When Fantasy Becomes Nightmare: The Inevitable SNG Downswing that will Crush your Bankroll

A Timely Reality Check From Seasoned SNG Pro Albatross77 On
How To Cope When Your Poker Fantasy Turns Sour!

About the Author: Albatross77 is an experienced, successful and highly regarded SNG professional and member of the ‘Pocket 5’s’ poker community.

A couple weeks ago I was browsing an online poker forum that I frequent when I came across one post entitled “A horrific experience!” Naturally, before clicking the link, I assumed the worst. This poor fellow had probably gambled away the grocery money playing limits he couldn’t afford, his wife had left him due to his gambling addiction, and now he was turning to the online community for consolation.

Instead, what I found was both disappointing and somewhat of a relief. The author of the post hadn’t experienced anything horrific at all, but rather was in the midst of a typical SNG downswing.

I won’t bore you with the details because they’re so commonplace that you’ve probably endured the same variance yourself many times, but what I found amusing was that the author wondered how an experience I knew to be quite commonplace could even be possible. He’d gone 22 consecutive games without a cash!  He was down 42 buy-ins in a single day!  He just can’t take it anymore! The horror! The horror!

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Most high volume SNG grinders have a day like this each month, sometimes multiple days. The difference between the seasoned grinder and someone still learning to be successful is that the grinder knows to expect these swings and maintains a reasonable perspective when everything’s going wrong.

The player having a “horrific experience” had just completed a phase I like to call the fantasy portion of his poker career.  He’d known routine success and failure, but mostly success– good cards, key victories in coin flips, and hitting crucial draws while his opponents’ draws usually missed. He was an average recreational player who just recently had studied the game, worked hard to improve, and built some very nice profits over the course of two weeks. He thus reached the conclusion that he was now an excellent SNG player and decided to move up in stakes.

Unfortunately for him, the good run of cards that he attributed to his hard work and newfound talent turned out instead to be an impressive heater. There’s no switch you flip that suddenly makes you unbeatable– the process of improvement is gradual and we’re foolish to believe otherwise. The cards can trick any of us into thinking we’re world-class players, but eventually all lucky streaks must end, and sometimes they can be followed by streaks that inhabit the exact opposite place on the spectrum.

I’ve played enough SNG’s to assure you that I’ve seen both extremes more than once. The key to relishing the fantasy of a heater and surviving the nightmare of a downswing is to remember that your short term results always lie. When you’re crushing the games, your mind will trick you into believing you’re a much better player than you really are. Conversely, when you’re in a downward spiral hemorrhaging cash, you will either believe you’re the most unlucky person in the world or you’ll lose all confidence in your poker abilities.

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Neither the fantasy nor the nightmare tell you much about your skills as a poker player, but they both can have a tremendously damaging effect on your psyche if you get caught up in your results. A lucky player living the fantasy becomes overconfident and thus more vulnerable to depression when he starts losing for an extended period of time.

An unlucky player suffering the nightmare develops such a negative outlook that he becomes gun-shy and risk averse, turning into a shell of a gambler that the other competitors at the table will bully into submission.

Overconfidence and timidity are two characteristics that will keep anyone from playing their best poker, and if you’ve succumbed to the power of the fantasy or the nightmare then you’ve experienced both sides of this problem and cost yourself a good deal of money at the tables.

As far as I know, the only cure for these behavioral flaws is experience.  Play as much poker as you can and enjoy the process, while at the same time distancing yourself from the short term outcome. When you’re having tremendous success, remind yourself of the days when success wasn’t easy. When nothing seems to be going right, remember that the good times will eventually come again. Play the game when you’re truly excited to play, not because you’re bored and looking for something to do. Never even consider playing when you’re unhappy, frustrated, or so negative that you feel no matter what you do you just cannot win. All this advice may seem obvious, but it’s amazing how often your mind will tell you it doesn’t want to play and you’ll refuse to listen.

I’ve played enough poker to have enjoyed the very best and endured the very worst, and I’m still learning to handle it correctly, getting a little less emotional each day at the turn of a card. I have faith that my friend suffering through “a horrific experience” can successfully embark on a similar journey.

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