If you’ve played poker long enough, you’ve probably been through some downswings. It can be very exhausting, you might even question your ability to win. What separates the best players from good players is how they deal with them. Mentally tough poker players understand the fact that losing is simply part of the game and are able to emotionally accept the uncertainty that is inherent in poker.
“I deeply believe this is one thing that players should work on more: losing. You have to understand that this is natural part of poker. Learning how to lose is not easy, but one has to do it, to be successful. Proper mindset is fundamental. When I lose I have my routine – I apply logic and keep playing.” (Fedor Holz)
Here are some tips to surviving downswings:
1. Take some time off
A downswing can be very exhausting. Playing even more with the goal to get even can be very dangerous and unproductive. One of the best ways to deal with the stress caused by the losses is to take some time off. This can be as little as going for a walk or going to the gym, but if you need take a day or a few days off. This way you will clear your head from all the negative thoughts and you can come back to the tables energized, determined and ready to play your A-Game.
2. Study, study, study
It’s enough to lose a couple of pots in a row and your confidence level will drop. The best way to keep playing your A-Game during downswing is to study a lot. The most likely cause of the downswing is variance, but you should still go through your hand histories and analyze your strategies. It’s even better if you have a coach to look over your game.
In my experience working on your game is the most beneficial, when thing are going poorly. I am always motivated to learn as much as I can during this period. This will improve my confidence which in turn improves my mental game.
Muscles need a certain amount of stress in order to grow. It is with muscles as it is with life. Meaningful growth requires challenge and stress. So don’t think of poker losses and failure as the end of the world. They are just opportunities for growth.
If you don’t know how to study poker, check out the article I wrote about it: How To Study Poker.
The best time to work on your mindset is during a downswing. Check out the 5 Life-Changing Books That Will Improve Your Poker Mindset
3. Remind yourself WHY you play poker
In order to stay motivated and focused during a downswing you have to constantly remind yourself WHY you play poker. Is it to support your family or so that you don’t have to work for someone else? You are most motivated by knowing WHY you do things. Having a strong WHY is what gets you through the hard times. Clearly defining and identifying this WHY is a crucial element of surviving downswings.
4. Write down your thoughts
During a downswing many emotions pass through your mind, most of them negative, like fear, anger or disappointment. Record your thoughts and feelings in your poker journal at the end of each session or day. What are you thinking and how are you feeling? Perhaps you made a big mistake or got unlucky? Write down how you are feeling. This action itself is a helpful mental exercise to help deal with some of these emotions.
5. Maintaining a good bankroll management
Maintaining a good bankroll management is crucial for surviving downswings, without it you are certainly going broke. Be disciplined and always play within your bankroll. Trying to play higher stakes to win the money back is extremely dangerous and will often lead to failure.
If you want to learn more about maintaining a good bankroll management, I wrote an article about it, go check it out: Poker Bankroll Management Tips
6. Move down in stakes if necessary
A lot of players go broke, because of not moving down in stakes if necessary. It may feel bad, embarrassing or time-wasting, but you should feel good about making this decision. Put your ego aside and play for less money! Playing lower stakes can also help you to regain your confidence.
A lot of good players went broke because they hesitated to move down in stakes, when they had to. Be smart and avoid this. Daniel Negreanu said: “You could be the best player in the world, but if you play above your bankroll, like way above, you’re guaranteed to go broke.”
7. Keep your head up
The best advice I can give you is to remember that there is light at the end of the tunnel, no matter how long it may seem sometimes. Keeping your head up during a downswing is one of those skills without which you cannot lead a happy and successful poker career. Learning to cope with failure and disappointment is very important for our sanity.
Poker is a very competitive game and you have to be able to handle getting your butt kicked. If you experienced a huge downswing and have a very negative mindset, try to look at some of the things that are positive for you. What are your strengths? Your positives? What are the things you can control?
If you’re going through a downswing remember: the comeback is always stronger than the setback! To learn how to handle bad beats check out this awesome article on Conscious Poker written by Alec Torelli: How to Overcome Bad Beats in Poker.
Note: Want to get through downswing easily and bring your A-Game everyday? Check out Elliot Roe’s course: A-Game Poker Masterclass. Learn more now!