This popular saying amongst poker pros has never rang truer for me than during the past month. I am currently fighting to dig out of my worst downswing ever, about 670 big bets(BB)*. For reference, over the last three years and 800,000 hands I have had six 300BB downswings, four 400BB downswings, and one 500BB downswing.
Having experienced this many downswings, you would think it should be easy to just suck it up and realize downswings are a part of the job. It is always helpful to ‘zoom out’ and look at the long term graph to see that these downswings are represented as relatively minor blips, but when you are in the middle of a downswing it still hurts pretty bad. The creation of this blog is partially an attempt help to refocus my mental energy and boost my motivation and resolve to succeed.
It is difficult to describe what a large poker downswing feels like to someone who hasn’t experienced it firsthand. I recently read this article that had a really great description of a poker downswing, in terms of a ‘normal’ job:
Imagine you go to work every day and do your absolute best. You work as hard as you can, do everything perfectly, or at least as close to it as humanly possible, and throughout the day, every 15 minutes, your boss comes over and tells you that you are an idiot. Each time he tells you that everything you do is wrong, even if you know it’s not. Then instead of paying you, he forces you to write a check to the company.
That’s about how stressful losing streaks are. You question everything you do. Every decision you’re faced with seems tough, and almost every one you make turns out, in hindsight, to have been wrong. You doubt your ability, because as a human, you’ve been programmed to equate success with good decision making and failure with bad. You tell yourself over and over that you just have to keep playing the way you always have and it will turn around, but deep down you start to doubt it. You have no choice, it’s operant conditioning in action.
Not to worry, I am no where close to going broke or throwing in the towel on my poker career. I am doing what I always do when I face such adversity: dropping down in stakes, exploring more poker theory and strategy, and rebuilding my confidence. I am very lucky to have some extremely smart and successful poker friends to bounce ideas off of. I am also very lucky to have a supportive wife who has actually experienced the swings of poker and fully understands the emotions involved. <3
My first step in recovery is to return to my comfort zone of smallish stakes heads up limit hold’em. Seriously, playing in these games feels like a warm, cozy bath. In the meantime, I am going to be studying a bunch of multiway situations involving 3-4 players around the blinds. I feel like this is an area of the game that a majority of the regulars in the 6max midstakes games just kind of guess at, so there is a decent profit to be made by really, REALLY understanding the dynamics of these situations.
I would like to finish this post with a (paraphrased) quote from the poker Zen master Tommy Angelo:
All of my good streaks and all of my bad streaks of every length and depth have had one thing in common. They only existed in my mind. And this is true for everyone’s winning and losing streaks. None of them actually exist. The truth is there is only the hand you are playing.
*For those of you not versed in poker lingo, a big bet is the betting size for the turn and river in a fixed-limit poker game. For example, in a $10/$20 fixed-limit game, the small blind is $5 and the big blind is $10. The bet size for the preflop and flop betting rounds is $10 (a small bet), and the betting size for the turn and river is $20 (a big bet).