Most people who play poker at the lower stakes these days have at least a general idea of what they are doing. For the most part they know what hands to play, when to bet, when to fold and so on.
But something that very few people are prepared for is how to deal with lengthy winning and losing streaks. From my experience playing online poker and coaching at the micro stakes for over 10 years now I know that both of these are major problem areas for many newer players.
In this article I am going to discuss several ways you can control your emotions and play your best whether you are winning or losing big at the poker tables.
How to Deal With Heaters in Poker
Let's talk first about how to deal with winning big — after all, this is what we all play for. This is the goal. Hopefully this is a "problem" for you (and not just occasionally).
A lengthy period of winning in poker is often referred to as a "heater." If you have played poker for any decent amount of time, then you have probably hit one at some point.
All the cards just keep falling your way no matter what you do. It's almost like you entered some cheat codes and you are playing the game in "God-mode." If you need the flush, it comes in. If you have , they have . If you have a set, they have a lower set and so on.
Sometimes these heaters can last for weeks or even months on end. This is when you hear about people doing crazy stuff like winning several tournaments in a row.
However, it is very important not to get ahead of yourself during these good runs. For one thing, when you're on a winning streak, it becomes dangerously easy to overvalue how much of your own skill is involved.
Yes, it is likely that you are playing well. Everybody plays well when every card falls perfectly for them. There is no tilt. You almost expect to win. But this can become a big problem if you start inflating your skill level and thinking you have solved the game. Because believe me, what goes up, must come down.
The best thing that you can do during a sustained heater is to play as much as possible. But you also need to stay humble. Don't jump up in stakes unless you are properly bankrolled to do so. And don't quit doing your homework away from the tables because you think you have it all figured out.
Enjoy the success, but also stay grounded.
How to Deal With Downswings in Poker
All right, let's talk about the most depressing part of poker — the downswings. I'll bet you have encountered a few of these along the way as well.
Downswings tend to remain in our memories and stick out much more than heaters. They are painful. They cause tilt. They are frustrating. You can't seem to win a hand to save your life. All your draws miss, you are getting coolered nonstop and when you finally do make a hand, they don't have anything.
This is the crash that inevitably comes after every big heater. A losing streak can be the most difficult thing to deal with for any poker player, because it can shake your confidence to its core.
A losing streak can make you question if all of your previous success was just luck. It makes you wonder if you will ever win again.
But once again, it is important not to blow these situations out of proportion by blaming yourself. The fact is, sometimes it doesn't matter how well you play, you just won't be able to win with the cards that you are being dealt currently.
This is a big reason why it is extremely important that you are doing regular session reviews during these downswings in order to make sure that it is in fact bad luck that is bringing you down.
If that is indeed the case, then it is important to avoid getting too down on yourself. Remember, everybody is going to go through one of these downswings at some point. The only question is who is going to handle it better. As long as I know that I am playing decently well, then I have learned look at these periods as opportunities to get ahead instead.
I see downswings as my chance to separate myself from everybody else by handling the adversity better than they will.
Neither of Them Are Real
The mark of a true professional, though, is coming to an understanding that neither the big heaters nor the terrible downswings are actually "real" — or at least really indicative of how things normally are.
Both are aberrations. Both are outliers. Most of the time when we play poker we are actually running somewhere within what some might call a "normal" range of luck. That is, sometimes we are on the right end of the cards and sometimes we are on the wrong end, and usually we don't remain that long on one end or the other.
Both heaters and downswings represent extreme cases during which we remain well outside of the regular boundaries of variance for longer-than-usual periods. That means the key to surviving lengthy winning and losing streaks at the lower limits is to understand that neither are "real" or representative.
In other words — you are't that good and you aren't that bad.
If you can learn to keep an even temperament throughout the endless ups and downs, then you will go a long way towards figuring out the true key to success — namely, playing for the long run and not being a slave to the never-ending short-term rollercoaster like so many others.
When you truly realize that neither the big ups nor the big downs are even real, then you can just calmly make good decisions no matter the circumstances and find true long-term success.
Dealing with the large swings that occur in poker is one of the hardest things that you will have to deal with in this game. This is especially the case at the lower limits because you expect to beat these games soundly. But sometimes you simply have to accept the variance that exists in poker and just ride it out.
When you learn to prevent yourself from getting too high during your big wins and too low during your big losses, then you will start seeing the true nature of this game.
Each time you sit down to play poker, the thing that you really control is how well you play each hand in the present moment. This is all you should be focused on.
Don't be controlled by short-term results — whether good or bad — and you will be miles ahead of your competition.
Nathan "BlackRain79" Williams is the author of the popular micro stakes strategy books Crushing the Microstakes and Modern Small Stakes. He also blogs regularly about all things related to the micros over at www.blackrain79.com.