Playing Through A Downswing

downswing chart

I think people who don’t know much about poker really underestimate the hard work and the emotional stability that it requires to be a professional poker player. Some of my friends give me the impression that they consider my job to be doss; the equivalent of playing Angry Birds on the iPad for a few hours a day, whilst they toil arduously in their respective 9-to-5 jobs.

I’m not trying to suggest my job is harder than theirs, far from it I’m sure, but mine certainly isn’t the walk in the park it might be perceived as. Perhaps if they tried to play multiple games of Angry Birds on a grid of 9 iPads simultaneously, with their rent money on the line, then they might get a slightly better idea. Poker can be very mentally exhausting. My 3 year old son barely manages to get a story out of me every night before I inevitably fall asleep next to him in his bed.

Poker can also be very emotionally draining, especially when you have a prolonged spell of losing. This is what much of October had to offer me. Each day I woke up with a little less optimism than the previous day that “today would be different”, and “today I won’t bust 2 tables out in every tournament I go deep in” etc. But alas, it didn’t happen, or at least for a solid 3 week period it didn’t.

Playing through a downswing can be tough. I think there are two general reactions: to chase losses, or to become so down beaten that you are demotivated to bother playing. I definitely fall into the latter category, but I was quite pleased with myself, as this time I managed to grind play every day for about 3 weeks straight. Fortunately the poker Gods (eventually) rewarded my tenacity with a few days that saved my month. Normally a close to break-even month would be pretty disastrous, but this particular month I’ll take it.

I’m sure there are many poker players out there who are better than me technically, but don’t do as well as I do because of their inability to handle the emotional side of poker. Whilst some of this might boil down to personality, I think experience is a very valuable asset in poker. Having been a professional for many years, I have been through much of what variance has to throw at me in multiple different formats. I can’t claim to be completely unphased by it, but I don’t let it have a negative effect on my play.

It can be pretty tough when you’re in the midst of a $7k downswing to keep playing $15 tournaments that give you absolutely no shot at getting out of the hole in the short term. I think this mental barrier is one reason why people sometimes move up in stakes to chase losses. It’s really important to stick to games you know, are comfortable with, profitable in, and just try and grit your teeth and grind it out when you’re in a downswing.

James Atkin Graph

James Atkin October 2012 Graph


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Derek P
Derek P

Spot on about a lot of the nuisances of a downswing. Most friends really don't get it, even friends with financial backgrounds.