Poker is the one card game that you play for money where genuine skill really comes into the picture. Luck is important, sure, but there’s a world of difference between good and bad poker players. You really have to know how to read your opponents, while mastering your own poker face. There’s a popular saying in poker circles that you always play other players and never the cards. Which is why you can have a bad hand and win or you can have a really good hand and, if not lose, then at least not win as much as you should.
Still, no matter how good you are at playing, sometimes you just go through periods of losing game after game after game. This is called a “downswing” and it can happen to just about any poker player, even professionals. It can be bad luck or playing against a string of superior players.
The big question, though, isn’t whether you will ever be caught in a downswing if you play poker a lot, but when. A bigger question still, though, is what to do about those pesky downswings. How to overcome them, certainly, and how to make sure they don’t spiral out of control.
Let’s start off with the most important first…
Avoid Falling into a Financial Black Hole
This is unquestionably the most crucial thing to keep in mind when you’re in a downswing: don’t start playing irresponsibly by trying to “make up” for lost time and lost games. Do not exceed a budget that you set out for yourself, according to what you can actually afford. Do not start gambling on credit. Do not start joining sketchy games that allow you to play on credit. And if you feel yourself start to spiral, get help for gambling addiction and financial advice as soon as humanly possible.
Take a Break
A simple way to avoid the above and to regroup from a string of bad games and bad bets is to simply walk away from poker for a while. Certainly until you can afford it again, but even keep away from it until you’re sure that it can once again be a fun rather than stressful situation. Some time away will renew your passion for the game and may just put an end to that unlucky steak you’ve been having.
Join Low-Stakes Tournaments
Cash games and high stakes tournaments are where you’ll end up feeling your losses the most, so what might be a good idea if you’re not keen to take a break is to both hone your skills and reset your confidence as a player by joining relatively cheap poker tournaments. These are especially useful as you normally can’t buy back in after you’ve gone out so the cost to you is a simple flat rate that in these kinds of tournaments aren’t that high.
Brush Up on Your Skills
Read some books and watch some videos on poker to see what you may be doing wrong. You may well be doing everything right and losing purely because of bad luck, but it never hurts to brush up on your basics. Even try and work on your poker face in general life.
Make Sure You’re Playing the Right People
This one is a very crucial rule that you should always keep in mind even if you’re in the middle of an upswing. Because poker is a game that’s as much about skill as it is about luck, make sure that you only play other players on a similar level to you. Playing someone who is better at reading other players, at bluffing at psyching out their opponents than you might make you a better player, but it could also lead to many, many losses in a row. You can play weaker players, of course, but make sure they’re not too much weaker, both for the sake of sportsmanship and because you won’t learn this way. But perhaps most importantly, just remember that poker is supposed to be fun. Yeah, winning is nice and falling into a seemingly endless pattern of losses can be beyond frustrating, but keeping perspective is crucial if you want to not just win more games, but to be a more responsible, happier and more successful poker player. And this part is always up to you.