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How to Deal with Downswings in Poker

The more that you play online poker, the more familiar you’ll become with variance, upswings and downswings in poker.

In order to define what a downswing is, you need to understand that luck still plays a big role even in long term winning poker players.

The likes of Tom Durrrr Dwan, Patrick Antonius and Chris Moneymaker have all experienced downswings or upswings in their lives (Moneymaker’s life’s record of winning the 2003 WSOP was arguably the biggest upswing or luck box win ever recorded in poker).

Every decision or all-in that you make in online poker, while in the long term may be +EV, will be susceptible to variance in the short term.

For example, when you’re dealt AA you are an 85% favourite on average against all other hands which means that you would assume to win 4/5 showdowns.  KK vs a lower pocket pair similarly makes you an 80% favourite, however depending on how “lucky” you get you might end up losing all 5 all-ins.

Thus, luck and variance does play an important part in short term winnings in poker.  It’s not unheard of for even professional poker players making $10,000 on average per month to have negative months or even lose up to 30% of their entire online bankroll.

How to Deal with Downswings in Poker

The bad news is that you’ll inevitably go through periods of negative variance and downswings in your career. You’re also particularly more susceptible if you’re playing with a smaller bankroll or just starting out.

The good news is that there are a number of things that you can do in order to manage your downswings, recover from them and learn from your experiences.

  1. Stop playing.  Variance can have a massive impact on how well you play since it effects you mentally and can cause you to go through periods of tilt, making loose plays and all-ins.  By taking some time out of poker (you can do this productively by reading poker ebooks or studying leaks in your game with Holdem Manager/Holdem Manager 2) you give yourself some rest and enable your mind to think clearly and rationally again.
  2. Move Down a Level. Downswings can eat away at your bankroll particularly in cash games where you can lose multiple buy-ins within minutes of each other.  By moving down a level, you not only loosen the strain on your bankroll but the less competitive environment gives you a better chance of winning and getting your confidence back. 
  3. Play MTTs or SNGs. If you’re losing a lot of money in cash games than chancing to MTTs/SNGs can take a lot of pressure off since it limits the total amount that you can lose in a game.  I’ve known mid-stakes friends who’ve done this and then managed to bink their way into $10,000 final table finishes – more than making up for their previous cash game downswings.
  4. Invest in Leak Finding Software. Live tracking software such as Holdem Manager, Holdem Manager 2 and Poker Tracker usually provide leak finding software that enables you to view sessions/graphs of your games and study where you made mistakes.  This can rectify errors in your game whilst also making you a better player in the future. You may also want to study your EV graphs to see if you’re in fact playing badly or just getting unlucky.