Negative variance. It happens to the best of us, but a downswing can be demoralising for a poker player. Here are our top tips for dealing with a long and protracted losing run.

The Jack of Spades (left) lies on top of the Queen of Spades (centre) which overlaps the King of Spades (right).
Poker downswings can be really demoralising for a poker player. Hence, it’s important to learn how to deal with them.

Retain a Sense of Perspective

Variance is a fundamental part of poker. Look at the greatest players in the world. They’ve all experienced long downswings and they’re still at the top of the game. Everyone has bad runs, and you simply have to accept the fact.

It doesn’t mean that you have become a bad player overnight. If your records show that you’re making a long-term profit, don’t doubt yourself; it’s just variance and the tide will turn. There will be days and weeks in the future when you are untouchable. When those heaters come by, remember the downswings and vice versa. Keep things in perspective and don’t lose your head.

Remember Your Bankroll

Don’t forget that one of the key reasons we practice bankroll management is for this exact reason. Bad runs are inevitable and your bankroll is there to protect you against such downswings. So don’t go chasing losses by playing like a maniac or increasing the stakes.

Maintaining consistency of stakes and buy-ins is important for two reasons. Firstly, it makes things a lot easier to review your performance when you’re comparing like for like. Jumping up and down through the levels muddies the water. Most importantly, constantly playing above your level leaves you vulnerable to going broke.

Be Extra Selective

The trick to becoming a winning poker player is not to be the best player. You just need to consistently play against those who are not as good as you. Don’t forget that basic principle.

So if you’re struggling with a downswing, don’t play in tougher games that will make things worse for you! This will further affect your confidence and decision-making. Instead, be extra picky with your table selection and try the life of a bum hunter for a while. Playing your normal game against vastly inferior players will help to rebuild things financially. But more importantly, it will help to restore your self-belief.

Drop Down in Stakes

When stuck in a rut, many poker pros find that dropping down a level can help them. We’d go a step further and advocate dropping down even lower through the levels. When everything is going against you, it’s very easy to second guess your decisions. Playing at stakes that are far below your level really eliminates any fear factor. If you know that you can afford to absorb plenty of losses, you can focus on the poker aspect.

In addition, playing at much lower stakes gives you a free pass to try new things. Why not adopt a super-aggressive style for a while? Put yourself in sports that you wouldn’t normally be in. Get your brain thinking in different ways. Try anything to break out of the rut, knowing that if it goes wrong, it won’t make a dent in your bankroll.

Go Back to School

Above all, you need to go back to basics when stuck in a poker downswing. Firstly, you need to review your hand histories and database. Are you sure this run is down to negative variance and not a leak in your game? Remain honest, as lying to yourself ultimately does more long-term harm than good.

If you’re certain that your bad run is purely down to luck, then think about going back to basics. Read your old poker books; the ones that first inspired you to play. This might help you rediscover some enjoyment. Spend time on your game, reviewing hands and looking for holes. You should study regularly anyway as this will only have a positive impact on your overall poker game and your confidence.

Take a Break from Poker

If you’ve tried everything and nothing’s helping, the best course of action is to step away from the game. It’s important to remain realistic and accept that not every poker player can be a winning one. If you’re a losing player, in the long-term, this downswing might never end.

However, if you’re sure that this is purely down to variance, a break can still be beneficial. Take some time to revisit old hobbies. Discover new ones, preferably things that are completely unrelated to poker. Physical activity is always good for both body and mind, so exercise often and get plenty of fresh air. Come back refreshed, and by then, you will be raring to get stuck into studying and crushing once again.

Now that you know how to handle a bad streak, why not give poker a go again by signing up for a free account with Natural8?