Bad run or bad poker player? Be honest, then adjust

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“I’m the most unlucky person who ever played poker!” “Every time I’m in a race, the other person wins. I don’t care if I have the overcards or the pair. I just lose races all the time!” “I just can’t beat these idiots! They have no clue what they’re doing and every time they have a draw, they get there. It’s ridiculous how bad I run!”

Have you ever uttered any of those statements? If so, then take a strong look in the mirror and this statement: “I’m not as good a poker player as my ego tells me. Other people know more than me and are simply better. I don’t win because I haven’t learned as much or practiced as much as they have. I’ll quit whining now, read some books, get some coaching and work on my game.”

Let’s say you’re an avid player and hold your own in some regular games or tournaments. You usually win or at least break even, but for some reason, you feel you’re just running really badly. Sometimes this lasts a day or two, but sometimes it lasts for weeks or months. If you’re an online player this can be really damaging to your ego and certainly your bankroll as you play twice as many hands.

So, what can you do? It happens to most of us at some point, and having just gone through about a month and a half of “running bad” recently I was making those negative statements as well, getting extremely angry about bad beats, unavoidable coolers and not winning.

First off, accept the realities of poker. I recommend the Matthew Hilger-Ian Taylor book The Poker Mindset to my students. They do a great job of preparing you for the realities of short-term luck vs. long-term skill and many other aspects. If you believe in the realities of the game, you’ll accept the natural swings and variance. However, there still are times when the game seems unfair. Hands just aren’t holding up and you keep getting unlucky. The question is whether that’s true or whether that’s your perception.

You need to be objective when evaluating your game. No one wants to admit their not playing as well as they can or that they’re not as good as they think they are. Review hands; it can be very beneficial to discuss them with a coach or poker friends. Also, you can use hand re-players or software such as PokerTracker to review your hands with detailed reports of percentage. If you’ve played enough hands, you’ll see your hands will follow the right percentages; it’s a mathematical certainty.

If you strive to make the right decisions throughout life and expect good things to happen, they will. It’s the same in poker. If you focus on every hand and try to make the best decisions possible, then you’ll have an edge on most players. If you don’t play optimally at any point, you bring more luck into the equation and subject yourself to getting unlucky more often.

Also, take a close look at your game selection. Are you playing regularly with better players or worse? If you’re picking games and tournaments where you have an edge and you’re making good decisions, your results will reflect that. If you don’t know or can’t figure this out, you need to talk to friends or a coach to get a true assessment of your skills and what games would be good for you.

What do we do if we think we’re playing well and are picking the right games but still are running bad? Take a little break. Do something productive. I looked at how I was playing and I found I made less than optimal decisions at critical tournament points. I realized that a lot of times I did this out of frustration. Next, I forced myself to play less, and then I read some sections of my favorite poker books to reinforce solid fundamentals. I went online and literally searched “How to deal with running bad in poker” and found forum threads and articles with suggestions.

Maybe go to the gym, eat better, drink more water (and less alcohol or soda), spend time with your family, read non-poker-related books or go to the movies. Whatever it is, it should be something that makes you feel better and happier.

Simply decide to win. I say “simply,” but if you really do it, it’s quite an undertaking. When you decide to win, you expect to win all of the time. You understand the realities of poker and you understand the variance, but you make all of your decisions at the table as best as you can and you expect good results.

You learn from your good plays and your mistakes and you dedicate yourself to winning all of the time. Focus more on the good plays and the times you get lucky, rather than focusing on your beats. I don’t allow my students to tell me bad-beat stories. I only want to see hands where they made a good play on someone, where they had a big hand hold up, or where they got lucky. Focusing on the positive will just reinforce your positive thinking about poker and life in general.

Decide to Win!

— Lee Childs is founder and lead instructor of Acumen Poker. He also is an instructor with the WPT Boot Camp. Check out his site at www.acumenpoker.net.