Great article by Alex Fitgerald (Assassinato) from our friends at www.pokerheadrush.com
Before Chip Reese passed away he said something that’s always stuck with me. In his Poker Superstars interview he discussed how it’s very easy for people to be professional when things are going well, but how you only understood who a player really is when things start going bad. As a teenager I liked the message. Nothing up until your first downswing counted for anything. Any idiot can catch cards.
How many names have you seen disappear after a monstrous year? Poker feels very manageable when things are going well. You’re often more open to critique. You take decisions as they come. When things start going bad is the time when people start taking constructive criticism wrongly, start changing how they play, and eventually even how they live. Downswings are the Masters course for a professional poker player. Get out with your sanity, and even your game a little tougher, and you will have earned an A. Crumble, move up to win back your losses, and bust yourself and you will have gotten an F.
The most important thing to realize when you’re losing is how foolish the concept of a downswing actually is. If you’re placing profitable bets, you’re going to be a winner. End of story. To stay in another mood when you’re losing means you’re that same guy who bets on black because it’s “due” after it’s come six reds. Your losing six sessions in a row has nothing to do with the odds on the seventh. If you’re profitable in the game you’re profitable today. The odds do not change against you just because you’re losing. If your play changes that means you’re changing your bets and mentality due to random numbers. Our goal as a professional gambler is to be educated about this natural impulse and be beyond it.
You’ve seen a graph of Google’s stock price progression right? It’s pretty, huh? If you’re only looking at 1/50th
of the graph however you might see a down trend. You might even see a few in a row. Just looking at those graphs we might be cautious, but looking at the graph representation of the long term we know our investment is safe. When you’re fuming about running bad it means you’re looking at one part of the graph, which could mean nothing. It’s natural given how the brain is designed to internalize random data, but it’s not going to help us play poker. We’re not having faith our own life’s graph will show profitable progression. If you’re making correct bets then your progression will always be up, and you can stop worrying about the small trends. You’re never going to be a content professional gambler if you cannot stop.
It’s normal to feel dragged down by variance, but we have to shed it. You’re keeping a running tab of your results, no one else is. The downswing is only existing in your mind because you are giving credit to one recent trend. The past is the past, and your profit is slated to go up if you’re betting correctly. The previous results were made when you were less educated, and you’ve learned from the mistakes now. No amount of feeling guilty, stupid, or angry will get our money back, so let’s just skip it and pretend we never had it. Let’s instead be proud of the lessons we’ve gained and what we’ve learned from them. If you’re still struggling to deal with variance mentally its always helped me to think about it in this way: If we were flipping coins with someone who paid us $55.00 when it came heads and we paid $50.00 for a tails, we would love our lives. We would never be frustrated, even when the coin came a string of tails. Never. This person is so generous to be playing this game with us, shouldn’t they know they’re a loser?
We should be in a good mood when it comes a string of tails, because its all just part of the hustle. It’s just getting our customer all worked up. If they never won they would never come back. We’d be all chess nerds not making a cent. I have to appreciate the times that I’m losing as part of the process. Without my money going out once in a while no money would ever come in.
These lessons are hard to internalize because it goes contrary to what we’ve been taught as a kid. In school if you do not have results you are a failure. In the normal world if your job is not paying you currently you are a failure. Some people will even treat you as a failure when things go wrong, or will talk about it behind your back. All of this needs to be ignored however if we’re ever to master ourselves.
Sometimes your paranoia can have other roots than just recent failures and the world’s perception. Oftentimes when you’re running bad you will worry there’s something you’re missing. It happens to even the world’s best players. While sometimes you’re playing your absolute best game and getting unlucky your subconscious is usually trying to tell you something. If you’re just lost in the grind and not paying attention to yourself you have no chance of ever catching your leak. How sad, when one of your biggest downswings could have led to to one of your greatest breakthroughs, but you instead just decided to lose the money.
In order to play well again we will need to feel confident in our game again and quiet our subconscious. Time away from the game can really help us see things in a new perspective. You should take a few days off every week, and a week or more off every few months. Your time off is for your first, but it is also an investment in the business of you as a poker player. Do not waste your investment. Try to get as refreshed as possible in the time you have. Stay as far away from the poker talk and computer as you possibly can. Go to a beach, go to a mountain, go play basketball, just don’t stew around the house thinking about how you’re running.
When your work area looks a little less like a prison cell come back. Go back to the hands and situations that were bugging you. Spend a day just studying, bouncing the hands off your friends, watching videos, and reviewing your hand histories. Be honest with yourself, it’s possible your losses are a sign of a much bigger problem. It happens to everyone.
Hopefully, this work will plug up our leaks in both our technical and mental game. The next thing we need to do is get hyped up to play again. If you’re not having fun anymore what is the point? One thing that helps me is watching poker on TV, preferably something with my friends in it. It reminds me of what I’m aiming for and gets me excited about the game like I’m a fan again. Another more zealous thing I do is write down 10 things that used to be problems of mine four years ago, and then I write my 10 biggest problems today. I also spend time with my family and remind myself who I’m playing for.
The whole process humbles me, helping me temper my expectations, but gets me fired up to play. That’s the mental state I want to be in, always. Finding my equilibrium is the most important part to getting me back on track. After this point, when we’re refreshed, more educated, and hyped up, it’s about finding our swing again.
To find our rhythm again wouldn’t it make sense to go over the basics? Do you think a home run hitter who has taken time off during a slump turns the pitching machine to 95 MPH his first day back? Hell no, his batting coach lobs him a few easy ones first. He needs to feel his arms retrieve their old muscle memory, before his mind starts talking too much.
That being said many players are afraid to move down. Don’t be. One of the most professional things you can do as a professional gambler is move down. You go back to smaller games with all the knowledge you’ve acquired you’re very likely to crush. You also get to prove to yourself there is a backup plan should you ever fail in the big game again. Going back to fundamentals and booking wins can do wonders for our mental state.
In conclusion, the article above explains the basics on how to get an already sound player back on track. A lot more could go into a player losing, such as basic leaks and life management problems, but those will have to wait for another article. This basic mental wash has been enough for me for years to constantly come back winning, and its my belief it can work for many of you too.
I’m the luckiest person who ever lived. I admit I haven’t always felt that way, but I believe it now. After working as a commercial fisherman, security guard, Persian carpet salesmen, Arby’s shift manager, video game reviewer, and freelance writer – all before the age of 20 – I found something that paid “worth a damn.” I’ve played, or thought about poker, pretty much every day since I was 15. I’ve made millions; I’ve lost millions. I’ve lived in Seoul, Malta, Seattle, and San Jose, Costa Rica. I cashed in four continents before my 21st birthday. I was on television in four continents before I was 22. I’ve backed hordes of players and I’ve been backed. I’ve smoked the smoke, drank the drink, and done the deeds. I’ve final tabled almost every major tournament online at least once. I’ve had my articles published and had articles published about me worldwide. I’ve met many great people and more than a few not-so-great. I’ve produced training videos on Pokerpwnage and now Pocketfives Training. I have stayed busy.
I’m currently enjoying a fairly relaxed life with my girlfriend in the mountains of Costa Rica, where I love playing poker more than ever before. PokerHeadRush.com is a new project of mine, constructed in partnership with my life coach – and friend – Jack Welch. The goal is to create poker content I want to see. I don’t want to focus on the huge success stories and convince kids to drop out of school because it’s oh-so-easy to make a living playing cards. I want to examine how the lessons acquired through an entrepreneurial pursuit in professional gambling can improve your life and overall happiness… by helping you focus on everything but the money