Going through poker hell? Keep going

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Sir Winston Churchill is credited with coining the phrase, “If you are going through hell, keep going.” He couldn’t know that generations later poker players the world over would apply its relevance to their game. Poker can be brutal on your psyche, so the quicker you can get out of a “funk” or away from your “losing ways” at the tables, the sooner you can feel your feet are out of the fire.

The “burning” question remains: “What should I do when everything is going so poorly for me at the tables and I’ve tried everything?” Tough question, but I would reply, “What have you tried? And are you willing to really change your ways?”

For example, when you play sit-n-go tournaments do you drop down a notch to $50 events instead of $100? For those of you who play cash games do you drop down a level or several levels when it gets tough sledding at higher limits?

If you are not, but doing quite the opposite, moving up in limits to recapture your losses, you might find your bankroll being depleted, right along with your enthusiasm for the game. Making a move in the wrong direction to compensate for poor play, a run of bad luck or inconsistent results is not the “prescription” to fix your problem.

Sometimes, we don’t realize we’ve picked up a few bad habits such as playing too many hands that when we’re “on our game,” would discard in an instant. Occasionally we may feel our skills are superior to our opponents and underestimate their skills. Let’s discuss useful remedies and how can we stop the bleeding. If you’re reeling, it’s time to step away from the tables. Take a break. It won’t kill you to spend some time with a loved one (you remember them; they were around when you didn’t play poker all the time). Relax, catch a nap, see a movie, read a book (not necessarily a poker book, but that’s OK, too) and clear the mind. That means forget about any impending bankroll issues, forget about the recent bad losing streak or bad beat, and above all, forget about the pressures of having to win each time you play.

When you return to poker, start out slowly. Play in games you can “afford” and don’t put financial pressure on yourself. Play solid-aggressive poker, remembering how you became so successful in the first place when you did not play too many hands. Cut down on being the one in the hand constantly “drawing” while falling far behind your opponent. Make steady progress daily and don’t be in a hurry to jump up in limits. Take the time to replenish your poker soul, as well as your bankroll.

Once you have established a return to good poker habits and play, make the move back to a comfortable level again.
It might seem like hell when you’re in the midst of a losing streak and it might seem like there is nothing you can do, but that’s so wrong. Take charge of your situation and make some changes to relieve the stress and heat associated with this purgatory.

— Al Spath is the former Dean of PokerSchoolOnline, author of Poker Journal, and a private online and live poker coach (at Delaware Park Casino, Atlantic City and Las Vegas). He can be reached for private poker mentoring through his website: pokerinstructors.com or alspath@alspath.com.