Bad Luck Streak in Poker? (Just Do This!)

How Poker Pros Deal With a Bad Luck Streak
People often ask me how poker pros deal with a bad luck streak. As a 10+ year poker pro myself I can tell you that I have been through countless long and painful unlucky streaks.

So much so that I have thought about quitting the game entirely on a few occasions when it literally felt like I would never win another hand of poker again!

In this article I am going to break it all down for you. Here is how poker pros deal with a bad luck streak.

How Poker Pros Deal With a Bad Luck Streak - Understanding the Math

The first thing that I always do when I am on a bad luck streak in poker (also known as "running bad" or a "downswing"), is I check the math.

Now I use a program called PokerTracker in order to review my hands and check the math. If you play online poker and take it seriously at all, I highly recommend using a program like this.

Basically what PokerTracker allows me to do is study my losing hands and determine what the odds were when the majority of the money went into the pot.

So when I am on a lengthy bad luck streak what I will often do is load up my last 20 hands where I lost a significant amount (I often filter for pots where I lost at least 50 big blinds).

Then I will use the hand replayer built into PokerTracker (see pic below) to determine my equity at each stage of the way.

How Poker Pros Deal With a Bad Luck Streak

Equity by the way is just a fancy word we use in poker for the odds or the math. In the example above we had 95% equity in the pot.

Yes, you guessed it, he hit the 8 on the river :(

What this hand review session allows me to do is determine whether it is bad play that is causing me to lose or simply bad luck.

If I notice signs of tilt or bad play then I know that I need to dig deeper and determine why this is happening. Maybe I am even getting outplayed by better competition.

You have to be humble in poker and always include this as a possibility.

However, if I see that the odds/math were in my favour in most of the hands (and therefore they were simply bad beats), then I can live with this and move on.

And the reason why is because poker is a game built around mathematics. Bad poker players can only fight the math for so long (get it in with the worst hand) before it comes back to bite them.

If I can determine that most of my significant losing poker hands were simply due to bad luck (the odds were in my favour like in the hand above), then I know I have nothing to worry about.

This is just how poker goes sometimes.

By the way PokerTracker is not the only poker software tool I use to help me as a poker pro. For the complete list of everything I use, click here.

My Free Poker Cheat Sheet Teaches You How to Make $1000+ Per Month in Low Stakes Games

Are you struggling to beat low stakes poker games like 2NL, 5NL, 10NL, 25NL online or $1/$2, $2/$5 live?

Do you want a simple step by step guide to show you exactly how to start winning consistently right now?
Blackrain79 free book
That is why I recently wrote this free little 50 page no BS guide to teach you exactly how to start crushing these games right now.

You will learn the exact poker strategies I have used as a 10+ year poker pro to consistently make $1000+ per month in small stakes poker games.

Enter your details below and I will send my free poker cheat sheet to your email right now.

How Poker Pros Deal With a Bad Luck Streak - Use it to Improve

So having dealt with multiple horrendous downswings in my poker career (bad luck for 100k+ hands in a row), I have had a lot of time to reflect on this.

I have come to the conclusion that the best thing that I can do (for me personally) is to take a step back when these unlucky streaks hit.

This doesn't mean that I stop playing poker entirely, it just means that I don't try to force it. Many times I will just quit after 20 minutes if I see the bad luck coming again.

If I know that my mind is not in the right place then I will not try to "play through it" like many other poker pros will tell you. I think that is silly because most people play poorly when running bad.

Ask yourself why would you want to put in MORE hours at the poker table when you are probably not playing your best and not thinking clearly (and possibly on tilt as well)?

How Poker Pros Deal With a Bad Luck Streak

It makes no sense. This is why I always recommend playing monster sessions when you are running good and the cards are all falling your way.

That is the time to grind and put in the work. When you are feeling good and playing your best.

So if I am not playing poker as much during a bad luck streak then what exactly am I doing? Simple, this is the time where I do most of my study.

This is when I am studying advanced poker courses, reading poker books, analyzing countless hands and running filters in PokerTracker, and sometimes even hiring a coach.

Essentially, this is the time where I am improving my poker game and getting better. If the cards are absolutely going to kill me every time I sit down to play, then screw it!

This is the time when I am studying my opponents and learning the skills to crush them when I finally start running well again.

Bottom line: Don't try to force your way through a bad luck streak. Yes, you should still try to play. But if it isn't working quit and use this time to improve your poker game instead.

Get Away From the Game!

The next thing that I believe is extremely important when you are in a bad luck streak in poker is to just get away from the game completely sometimes.

If you are always thinking about the game then the losses and the bad beats are going to start to eat away at you. This is why it is important to do things completely unrelated to poker.

For me personally, if you read this blog or follow me on Instagram, then you already know that fitness is a big part of my life.

How Poker Pros Deal With a Bad Luck Streak

I also travel a lot. In the past few years alone I have been to at least 10 different countries mostly in Asia. I am also really into water sports like surfing, wake boarding and diving.

Now I know that fitness and travel are not for everybody so this is why you need to find out what keeps you occupied and gets your mind off the game when you are on a bad luck streak.

Maybe you like fixing cars, playing tennis, volunteering, salsa dancing, playing with your kids, investing, video games or just having a Netflix and chill night.

I don't know! But you do!

The important part is to keep your mind occupied during these bad luck streaks in poker. They are simply a part of the game that nobody can avoid.

You have to get your head out of the game sometimes. This is why I also recommend that most of your best friends are non-poker.

Again, this goes against what most poker pros will tell you.

But for me personally, most of my best friends know nothing about poker and therefore when I hang out with them, the topic never comes up.

If you are hanging out with other poker players all the time, then it becomes impossible to avoid discussing the game and dwelling on your current bad luck streak.

This is something that I actually talk about in Crushing the Microstakes.

I have some of the highest winnings in online poker history at the micro stakes. But the amount of bad beats you take at these limits is absolutely crazy sometimes (due to all the bad players).

So early on in my career as a poker pro I really had to learn how to step away from the game sometimes and just take a breather.

Final Thoughts

So how do poker pros deal with a bad luck streak? Well, there are many ways.

Firstly, you need to remember that poker is a game based around mathematics and odds. You cannot "fight the math" like recreational players do over the long run and expect to win.

So when you are on an unlucky streak in poker one of the best things you can do is analyze your biggest losing hands and find out if you are losing due to bad luck or bad play.

If it's just a long list of bad beats and coolers then you really have nothing to worry about. As long as you keep getting the money in good most of the time in poker, you will win in the end.

Secondly, I like to use bad luck streaks in poker as a time to improve my game, study my opponents and create the strategies to crush them when my luck turns back to normal.

Lastly, let's face it, downswings suck. There is no other way around it. You are going to feel depressed and even feel completely hopeless at times. Believe me, it's normal.

This is why it is important to have outlets and things to do which are completely unrelated to poker. Also, I would highly recommend that you try to make friends with more people who do not play poker.

If you want to know how to start consistently making $1000+ per month in low stakes games, make sure you grab a copy of my free poker cheat sheet.


Let me know in the comments below what you do during a bad luck streak in poker. Do you have any tips for handling them better?

How Poker Pros Deal With a Bad Luck Streak


  1. Good column, Nathan. It might help today's players to know that part of the "play your way through it" mindset is rooted in the early cash-game, poker circuit days that gave us the original greats like Doyle Brunson, TJ Cloutier and Amarillo Slim. Those guys were literally carving out their living travelling from game to game, a few hundred dollars at a time, often carrying guns to protect themselves against the bandits who knew where the games were and looked to pick the winners off (you couldn't call the cops to protect your illegal winnings). There was no internet with myriad online sites and HUD programs, and no tournaments with huge paydays. If they didn't play, they and their families didn't eat. So they played their way through it because there was no "Plan B".

    1. Good point Morgan and brings a lot of perspective. Those guys are the real legends of the game.

  2. Thanks again...Great advice and article... Tony

    1. Thanks Tony glad you enjoyed this one!

  3. Nathan,

    I first want to apologize for my words in your last article (which I am not finding to post there as well and if you please, please give me the link because I have to expose myself and also publicly say about my mistake as much as I explained the words that day) in which I treated my mistake and his response in an evasive way I found in relation to the bb / 100 count needed to be winning and also on Party Poker and changes (you are not required to answer ). I think I confused everything about it, because the trackers report deduce the rake when they introduce us, and I was certainly not on a good day with myself.

    Anyway, I've heard some misconceptions about this and I ended up being not very kind and understanding with you in that post.

    I've been reading your contents for years and I recognize that you always bring very good content and that I exceeded myself.

    Please forgive me.

    1. Hey Luciano,

      No problem at all. I didn't take any offence to it.

      The truth is that I get a lot of comments on this blog every single day (not even to mention email, social media, my forum etc). Unfortunately it just isn't possible for me to give a thorough answer to every single question.

      I know that the PartyPoker situation has been a big story of late. My thoughts are that if a poker room wants to ban HUDs, fine no problem, that is their right (although PartyPoker seems to change their mind all the time on this anyways).

      However, removing hand histories is simply wrong and I believe that we as a poker community need to let the online poker sites know that this is 100% unacceptable.

      The reason why is that hand histories allow us to police our own games to prevent cheats (bots, collusion etc). Hand histories also allow us to make sure that the poker site's deal truly is as random as they say it is.

      Lastly, hand histories allow us to study our own game away from the tables to find our leaks and improve. This is something that I talk about all the time on this blog.

      So this is why PartyPoker is no longer on my list of recommended poker rooms.

      And to be completely honest, as of right now I would actually advise people to AVOID this poker room until they decide to change their position on the removal of hand histories.

      Anyways, I hope this gives you a better answer Luciano. Thank you for being a long time reader of my poker blog.

    2. Just to add to that comment above, here is what a rep for HM/PT said the other day about this on a large poker forum (and I agree 100% with this):

      "With the removal of hand histories, PartyPoker is effectively asking their players to trust us but do not verify.”

    3. I absolutely agree about downloadable hand histories being essential for the integrity of online poker, and I woted with my feat already. A month ago I wanted to try another site than PokerStars, and because of these announced changes on PartyPoker, 888 got my business instead.

  4. Can we have 10k hands and still break even with the swing? I'm talking about a singular table recreational site, let's just say every day we play 1000 hands. I mean, if still break even then what's the point?

    1. Hey Tom,

      Unfortunately with poker it can sometimes take a very long time to get past basic variance. This is why most people do not win at poker and often give up too soon.

      In my opinion you should not be drawing any conclusions from your results until you have played 20k hands at an absolute bare minimum.

  5. Very good article ��
    The only problem is how to decide when is the right moment to get away from the game ��

    1. Thanks Ardit! I think this is something that you learn through experience.

    2. I'm not anywhere Nathan's skill, results or experience but as someone who has worked through a lot of losing streaks of various sorts, I think the best time to get away is when you start to feel desperate about winning. In poker it's all about correct decisions; winning and losing is almost within your control but not quite. When you get to feeling desperate about winning you start "chasing it", and your decision-making suffers.

  6. I had a coach tell me that in NLTH you're supposed to lose, probability as the culprit. It doesn't help much with the grief, but it tells you that your are not alone.
    I only play live so going over hands is more difficult, so when I lose consecutively I quit for a few days or weeks to allow my ego and emotions to recover. Finally losing is like testing in college, tests are your friend as that allows you to understand more about the topic of study.

    1. I think taking a break when you are running bad and feeling frustrated is always a good idea. Even as a live player you could take this time to improve by reading poker books, posting some of your hands on forums or watching some poker educational videos on YouTube/Twitch.

  7. Enjoyed the article,
    I'm fairly new to poker, only been at it a few years now as a hobby. Been getting spanked lately, though.
    Not having many tools at my disposal, I would try and review hands in my mind to verify my sanity.
    Last beat in $1/2 game, I got it all in with QQ against, 8c8h and K5s preflop. 88 on button straddled for $10. 4 players called, 88 raised to $35, K5 called. Having only $130 behind I shoved. 88 and K5s called 😱. Board ran out Kh8h5h7h2h.
    Despite they both got it in bad, its still gnawing at me.
    Last night the monkey finally got off my back. I ended with a nice 2.5+ buy-in profit.

    1. Glad you enjoyed this article! Hands like this are tough but always remember, like I said in the article, they can't keep fighting the math against you over the long term and expect to win :)

  8. Excellent advice as always. For hobby players I think, it makes even more sense to take a step back, when we run bad. We are probably not enjoying to play, and we are not playing our best, so why try to force it? Poker will always be there for us to come back another day.

    So scale down. Stop sessions early, before losses mount further. Play less tables. Move down. Force yourself to only play, when you are well rested and feeling good. Never ever chase after losses.

  9. Hello Nathan. If I play 12 full ring tables (cash games) and session is unlucky. Which stop loss is better: 3, 4 or 5 buyins?

    1. Hey begun,

      Stop loss is up to the individual. Only you know what is best for you.

  10. Lol, someone coolered me for 500bb pot with my 2nd set vs his overpair aggro-raised me on flop i 4bet AI, turn came an ACE (what sicker was he was holding ace of club also i didnt know what he's doing on T7Xcc)