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Poker downswing – How to survive and continue winning

First thing what is a downswing in poker? Lets define it as a period of time when you are constantly loosing due to bad luck. So how can this happen if you are playing mathematically correct and constantly putting chips in the pot when you are likely ahead ?
Unfortunately I do not have a straight forward answer from science point of view. I will try to answer with my experience and observation. First thing luck works in very strange ways. Not only in poker but generally in life. Sometimes people have a very bad unlucky periods in life and sometimes they have extremely lucky ones. So your luck is not one straight line it is more of  strange looking graph. I will try to illustrate it with my mad paint skills.



poker and life downswing and upswing
luck graph


So if we look at this graph we see that we are never running at “fair” luck. We are either have more luck than we “deserve” or less. Sometimes this luck swings can be longer and we recognize them as downswings. Thing that we are not putting into consideration is that we will be in upswing same amount of time like in downswing in a big enough sample. We are just not paying attention when we are running hot. Try also this interesting article about luck.
If you are playing professionally grinding long hours every day you have already come into many downswings. Some of them can be quite annoying. Sometimes it is only 2/3 days but other times it can be even a month or longer. Longer down swing than 2 months are not real downswings. That just means that you are not playing well.

Mine 8 months poker downswing

At one point 6 years ago I had a huge poker downswing and was running break even for 8 months. I was convinced that I am running super bad. Constantly getting dealt KKvsAA, QQvsKK, AKvsAA/KK, loosing with overpairs getting my straight into flush, flush into full house etc.  My reasoning was correct. In previous period I was destroying the game for long time. Being one of the few big winners in the field. And suddenly I got into this huge downswing and could not beat the game. But actually what really happen ? Did i play worse than i previously did ? Probably not too much. Did the software change ? Did i got cheated ? Was i just super unlucky and destined to lose ?  No, no and absolutely NO.

So what have changed ? Answer is simple. Other players have improved. Huge fish was not on every table anymore and I did not improve I just played the same like I did. So in order to keep same win rate like a previously did I had to have same edge like I did. So i had to be more careful with table selection and find tables with bad players and more importantly I had to learn and improve in order to beat other regulars what I did in the end.

How to survive poker downswing ?

Can you prevent bad run of cards ? No. Can you just fold everything until it pass ? No, believe me I tried. Can you play only premium hands and stay super safe ? No. Can you change a website or limits you are playing in order to stop downswing ? No I tried absolutely everything I could. But actually nothing works. So what should you do ?

DO NOT LOSE MORE THAN YOU MUST. That is a key in surviving poker downswing. And even more important STAY MENTALLY SHARP AND DO NOT TILT. Ok so this is much easier said than done. But that is the answer. Professional poker is not for weak minded people. If you realize you are on tilt and not playing well than make a break. Make a few days break if that is necessary. Your goal is to keep playing good whatever are the results.

So loosing with your KK preflop against AA is not a problem. Problem is when you start going all in preflop with 99 against tight players or when you are paying off your 1 pair hand against obvious 2 pair or straight. Problem is when you bet your overpair for 3 streets and got raised on the river and pay with frustration just to see your opponent holding a set. So these are situations when you are loosing much more than you should. Just keep calm, fold and wait for your moment. Many of your opponents won’t fold in these situations so every time you fold and save money when you realize your hand is not good you are actually making money. Keep that in mind and play good poker.


Final thoughts

During a downswing try to stay in maximum focus about your mental state. Pay attention to your tilt level. Did you had enough ? Was this bad beat one too much and you can not continue playing good ? Make a break than. Go out, have a beer, have a dinner with friend, relax, whatever. Just don’t play as a fish  😉

If you want to read more about poker psychology try article about mental game here.


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