarding. Go on a roadtrip even!
Just get off the computer completely for awhile, leave it at home if you can. And just get outside in the fresh air and stop thinking about it for awhile.
This simple act of clearing your mind and realizing how silly it is to stress over short term results in a little card game can be very powerful.
Breaking out of a poker slump is hard enough on it's own sometimes. We can't control how the cards fall and just because things have been going badly for a long time does not mean you are owed anything.
This is a cruel game at times that has no compassion or care about "your feelings." This is why it is important that you use a variety of different methods to help alleviate the psychological stress of downswings.
This can involve everything from lowering the stakes and tightening up to getting an outside perspective, playing a different format and even totally getting away from the game for awhile.
Even though the best players take poker very seriously and study and play the game like crazy, an important key to success is knowing when to take a step back from time to time and not take it too seriously.
A bad poker downswing can feel like something a lot more serious than it really is sometimes. Remember to keep things in their proper perspective and focus on the only thing that really matters, the long run.
If you use a solid strategy and play against bad players, then the money will come in the end.
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