Hi all,

I got a recent letter from a PSO member asking for some advice.  I know I've talked about this before, but it's been a while and it's a great topic since we all go through downswings, so I thought this was a perfect opportunity to share the response here, in my blog.


PSO Member writes:

Hi Dave,

I've been playing on pokerstars for a while now. i can't say i'm a good player but i win some and lose some. but the past 2 weeks are like no other. My tourney game plays are basically the same but i have been getting so much bad beats in cash games like crazy. i mean i have lost more than $100 with premium hands and Big Pocket pairs to small pockets in micro stakes.
the reason why i'm writing this is that the ratio for poker hands while i'm playing has completely went out of the window. i mean i'll win like $2 with QQ and lose like 3 big Pockets to small pockets.

I'm almost out of my bankroll and losing my head. please i need your help. tell me what to do.

BeatDown in Cybertown


Hi BeatDown,

It happens to everyone from time to time. It's tough to give specific advice as I don't know your regular stakes and games, but here's some general things you can do:

1) Take a break. Running bad gets tilting, which leads to poor decisions, which leads to more running bad. A break can help with the tilt aspect. A week or two, or even a few days away from poker, can do wonders for the psychological aspects of a downswing.

2) Lower your stakes. The games will be softer generally, and a bad beat has less of a bankroll impact. I did this recently after some extended (multi-session) run bad at 50NL, playing a session at 10NL just to play through it a bit with no money pressure. I found the play crazy soft compared to the 50NL games, and booked a nice win for the session, up 3 buy ins. My all in adjusted EV was +7 buy ins btw... I had AA cracked twice all in preflop, and top set cracked by AA all in on the flop when he rivered an ace... so I actually still ran bad, but wasn't tilted in the least by the beats at the lower stake and finishing with a 3 buy in gain despite getting unlucky in some favorable all in spots was a nice confidence booster.

3) Analyze your game honestly. In your specific case you mention losing your stack with big pairs... review these hands after the fact with an impartial (unemotional) eye. In spots where you got AA in preflop and lost, obviously there's nothing to see there, it's just variance. In spots where you are stacking off 1 pair post flop, it may or may not have been so good depending on the situation. Sometimes we are our own worst enemy during downswings.

4) Limit liability for a while. This could be moving down in stakes like #2 above, but it could also be limiting your risk in any given hand. You might try short buy ins for a while, or play cap tables. If you found some suspect spots in #3 above, this will help with that problem as well, as getting all in with a strong 1 pair hand is never going to be a big mistake on 20-40 bb stacks, where as it might be in some situations playing deep stacked.

5) Shift focus to where you've had recent successes for a while to build some confidence. This could be playing live if an online player, playing more online if a live player, playing a different game or format, etc... what ever the case may be. You mention the downswing is impacting your cash game results but not your tournaments... so maybe after taking a few days off, spend some time focusing on tournament formats.

6) Learn a new game. This is another way of taking a break in a sense, although not a break from poker altogether. This is how I learned my first "non-hold'em" game. I was living in Vegas playing limit hold'em and after a couple years the game was just getting stale for me, bad beats more irritating, etc. The limit omaha/8 games that ran always looked like there was crazy action, so I decided to spend some time taking a break from hold'em and learning this game. I sought out learning resources for limit omaha/8, studied up on the game, and then put in practice at the tables. I played nothing other than O/8 for over a month. Eventually at some point I went to play and the 5-10 and 10-20 LO8 games weren't running, so after putting my name on the interest lists, I decided to take an open seat in the 20-40 limit hold'em game again. I felt surprisingly refreshed playing hold'em again. I was also pleasantly surprised to realize that some of things I'd learned at O8 applied to hold'em as well, so my FLHE game was actually sharper and more balanced. I was now back to FLHE as my primary game, but had another option which increased my overall profitability... if the hold'em games looked bad, or if the O8 games particularly juicy, I could jump into O8 competently. And if I felt like I needed a break from hold'em, I didn't necessarily have to take that break out of action, I could play O8 instead. This is the same way I learned to play Stud and Stud/8 (although not for need of a break, simply for the desire to learn a new game and improve my poker skills overall).

These are just a few ideas.  Start with taking a break though, and that means spending at least some time doing things totally unrelated to poker.  It really does help to curb emotions, refresh, and recharge the batteries.  Best of luck... downswings happen to everyone, but with a calm head and a sensible approach to manage it, this too shall pass.