Five Tips for Dealing with a Downswing

Andrew Robl

If you've played poker seriously for any amount of time, you've probably hit a downswing. And downswings can be downright demoralizing.

If you play the game long enough, though, they are as inevitable as the setting sun. Or getting your aces cracked on the bubble.

What separates great players from good players is their ability to deal with a downswing.

We've all been there. The beats start piling up and day after day you're booking losses. You feel like you're playing well, but the cards just don't fall your way.

Poker is a Game Dominated by Short-Term Luck

If you had a time machine and could change one card in every WSOP, you can guarantee that you could change the outcome of the entire tournament with just that one card.

Gimme the Loot!
Change one card in WSOP history and it's all different.

That should show you how much weight is placed on the falling of cards.

When the cards aren't going your way, it's entirely possible to play your best poker and still lose for 20,000 hands, 600 tournaments or even more.

Unfortunately, it's the nature of the game.

If you've experienced a lengthy swing, you can attest to the fact that it makes you question everything you have ever done in poker.

You start to wonder if you ever actually did beat the game. You wonder if the players are all getting better or if the deck is just stacked against you.

In reality, you're just as likely to be a few good cards away from a heater. 

These are five tips to get you back on the right track:

1) Take Some Time Off

When it gets to the point where you don't even want to look at poker, don't.

You'll be amazed at how much better you feel after taking a day or two away from the game to relax.

In the midst of a downswing, frustration will often get the best of you. Nobody plays their best when they're tilting - even a little bit.

Some much-needed time away from two-outers and rivered flushes will allow you to clear your mind and come back to the game fresh.

2) Keep Things in Perspective

You are a winning player. You have done very well at poker to get to this point.

That wasn't all luck.

Downswings happen to everyone. They're a part of the game.

It may seem like you can't win now, but in reality nothing has changed - you're just playing in a game dominated by long-term skill but short-term luck.

In the long run, the good players will always win and the bad players will always lose.

You have to take the good with the bad.

If you want to have those 10 buy-in days where you go on sick heaters and steamroll the table, you have to be able to stomach the other side: the prolonged downswing.

3) Take a Step Down

Downswings can be hard on both your morale and your bankroll. A good way to get back on your feet is to move down in stakes.

Playing smaller gives you a chance to play with a lower stress level. With the weight of the money off your shoulders, you can concentrate on beating the softer competition.

When you're running bad, sometimes all it takes is a few winning sessions to get your confidence back.

You can jump back into your regular game whenever you feel you are ready!

4) Take a Look at Your Game

John Juanda
Talk through hands with a thoughtful, poker-playing friend.

Although downswings are inevitable, the longer they drag on the more you should take a look at your game.

Everyone thinks they're better than they really are, and the middle of a downswing is a great time to really take a look at your game and see if you are playing your best poker.

Downswings lead to frustration and frustration leads to tilt; tilt leads to the dark side. And of course by dark side, I mean bad play.

Go over your hand histories with a poker-playing friend. Are you actually getting unlucky or are you putting yourself into too many marginal situations?

You may be surprised at what you find when you get past that "poor me" attitude.

5) Fooooooooocus

Nothing is going to pull you out of a downswing like good decision making. You just have to play through it.

If you focus on making the best possible decision every single time the action is on you, you'll be back to your winning ways before you know it.

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