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Running Bad

bad run

Poker is often a battle of wits not only between you and your opponents, but between you and yourself. This inner battle is often between the logical side of you and the emotional side, and as is often the case in life as well, the logical side often loses this fight.

Whenever you lose money at poker, whether this is a matter of a short term phase of running bad or a longer term one, the first thing to do is to look to where our play perhaps could be improved. To do this properly, we must always look to the quality of our play only, and not to the specific results that produced the losses.

For the vast majority of players, this is not very easy to do. Whenever you are running bad, the tendency is to become angry, afraid, or usually a combination of both. Players generally accept these negative feelings as appropriate and normal, and at best may look for ways to cope a little better with them, like taking more breaks, playing less, and such.

We really do need to separate these two influencers, the logical and the emotional side, before we can even properly analyze what is going on.

However, we usually do have a pretty good idea of what is really causing our ill fate, and it is a bad run of luck. Even when this is pretty obvious though, the anger we often feel here can blind us to some of the plays that we may be making that are mistakes, as we are focused too much on the bum luck we're getting.

So mastering our emotions might be the most challenging part of being an excellent poker player. Even some top pros tend to struggle with this a lot, think Phil Hellmuth here. No matter how good a player you are though, you are doing your game a disservice when you lose your cool or are otherwise emotionally bothered, either at the poker table or with off table work.

We know with absolute certainty that luck will always even out in the end, and therefore it makes no sense at all, in fact it is idiotic, to become angry with certain distributions or luck, or feel cheated when we face an extended bad run of it.

Perhaps we may feel that we can't help ourselves from being so stupid here, but it's usually a matter of not even trying to gain the proper perspective. If we are going to feel anger, it is more appropriately directed at ourselves for professing to be a bright player but at the same time showing such ignorance to the most fundamental aspect of it, which is the element of chance in the game.

Having said that though, it is not easy to become as detached with results as we sometimes need to be. With our relatively small edges, we can often see some significant negative swings, where we are required to not only stay the course but to keep the ship very steady lest we make the situation worse by causing our grief to produce mistakes.

So dealing with running bad always involves introspection, and the clearer we can make our thinking here, the better we will deal with these so called bad runs. We must also of course be prepared for them, and if we don't have a proper plan in place, we may indeed find ourselves in trouble, and in a way that may be well beyond our ability to handle the matter psychologically.

So the time to plan for running bad is prior to the actual event, to make sure we are prepared to handle it when it does come. Perhaps we need to play lower, or play a game which has lower variance, this is what is called bankroll management. Given we have a plan to ride out the worst waves we may reasonably expect, then we're far better off when they do come.

Beyond that poker tip, when we do feel off kilter, it really does pay to ask ourselves why we let ourselves get this bent out of shape. Maybe we feel entitled to less bad luck, but that is damn foolish when we think of it. Thinking more in general can be a big help here.