Please take a break before you go broke

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By Zack Bartholomew

I want to start with some brutal honesty. I’ve busted more bankrolls than I care to admit. Now, when I was first getting started in poker, some of these “bankrolls” were less than what I get into a regular $2-$5 game for, but it hurt nonetheless. With my experience and the amazing experience I’ve gained helping students at Big Slick Poker Academy, I’ve identified a critical mistake I, and many others, make.
That mistake is trying to “grind through the downswing.”

Downswings are nasty, awful, soul-crushing experiences. You simply can’t understand how it’s possible to run this bad. You tell yourself you’re playing well. All the while in the back of your head you aren’t sure. After a while, you seriously doubt you’re playing well. You doubt if you played well ever. The idea of winning is a fantasy. The act of cashing out is the stuff of dreams.

It makes sense the only way to get the money you lost playing poker would be to play more poker.
This is flat-out wrong.

It’s wrong because of the concept of Accumulated Emotion. I was first introduced to this idea from the Mental Game of Poker by Jared Tendler. If you haven’t read his books, do yourself a favor and get them. Don’t even look at the price (they aren’t much) because you need them. Seriously, they’re that good.
Accumulated Emotion is what causes you to “wake up on the wrong side of the bed.” Your temper is unusually short. Things you normally just roll with are now the end of the freakin’ world. This happens because your brain hasn’t had the time, or you haven’t put in the conscious effort, to clear negative emotions.

This is what happens when you’re in the thick of a downswing. You start another session after just getting your head smashed in the last time. You don’t feel nervous or scared. You may even be excited. But then you lose that first pot. It may even be a small one and you think to yourself, “Oh…my…gosh, here we go again.”

You’re now on tilt. You aren’t playing your best. No matter how hard you try.

So as it turns out, trying to grind through the downswing is the worst thing you can do. Take a break. Don’t play this weekend. Take two weeks off. A month even. During that time you undoubtedly have the desire to play. Stay disciplined and stick to your break just like you have a disciplined preflop strategy. This will help your Accumulated Emotion and you’ll find you’re better emotionally equipped to handle the swings that happen in any given session.

Next thing you know, you’ll be floppin’ sets and cashin’ checks just like the good ol’ days.

— Zack Bartholomew is an instructor with Big Slick Academy.