Dealing With Downswings – Part #1

Dealing With Poker Downswings Can Separate The Long-Term Profitable Players From The Crowd

Poker Downswings are a natural part of the game, so much so that the question is not whether you will experience a downswing – but when. However, with clear thinking and good poker bankroll management, it is easy to manage a poker downswing and maintain long-term profitability. This article defines a poker downswing and looks at the potential size of these for various games – part #2 will discuss some psychological methods of ensuring that you get through.

We will start with a definition – after all, one player’s variance may well be another players bankroll crushing downswing.

A losing run of poker sessions which a winning player experiences over a sustained period of time which has a noticeable effect on their poker bankroll.

Notice some elements of this definition are critical to the following discussion – only winning players can have downswings. Many new players will experience the positive side of variance early in their poker careers, and then apparently ‘suffer a downswing’ later. However, this player may never have been a winner at all if it were not for the fortunate run of cards in a small sample. This happens often when new poker tournament players make a ‘big score’ early or when SNG players project their initial success over a tiny sample (<500 games) over a longer period.

We included the word ‘sessions’ in the definition, someone who plays only once a week can easily have a 6-month downswing. While an internet pro-grinder may label a bad run of a just one week as a downswing.

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Bankroll is of course included – this is the measure of our success and also a key to thinking about downswings. How large a poker bankroll you keep will affect both the effect of a downswing and your sensitivity to losing sessions. The smaller your bankroll the sooner a small run of variance gets tagged as a downswing.

Size Of Your Poker Downswing – SNGs, MTTs and Cash Games

What many players experiencing a downswing ask is whether they are suffering from normal variance – or whether there is a fundamental issue with their game. Experiencing several losing sessions can undoubtedly affect your profitability, for example by making you play more defensively when aggression would win more. Players are often quick to use the label ‘downswing’ when ‘variance’ would be more appropriate:

Poker Downswings - Normal SNG Downswing Sizes

Even the very best SNG Players can easily go on breakeven runs of 1000 games or 50 buy-in downswings. If you lose 20 or 30 buy-ins this can feel terrible, however this is to be expected as a normal part of the game. The recommended bankroll for SNG Tournaments is 100 times your buy-in levels (less for recreational players who can reload easily). The reason for this is that large swings are common.

Poker Downswings - Normal MTT Downswing Sizes

The biggest variance of all comes for Multi-Table tournament players, where 1 or 2 scores each month can make the difference between a big profit and a big loss. There is a good reason why MTT players are advised to have 100 ‘average buy-ins’ for the levels at which they play. 50 buy-in losing streaks can only be considered slightly below average when it comes to variance here.

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Poker Downswings - Normal Cash Game Downswing Sizes

Cash game bankroll management suggests 20 buy-ins for no-limit games and 300 big-bets for limit games. While reversals at the table can seem relatively expensive at the time, it is rare for the losses to consume too much of your bankroll in one go. 10+ buy-in downswings should see you moving down levels, where the quality of the opposition will allow you to rebuild. With cash games a slight-losing or breakeven player can last for a long time with small decreases in their roll. In this type of game it is very important that you review hand histories and ensure your lines give you the best EV possible in each situation.

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