David Kaye: Managing Ups And Downs Of Poker Key To Longterm Success

Written By David Kaye on March 7, 2022 - Last Updated on March 10, 2022
Graph going up and down

Playing poker can take you on a mental and emotional roller coaster.

When you’re winning, it can feel like you’ve mastered the game and will never lose again. When you’re losing, it can shatter your confidence and you can begin to question whether you even know how to play the game.

Every poker player deals with these swings of emotions differently, and I truly believe it is one of the most underrated pieces of any poker player’s success.

Whether up or down, make sure to review your play

When you’re on an upswing, or winning streak, it’s important to understand that just because you are winning, it doesn’t mean you are playing perfect.

We all want to envision ourselves as crushers on the table. So, when we get a short-term sample size of us doing great, we want to believe this is the normal.

During these times it is important to continue studying and reviewing your play. Am I winning because of good play, or because of good fortune? Usually, the answer is a combination of both. But even a poker player who is losing over the longterm can go on a rush for a few weeks and begin to feel like a winning player.

David Kaye Poker November 2021
David Kaye

When you’re experiencing a downswing, or a losing streak, it’s important to not lose your confidence. Just because you are going through a bad stretch doesn’t mean you are a bad player.

Even the best players in the world go on downswings, so certainly you and I will too.

With that said, it’s still important to review your play to find the mistakes that you are making.

The extremes of going on a great upswing, or a terrible downswing are part of what make poker so exciting, but also what makes the game so difficult. As a poker player, it’s important to walk a fine line between confidence and humility, no matter which end of this spectrum you’re currently experiencing.

If you begin to overestimate your skill set, you will plateau as a player as you won’t believe you need to study as much or be willing to accept advice from others. Also, you may begin playing in higher stakes games where you simply are not good enough to be winning in the longterm.

If you lose your confidence, your win rate will certainly be hurt as you will become afraid in game to make the bluff that intuitively you know needs to be run.

All players experience ups and downs

To give you an example of just how much these swings can take place in terms of buy-ins, I’ll show you my results playing $2.50/$5.00 blind cash games on the Michigan online poker sites.

This graph shows my results since the Michigan online poker sites launched about 13 months ago.

Graph of winnings: steep incline, followed by brief decline and plateau

As you can see, despite winning over $28,000 (or 56 buy-ins) at this stake level, I went on a downswing during this time where I lost about $14,000 (or 28 buy-ins). This is over the course of 169,000 hands.

Although, I am far from the best player playing these games, I’m still someone who has won over the longterm and I went on a stretch where I lost 28 buy-ins.

It’s also important to note that the smaller your edge is in a game, the bigger the downswings will be. This is because on average you’re winning less, therefore, when the odds go against you, you have less room to drop from your average than someone who has a huge edge in a game.

If you think these swings are big, the swing in tournaments is much more severe.

Its not uncommon to see top players go on a 100-plus buy-in downswing in large tournament fields. This is caused by the top-heavy payout structure of tournaments.

Most of your longterm profit in tournaments comes from your few biggest scores, and even the best players in the world generally make money less than 20% of the tournament entries they play.

Tips to deal with poker’s upswings and downswings

So, you may be asking, “how do I handle the ups and downs of poker?” Here are two tips on how I deal with both upswings, and downswings.

  • Analyze your play with someone you trust. When things are going well, it’s easy to feel like you’re on top of the world. Even if you are winning every session, there are going to be mistakes you’re still making. Do your best to find these leaks now, not once you start losing. If you’re experiencing a downswing, reviewing hands can help plug mistakes you are making, as well as validate the hands that you are playing well.
  • When you’re on an upswing and feeling good, play more poker. When you’re on a downswing, take a break and play less. I think most people make a huge mistake and do the opposite. When they are winning, they want to lock up another win. When losing, they want to keep playing until they get back to even. Typically, when you’re winning and you’re confident, you’re going to play better. When on a losing stretch, you are going to play worse. It’s important to recognize how you’re feeling, and how this may impact your play, and adjust accordingly.

Poker can be a mental and emotional roller coaster of a game. We all experience this, and I hope that after reading this article you can handle the ups, and downs better in the future!

Poker content creator David Kaye of Mason writes a regular column for PlayMichigan. You can follow David’s poker journey on his social media accounts under the handle “DavidKayePoker.” David is on YouTube, Twitch, Twitter and Instagram.

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