How to Handle Swings in Poker

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Poker is a game of probabilities, so there can be certain periods when bad players run like gods and win a lot of money. At the same time, excellent players can face periods when they seem to find the top of their opponents’ range every single time and run into one bad beat after another.

 

Variance is like a playful dog on a leash

Variance is present in every poker player’s life, whether they are aware of it or not. There are certainly ways to reduce it, but it will always be there to some degree, so it’s worth being prepared to manage it well.

The easiest way to think of it is like walking a dog that moves around a lot. The dog is running left and right (upswing and downswing), but the leash is in the owner’s hand (EV). During the dog walk, if you capture just a moment, you might see the dog walking in a completely different direction (short term) than the owner, but for the walk as a whole (long term) the dog is still going the same way as her owner.

It is of course possible to “shorten the leash”, i.e. reduce the size of the swings. The bigger the edge you have on your opponents, the smaller the fields you play, and the slower the games you play, the smaller your swings will be. Conversely, in many cases, smaller fields and slower games also mean significantly lower hourly rates.

 

The dreaded downswing

Losing money in a session sucks. The only thing worse than that is a string of losing sessions lasting for weeks, possibly months. However, encountering a downswing is inevitable for everyone who plays poker at least somewhat seriously. How you handle it will have a big impact on how successful you can be as a poker player.

If you can look a bit further than the red fog after the continuous bad luck, you can see, that variance is on your side if you take poker seriously. Running good is the carrot on the stick, that keeps bad players around. And you can be sure, that not a lot of bad players can draw a line and stop playing when they start losing, most of them going to give it all back when the time comes and then some more. But you have to stick around to take advantage of them.

 

Let’s talk numbers

A lot of our players play Expressos on Winamax, so we have a pretty good understanding of the possible swings there: (the numbers are from €5 and €10)

3K games played/ month : you have 50% chance, that you are going to experience a 125 BI downswing in the month and a 25% chance you are going to experience a 175 BI downer

10K games played/ month : you have 50% chance, that you are going to experience a 250 BI downswing in the month, and 25% of the time you are going to experience a 350 BI downer (fun times)

Let’s keep in mind, that these are statistics from winning players, if someone is new to spin games, this could get even uglier. Extremely fast games with shallow stacks are not for the faint of heart, but on the other hand, they can be extremely profitable if played the right way.

 

Minimize the effects of downswings

It’s a bit paradoxical, but just because you have a downswing doesn’t mean you are not a winning player anymore. But if you dwell too much on it and stop doing the things that made you a winning poker player in the first place it can really take a toll on your game and mental well-being.

The first question you should ask yourself may sound a bit silly, but it’s important to be clear. Are you a winning player? Of course, if you already have a big enough sample size, you can easily answer this. But if you haven’t been playing for long and happened to start your poker career with an upswing, you may have a distorted picture of what your current capabilities are.

This is a time to be disciplined, take your game apart, and even better if someone can help you with that. You can ask someone more experienced than you to look at your game and your stats. It can also be helpful to join a stable to help you get a realistic view of your game.

When things look grim, it’s way easier to let the structures in your life fall apart. But this is the time when you need to keep up with your habits at the tables and apart from it as well. Make sure to wake up on time, eat properly and take some time for exercise. It’s not rocket science, especially if you’ve been playing poker for a while, but it’s pretty easy to go into a slump if you are running badly. 

If you have a set number of games you have to play a day, make sure you do it. In case you don’t have a set number yet, then figure one out, it’s extremely important if you want to take poker seriously.

 

The sunny side of variance

Only worse hands call you in a preflop all-in and you miraculously hold. You manage to flop a monster hand almost every time or your draw gets there on the river like clockwork. This is it, finally, you are where you wanted to be for so long. The poker gods have rewarded you for all your efforts. From now on everything will be fine, that’s the new norm. Or is it?

Of course, it would be wonderful if from now on you could make a profit in every session every day, but unfortunately, this is not the reality. The same fact that can help with a downswing is just as true for an upswing: it will end sooner or later.

 

What to do when the gods of poker smile at you?

An upswing is an opportunity to take a shot at… your education. A few might think that this is the perfect time to take a shot at higher stakes, but the overconfidence that comes with being on the better side of variance can quickly melt a handsome bankroll into nothing. With education, you will be able to lower your variance and experience smaller swings and eventually move up the stakes with proper knowledge and confidence. 

The second biggest thing to remember is that every single upswing will eventually come to an end. Sooner or later your heater will stop. If you became lazy with your game because, well, you are printing anyways, you are in for a rude awakening. 

Keeping up with your daily routine and not falling behind on the number of games you play is extremely important. Without consistency and sticking to your plan through thick and thin, you are just a recreational player, not a professional who plays for a living. The upswing is going to end eventually, so don’t let yourself go lazy.

If you need some help improving your game and keeping yourself accountable or you just want to try another type of game, we might have the solution for you. Our 30-day commitment-free trial period will give you the knowledge you need to become a winning player in spin games. After 30 days if you like it, you can join our team and the sky’s the limit, if not, at least you’ve given it a shot and you know it’s not for you.

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