It can be sickening to be in a downward phase.
Literally nauseating. She makes you question everything you thought you knew about poker. It seems that you can do no good. No matter what game you try, you still seem to lose.
After a while you start to fear playing cards. The accumulated frustration comes out constantly. When you lose your flush draw for the 44th time in a row, you want to blow a gasket. It seems that nothing is going right.
How do you exit a downswing? How can you stop your downward spiral?
The first thing to do is take a deep breath. Realize that downswings happen to everyone. Any professional poker player can tell you that he’s been on a terrible downturn. Sometimes it will seem like an entire year could go by without you missing every flop.
The next thing we need to do is realize that downswings can teach us something valuable. Sometimes, there’s a fundamental reason we no longer win. The downswing is our cue to look for that leak.
Also, we will be dealing with downswings throughout our poker career. We will have to improve in playing under the pressure of the downswing. If we go up a notch, this will eventually become a huge skill to possess.
Most people noticeably worsen their down swings because they stop trusting their normal game. They start trying to play a style they are not comfortable with. Before, they made disciplined folds on the river. Now? They call everyone because they can’t believe they’ve been eliminated again!
Another common mistake people make when they get frustrated with the game is that they start double barreling and triple barreling more than usual. They begin to see ghosts. They believe that everyone sees their slowdown and is trying to take advantage of them. They believe they are being floated relentlessly by hands that will eventually pass. What they fail to realize is that they need to stop making their losses worse. Eventually, the flops will start hitting them again.
Another common way people increase the duration of their downswings is that they stop being aggressive when they need to be. When they were enthusiastic about poker, they three-bet more often and took the initiative when they had position or a superior hand. Now? They feel ridiculous about three-betting because they keep missing the flop and have to fold on a later street.
Sometimes the players at the table call them out to consistently three-bet when they seemingly have nothing. To avoid this embarrassment, they start cold calling more. The problem is that they are now playing multiway pots. You cannot bluff loose amateur players in multiway pots. Most likely someone hit something when there are multiple players seeing the flop and that person doesn’t want to fold. At this point they have reduced poker to a game of catching cards.
Let’s talk about some losses that may have initiated the slowdown to begin with.
A common flaw that players develop is opening too many hands. When they start playing poker they are disciplined. As they get more comfortable at the table, they begin to open up more freely. They start to open more when the players behind them are passive or weak, but once they realize how fun it is to open more, they start to open up all the time.
This opens the door to a second huge flaw that can start a downswing, which is calling too many three-bets out of position.
It is extremely difficult to make money flatting a three-bet out of position. You may lose less than if you fold to the three-bet, but you’re losing more than if you openly folded your hand preflop. If you’re opening that hand against aggressive players who will three-bet you most of the time, that’s going to create a lot of problems.
The best way to stop losing to weak early position hands is to go back to playing AQ offsuit+, AJ suited+, 7-7+, broadways suited, 10-9 suited and 9-8 suited. When the table is weaker, you can open 2-2+ and weaker suited connectors again.
Another key flaw is calling too much from the big blind. When one person has raised and another person has cold called, many people call from the big blind with almost any two cards. While they’re getting great pot odds to call, it’s harder to realize your equity in that situation.
Playing out of position in a multiway pot makes bluffing difficult. It’s hard to know when your hand is good and when you’re dominated. Out of position your opponent gets more information because you act first.
When betting from the big blind against multiple players, it’s a good idea to make sure your hand has some multiway playability. Look for suitable hands and connectors on random junk like 10-6 offsuits that will see you calling when you’re losing.
The best way to stop making these mistakes and others is to get down and play limits that don’t make you angry. Focus on the fundamentals for a few sessions. Play big pots in position with superior hands. Play those hands hard. Be patient!
If you win little and are tired? Call the session in advance. Just book a win. Book a couple of consecutive wins. Find the winning feeling again.
Once you book a few small wins, you will often feel the panic begin to dissipate. Don’t get up again once you feel this calm. Keep hammering the fundamentals into the lower stakes game. Do this until you get a little bored again. Once your fundamentally solid game feels like routine, it’s time to roll back. This is when you will break the spell of the downswing. ♠
Alexander Fitzgerald is a professional poker player and bestselling author who currently lives in Denver, Colorado. He’s a WPT AND EPT final tablist and has WCOP extension AND NEWS IN ADVANCE win online. His most recent win was the $250,000 Guaranteed on America’s Cardroom. Currently he enjoys blasting bums in Ignition tournaments while listening to death metal. Free training packages of his are provided to new newsletter subscribers who sign up at PokerHeadRush.com