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How to Handle a Downswing

Variance in poker is a factor that can not be ignored. While a miniscule quantity of poker players will never experience it, for the majority of us mortals variance is something that needs to be considered. You should expect to lose most of the poker games you are going to register for. Poker is a perpetual cycle of losses sprinkled with a bit of explosive wins that makes the game unique and special. As a poker player, you always need to remember that ‘winter is coming’ – no one is safe from the impending doom of a long losing streak. Here are a few tips and tricks on how to overcome any downswing at the poker table and hopefully minimize any poker losses.

Bankroll Management

When you face adversity at the poker table for a long period of time, the first thing you should consider doing is lowering your average buy-in. Reducing your table stakes is another great decision to help mitigate any losses. Playing for lower stakes allows you to practice your technical skills, your patience and resilience. The field is softer and, because the buy-in is lower, you are reducing the amount you could lose. A lot of poker players undervalue small stakes poker, but these games can have massive prizes for the price and playing them is a great way to help you return to your fundamentals and end any downswing.

Reduce Play Time and Increase Study Time

Reducing your play time at the poker table in exchange for time, either before or after your session, to study the game of poker and your hands, will add up to some incredible EV in the long run. There are many free resources you can use to improve your strategy like youtube, discord and reddit. Look for general heuristics like “If you play a hand of poker at low SPR (Stack-to-Pot Ratio), you do not get to fold top pair while with a high SPR the value of top pair is significantly decreased.” SPR is a simple division between the smallest stack in the hand and the pot, essentially a valuation of the maximum you would be able to win in a hand.

Reviewing Hands Daily

While you play the wonderful and stimulating game of poker, you will find yourself in situations where the correct or best action is neither clear nor obvious. Make note of these hands. After each session is completed, go back and review two or three of these questionable hands every day. An easy way to mark your hands for review on GGPOKER is to click the hand replayer and download the hand while you play. Figuring out ways to play better within your range will be easier after you finish playing and your mind is free. Making a little bit of progress everyday can go a very very long way.

Get a Tracking Software and Download your Hands from PokerCraft

Getting a poker tracker, like holdem manager 3 or poker tracker 4, will be a great asset in figuring out the leaks in your poker game. Using these tools to review your hands, you can figure out what stack depth and what position gives you trouble at the poker table. You can compare your EV BB/100 (Expected Value in Big Blinds from 100 hands) with players that beat the game. Below is a reference from the masterpiece Modern Poker Theory by Michael Acevedo that I highly recommend. You can compare the numbers from your poker tracker with this and then use GTO (Game Theory Optimal) training tools to strengthen your game where you have the most leaks.

Reducing your Risk

You can easily reduce your risk by selling some of your action right in the GGPoker client. Simply open the lobby and test the market by hitting the sell my action button. You can sell up to 90% of your action and minimize the impact of your results. (For more information on Staking, you will have to wait for my next article) 

Join a Community of Players wanting to Study

Share your thought process with other poker players using discord, reddit, twitter or any social media platform. Find the players that beat the game you play and try to provide them valuable insight – become a member of the group, not a lurker. Find a study group. There are many available amongst the various poker training communities. Make a point to review hands with poker players whose opinions you value. Share the hands you saved and figure out new strategies to crush your opponents. Just as you will try to offer unique insight and a different perspective to their hands, they will offer the same to you.

Control your Focus

When you are running bad it is easy to fall into a spiral of emotions that ranges from how lucky your opponents are to how unlucky you are to starting to question your own ability. The game of poker can be cruel. As soon as you recognize a pattern of varying negative emotions, you need to reassess your focus to what really matters: how you are going to beat your opponents. Thinking about how lucky your opponent is or how unlucky you are yields zero EV. Instead, if you concentrate on your opponent, you could discover a fault in their game such as overfolding to 3-bets or having a range construction problem, something for you to exploit.

Control your Environment

Before you start your poker session, make sure you are well fed or have a couple healthy meals ready as well as snacks. It never hurts to be prepared for a deep run. Some foods are believed to hold greater EV+ than others. Blueberries, for example, have been proven to increase blood flow in key areas of the brain as well as helping with memory improvement. Always make sure you are very well rested. Personally, I need between 8 and 10 hours of sleep before I am ready for a poker session. Make sure you are in a stress free environment. Remove any distractions, noises and unneeded game sounds. One more thing that will help, and this might sound weird, but every 4 to 6 hours of play you should go brush your teeth. Staying fresh will help you last longer at the poker table. 

Fuel your Mind

Nowadays there is a wide variety of podcasts you can listen to for free. Make a point to listen to people that are smarter than you on a regular basis. By listening to those smarter than you, it will keep your brain active and in a learning mode. As Confucius said, “If you are the smartest person in the room, then you are in the wrong room.”

Understand Variance

There is a relation between the amount of buy-ins you have in your poker bankroll and the average buy-in you should be playing. For online poker tournaments, it is my belief that for a serious recreational player that has other sources of income, 200 buy-ins would be a decent bankroll that would not leave you too exposed to running broke. For professionals, 1,000 buy-ins should be the bare minimum. Variance is far from an exact science. It is something that a few poker players will never experience, or experience it only in such small amounts as to not matter, while most will see large and lengthy swings. The general idea is that you invest into 100 to 200 different tournaments, and if you are both good enough and lucky enough to win one, you will get 200 to 500 buy-ins back, making a small profit over a large number of poker tournaments. You will need to arm yourself with patience and you will need to play in a lot of poker tournaments.

Tournament Stages

Your play style will need to change fundamentally depending on the stage of the tournament and your stack depth. For example when you get close to the money bubble, the highest ICM point of the tournament, you should not defend your BB using chipEV models, but lean towards the tighter side. ICM ranges will get rid of two or 3 pips of the worst part of normal chip EV charts.