Poker Psychology: 14 Ways to Get Out of a Downswing

Poker Psychology: 14 Ways to Get Out of a Downswing

Have you ever dealt with a poker downswing? That was a trick poker psychology question. If you answered no, then either you don’t play any poker games or you’re lying. I’m not calling you out or anything. A lot of people need to lie to feel good about themselves. On the other hand, the people that can admit they’re lying to themselves are the ones who can fix it. This is a huge factor in a poker player’s potential and overall journey. And it definitely fits into our poker rules for winning.

If you’re still reading, excellent! You have passed the test. Below I’m going to write 14 ways to get out of a poker slump. I chose 14 because that’s how many I felt had value. A lot of writers–not just poker writers–will use a list of ten because readers can associate with a Top 10 list, but homey don’t play that.
Yes … I’m the homey. I play it this way: However many points it takes to get my message across so it can help someone with poker psychology is how many points I’m going to use. In this case, it happens to be 14.

How to Get Out of a Downswing

#1. What Changed?


Seriously, what changed? You have to step outside of yourself for a minute and be honest with yourself. But, if you don’t want to do that, I might be able to do it for you. In other words, I’ll tell you what changed about you at the poker table, even though I have never met you.

Here are some possibilities. One, you’re attempting too many hero calls because you remember the big pots you won with big hero calls in the past, not realizing that the amount of money you saved by not making hero calls has kept you in the game.

Two, you’re playing too aggressively because you want to be the best player in the room. You have seen the likes of Tom Dwan and Gus Hansen and you want to be like them. Go for it if you want, but keep in mind that both of them have hit complete broke before climbing back up again. That style of play is not conducive to methodical gains.
Three, you’re limping too many poker hands pre-flop. This means you’re relying on luck, and luck is not a good strategy.

If you want to apply the correct poker psychology to fix these problems, eliminate Ego, slow down, and stop relaying on luck. When you’re down, you’re chasing, and when you’re chasing, you want to prove something. It’s Ego that’s making you do that.

#2. What Would Your Hero Do?

I strongly recommend being you at the poker table, not your poker hero. At the same time, desperate times call for desperate measures. And this measure isn’t that desperate. There is a reason you respect this person so much, and that likely relates to a similar personality and style of play.

The next time you’re in a tough spot, think of what this person/player would do. Would they jam it? Possibly. Would they raise? Possibly. Would they fold? Definitely possible. Would they call? Not likely.

So many people think folding is bad, but it’s the most widely traveled road to poker success. Calling out of position is what’s bad. When you’re in position, you can widen your range, but you need to understand the players behind you. If they’re AGGRO and likely to raise, then make sure you can call a raise with that hand. If they’re passive and likely to fold, apply pressure. You could win an uncontested pot here. And if they call, you still has position.

Simply remembering how your poker hero plays and applying that to your game should help, but there is a secret here. If you have to think about what your poker hero would do, it means you’re not sure about your hand, which means you should fold. So, if you want the simple version, the next time you’re about to think of what your poker hero would do, go for it, but also remember that they would likely fold.

#3. Force Yourself to Fold More Poker Hands Pre-Flop

folding cards

If you’re not sure how to do this, there is a fun tactic you can use. It’s on the poker psychology side. Play Poker Golf. This means you keep track of how many mistakes you had for the session or poker tournament. If you make five mistakes, then you’re +5 (five over par). You want to be as close to zero as possible. And the easiest way to add a stroke (you don’t want that) is to make poor pre-flop decisions. Think of how many chips you would have saved throughout your life if you would have folded in all marginal spots pre-flop.

#4. Eliminate Leaks

This might not appear to relate to poker psychology, but it certainly does. If you just lost $500 at the roulette table and now you’re playing in a poker tournament, you’re not going to play your A game. You’re likely to chase because you want that $500 back. Momentum is huge in the game of poker, but that momentum begins with decision making (on and off the felt) and poker psychology, not running good and bad beats.

Poker players love to tell bad beat stories about their poker hands. It’s their way of saying they didn’t do anything wrong. Most of the time, they played poorly for their stack to get short, which then led to the bad beat. If they were playing well, they would have built their stack big enough that a bad beat wouldn’t have busted them.

The poker psychology here is to eliminate all leaks. If you play any games against the house, you literally have no chance.

#5. Small Yet Effective Adjustments

This could be as simple as something like folding your small blind more often. This attitude relates to poker psychology and it will save you money over the long haul. Never think that you’re already invested in the hand when in the small blind. If you keep playing marginal hands from that spot, you’re going to lose a lot of money. It’s literally the worst place you can be pre-flop.

#6. Avoid Flips

This actually depends on which poker psychology mindset you adapt. You have two choices. You can flip when deep in poker tournaments to go for the win, or you can avoid flips so you will stay out of the way, go deeper, and still have a chance at winning the whole thing. I would recommend the latter.

#7. Get Out of the Poker Room

If you’re on a poker trip and things aren’t going well, leave the poker room. Leave the entire casino! Drive somewhere that is not in the same town and do something. This could be kayaking, hiking, skiing, eating at a restaurant by a river, or something else that will take you away from the poker scene for at least a couple of hours. You will likely find it refreshing, and maybe even invigorating.

#8. Go Over Hands Histories with Friends

If you play online poker, then you’re going to have easy access to the history of your poker hands. Go over them with other people so you can get some feedback. Maybe you have been making an error that you didn’t know about. You can always use another set of eyes.
If you play live, then you can go from memory and share it with a friend online. The RunGood poker ambassadors do this all the time. These players started at very low stakes and some of them now play poker tournaments with $25k buy-ins.

#9. Collect & Protect

Too many poker players understand poker strategy but they let emotion get involved. This relates to poker psychology. If you can prevent tilt, then you have a strong poker psychology game. If you let tilt in without kicking it out immediately, then you might have a weak poker psychology game. But if you admit it, you can fix it.

More than one player has approached me and asked me why they keep collecting chips but can’t keep them. This has everything to do with Ego and Greed, your two biggest enemies at the poker table. To give you an idea of how important they are (in a negative way), if you were just an average poker player, but you had the ability to eliminate Ego and Greed from your poker game, you would be better than most poker players.

And that’s an understatement. You would be in the top 10% of all poker players. Others would wonder how you do it because you seem to play a simple game, but that’s what they’re missing! When you keep the game simple and don’t get fancy with Ego and Greed wanting to do crazy things, you win a lot more.

When you collect a lot of chips and build a stack, keep the stack! Get involved in fewer poker hands unless you fall below the average stack. If that happens, move into a different gear, but only temporarily.

#10. Move Down in Stakes

If you’re losing in a 2/5 NL game, move down to 1/3 game for a while. If you’re a tournament player and you’re losing in $400 buy-in tournaments, move down to $80-$100 tournaments for a while. This is going to relax you, which is the correct poker psychology mindset. When you have the right mindset, you win more.

#11. Position Isn’t Everything, But It’s Close

If you’re limping with hands like T9-suited from middle position, stop it right now! That is a major leak. Do you really think this is +EV over the long haul? Stop playing these kinds of poker hands out of position.

When you’re in an early poker position, your poker range should be super tight. Don’t worry about image on this. All the best players fold a lot of poker hands in these spots. If you’re in late position, you can widen your range, but it should depend on how many players are already involved in the hand and if anyone has raised. And if someone raised, who is this someone? Did you flop a set, is he the type of player that will call your all-in?

#12. Take Time Off

Not many poker players want to hear or read this, but it’s incredibly important. If you have the wrong poker psychology mindset and you’re bleeding money, then you need to get out of the game for a while. I have done this two times throughout my poker career. Both times had an enormous impact. I came back on fire because all the noise was gone.

#13. Do More Homework

This doesn’t mean you need to study charts and things like that. I would recommend reading poker stories. They will motivate you and allow you to fall in love with the game again. Yes, I write some of those books, and I hope people enjoy them. For me, one of my favorite books is One of a Kind, which about Stu Ungar. I didn’t write that one.

#14. Exercise

If you want the right poker psychology mindset, exercise! This is as easy as it gets in regards to poker strategy. When you exercise, you release endorphins into your bloodstream, and endorphins make you happy. If you’re happy, you’re obviously going to have a better poker psychology mindset. You will be more patient and your mind will be clearer, which is going to lead to better decisions.

Final Thoughts

Follow the 14 points above on poker psychology and you will find yourself wining in more poker games. If you add these poker journal notes with other articles focused on poker rules for winning, you should make a big jump in the poker world. I would recommend bookmarking this page so you can refer back to it with ease. See you at the WSOP!

Poker Psychology – FAQs

Q: How do you deal with downswings in poker?
A: Downswings are tough. Your best options are playing down (lower limits) or taking a break. The latter is highly effective because your mind resets to simplicity and simplicity will usually win in poker despite what many people think.

Q: What should I do if I’m card dead for hours in poker?
A: You can go for a walk, change seats or change tables. However, if you continue to fold and remain patient, the winning hands will eventually come back around to you.

Author: Henry Brown