Running good out of the gate is one of the worst things that can happen to new players. If they rack up big wins early on, a couple of bad things can happen. First, they develop unrealistic expectations. They think winning comes easy, and they think solid strategy is much simpler than it really is. This may cause them to ignore sound advice, and it can also make the inevitable bad runs that much harder to take. Second, these early wins reinforce bad habits. As long as they’re winning, people assume whatever they’re doing must be right. Those early winners often pick up bad habits and get careless.
People write a lot about how to handle bad runs. But I think learning to avoid the pitfalls of running good is equally important. Our “winning” bad habits come back to haunt us over the long term. Here, I’ve identified five pitfalls of running good that you should look to avoid the next time the cards go your way.
Entering Unprofitable Pots
This one is simple and universal. Almost everyone who runs good for an extended period begins to loosen up. In more sober times, they’d know to fold K♥8♥ from five off the button. But in a
manic state, this hand starts to look like another opportunity to drag a huge pot. We loosen up by opening more pots from out of position. And we loosen up by calling more raises, both in and out of position. Over time, these subtle adjustments will prove to be costly.
If you’ve been running good, allow yourself an extra second to make pre-flop decisions. (I know of one player who, after she wins a huge pot, walks away from the table for the next few hands to avoid “losing it back.”) If you see a hand that looks playable, don’t just toss in your money. Think about whether this hand fits in well with your overall game plan. Don’t play the hand just because you’re anxious to see a flop and you have the chips to do so.
Attacking Strong Players
Being a good player means learning to pick on weak opponents. When you’ve been running good, everyone at the table looks like an appropriate target. If this happens, you can find yourself attacking the wrong players, and your long-term results can suffer. Consider the following.
A large pot gets built between a bad player, Barry, and Sal, one of the stronger players at the table. At showdown, Sal shows an unexpected hand for his typical range and loses. He played the hand unconventionally and lost a big pot as a result. Another strong player, Steve, who has recently been running good, observes this hand and concludes that Sal is perhaps not so strong
after all. Steve then decides to try to pick on Sal, entering many of his pots with weak hands to capitalize on Sal’s bad play.
Here’s the problem. Sal isn’t really that bad of a player, and he’s going to know how to handle Steve’s aggression. Steve should be attacking Barry, the bad player, not Sal, the strong player who played one hand a little strangely. Yet I’ve seen this scenario play out time and again. Don’t let your ego get the better of you. Stay focused on the truly weak players at the table.
Trying Bad Bluffs
Players who have been running good have probably run a few good bluffs. This success drugs the player, who gets even more daring. Eventually the player crosses the line into wild and unprofitable. When these bigger bluffs get picked off, the player doesn’t see his errors. “Can’t win ’em all,” the player shrugs.
If you’ve been running good, think about your gutsy and aggressive plays an extra few seconds. Is this really a good bluffing opportunity? Or are you just amped up to get your chips in the middle? The big bluff is a potent weapon that should be used sparingly. If you find yourself thinking, “I can’t win if I don’t bet,” you may want to dial the aggression back. Just a little.
Adopting Pet Plays
Say last week you played the following hand at a 1-2 game. A player opened for $7, and the button called. You called in the big blind with J♥9♥.
The flop came A♦J♣9♠, giving you bottom two.
You checked, the pre-flop raiser bet $20, the button folded, and you check-raised to $50. Your opponent called.
The turn was the 9♦. You checked, the button bet $60, and you check-raised all-in and got called by A-K.
Since you played this hand, you’ve been absolutely on fire, winning several thousand dollars. You’ve ran this double check- raise play out several more times, mostly with good results.
The flop-and-turn double check-raise could become your new best friend. After a few successes, you might begin to use the play whenever possible. Every flop becomes yet another opportunity to bust out the double check-raise. I urge you: don’t let that happen.
Pet plays are bad for a couple of reasons. In most cases, less is more. A simple play—betting the flop and turn—is often stronger than a complicated pet play, i.e., check-raising the flop and turn. Therefore, if you overuse pet plays, you’re consistently choosing inferior lines. Beyond that, if you use these plays too much, opponents can predict them and exploit you. You’ll gain a reputation as the person who double check-raises all the time, and players will adjust.
If you find yourself using a new play a lot, when away from the table, think about when the play is best, and when a simpler play might be better.
Spending The Spoils
The last pitfall is both common and potentially damaging to a bankroll. People spend their winnings when they run good. Obviously money is ultimately for spending. But many people go overboard with frivolous spending after a good run. Definitely enjoy your good fortune. But also remember that leaner times are inevitable. Your run-good winnings help subsidize losses in the bad times. But only if you haven’t already spent the money.
After a good run, rework your personal budget. You’ll know exactly how much of your winnings you’ll need for a rainy day, and how much you can spend.