Running Bad?
Oct 22, 2005  
by Jason Kirk  

Sooner or later, no matter how skilled he may be, every poker player is going to hit an extended run of poor results. There are few things in poker that will test a player's mettle more than running bad. Some melt under the pressure, even going so far as to leave the game completely. Others find that they thrive when they have to break their game down and rebuild it from the ground up. Whatever their response, everyone who runs bad inevitably questions their game and looks for a way to stop the bleeding. The most important thing to do in such a situation is to step back and make sure you're asking yourself the right questions. If you do this, your chances of getting back on track should improve.

1.) How much of your bad run is your fault?

While it isn't a very comforting thought to someone in the midst of a losing streak, it's very important to note that many players who think they are running bad because of poor cards are really running bad because of leaks in their game. Even worse, these may be leaks that don't actually appear until a bad run begins. Players who find themselves unable to win can be prone to making basic mistakes because they find themselves jolted out of the mindset they maintain easily when winning. These mistakes can pile upon one another and make a bad situation even worse.

If you're having a bad run, it's of the utmost importance that you sit down and analyze your game in detail. This is where having access to a program like PokerTracker can come in handy. Start with your preflop hand selection and make sure you aren't playing too many hands. Try to figure out whether or not you're maximizing your position. Are you chasing draws without the proper pot odds? And are you making the most of opportunities to build big pots when you're on a solid draw? Do you play too many weak or mediocre hands from the blinds? These are all holes in your game that you may not see when you're having poor results, but which can be fixed easily. Repairing them may not stop the bad run completely, but it will go a long way toward getting you back to respectable results.

2.) Do you need to step down in limits?

Bankroll management is a skill that not enough players learn - and it's also one that can be crucial to saving your stake if you go on a bad run. Players who have built up a bankroll over time through playing in low-limit games, and then find themselves running bad in a middle-limit game they've grown accustomed to playing, can fall prey to a dangerous sort of pride. Even if their shrinking bankroll justifies a move down in limits to protect their stake, they feel too embarrassed to do so. They worry about what other players will say if they see them haunting the low-limit tables again, continue to play above their bankroll in the middle-limit games, and then find themselves completely broke or crippled to the point that they're forced to move down.

Don't make the mistake of being too proud. It's better to step down voluntarily to a game you can crush than to be forced to because you lost all your bankroll playing above your head on a bad run. Stepping down can often be the extra cushion you need to weather the downswing you're experiencing.

3.) Are you playing the right game?

Many times a bad run can be at least partially attributed to your game selection. This can apply both to the specific game you're playing (e.g. limit hold'em, no-limit sit-and-go tourneys, etc.) and also to choosing the right tables. The urge to "get back" when losing repeatedly can cloud your vision, leaving you stuck at an unprofitable table when there are plenty of loose, crushable games to choose from. You may also get into a rut playing your usual game that can only be done away with by playing a different game. Tournament players can be especially susceptible to this because a bad tourney streak can come about even when you're playing well.

4.) Do you need to take a break?

If you examine all the question above and find you're still playing a solid game, usually the best answer to a bad run is simply to keep playing. Your results should even out in the long run. But if you've found flaws in your game, your bankroll management skills, or your game selection, sometimes the solution is simply to step away from poker for a while. This can be a painful choice for many players, but it's also sometimes necessary. Many of the lessons we learn when playing poker don't sink in all at once, and continuing to move forward with too much unprocessed experience in our minds can be counter-productive.

If you find yourself unable to fully concentrate, get away from the game for a while. Use the time you would normally spend playing poker to enjoy other activities. Clear your head. When you decide it's time to come back to the game, you may just find yourself playing the best poker of your life.

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