Skill #7. Emotional Numbing – P3: THE PITFALLS OF RUNNING BAD

Running bad is the boogeyman for every poker player. There’s nothing more frustrating than doing everything “right” and yet still losing session after session. If you aren’t vigilant, running bad can set off a vicious cycle. You run bad for a while, which causes you to start playing badly, which then prolongs poor results. Here are five pitfalls to avoid during your next bad run.

Losing Aggressiveness

Aggressive play is the key to winning poker. Finding the right bluffs, and the smart value bets, sets good players apart from mediocre ones. When you run bad, however, your aggressive edge can be the first thing to go. After all, not one of your bluffs has worked in two days, so why burn chips trying another? Or every time you make a decent hand, an opponent seems to show up with the nuts. So why bother betting for value at all?

When you’re beaten down and nothing is working, it’s easy to lose the nerve to bet and raise with anything but locked hands. If your fear is eroding your normal aggression, try one of two remedies. Take a few extra seconds on your decisions and talk yourself into putting your chips in the middle. Failing that, you can take a break and analyze hands away from the table. Reviewing the math for an aggressive play can motivate you to commit chips the next time even if things haven’t been going well.

Making Hopeless Calls

How many times have you said this: “I know you got there, but I have to see it anyway.” Then you pay off and, sure enough, your opponent has the hand you expect. If you’ve been running bad, making these hopeless calls is tempting. Or, rather, you become suspicious about your luck and so accustomed to losing that you begin to throw money away in fits of self-destruction.

This is a dangerous state. If you no longer have the willpower to avoid paying off obvious hands, it’s time to take a break. Unfortunately, your opponents can indeed outdraw you many times in a row (10 or more even). But if you can’t make the smart folds when necessary, stop playing and do something to relax. The next time you play your mental state will likely be better.

Preferring All-In Plays Too Often

When you’re running bad, you might start to end hands early. You’ve been beaten one too many times on the river, so you subconsciously adjust by shoving the flop more often. This can take two forms, neither of which is good.

First, you overplay your big hands on the flop, shutting out your action. Say you flop a straight. Instead of making a small raise or flat-calling to keep an opponent in the pot, you move all- in and your opponent instantly folds. Sure, you win the pot. But you don’t win as much with the hand as you could have.

Or, more dangerously, you commit your stack on the flop with weak hands. Consider this extreme case. I once saw a tight player in a 2-5 game wait several hours for a hand. When he finally flopped a set, he got his money in against a draw, and the river completed his opponent’s flush. The tight player’s very next hand went this way. He opened for $20 with a $400 stack. Two players

called. The flop came A♦9♥6♠. The big blind bet $40, and the tight player moved all in for $380. The big blind called and showed A-Q. The tight player had K-K.

Obviously, shoving the flop with kings on this ace-high board is bankroll suicide and a case of extreme panic. Don’t let a bad run put you in a state where you’re shoving with marginal holdings just to end a hand and change your luck. If you catch yourself thinking this way, take a break. Read about variance. Remind yourself how brutal the game came be. Most importantly, don’t take it personally.

Giving Too Many Free Showdowns

One big advantage to position is having the option to value bet the river with a good hand. But when you’ve been running bad, checking it down to showdown can seem tempting even with strong hands. If you haven’t seen a showdown in several hours, you might say to yourself, “Thank goodness, I can finally get a hand to showdown.” But then you check.

Needless to say, if you’re so grateful to see a showdown that you’re intentionally skipping good river bets, you’re not playing your best poker. Put your frustrations aside, and take a few extra seconds with your river decisions. Think as clearly as possible whether a bet is smart or not. Don’t let a bad run frustrate you into leaving good money on the table.

Failing To Play Shorter Sessions

If you’re running bad, no matter who you are, you’re better served playing shorter sessions. Say you generally play four-hour sessions. Try two hours for the following reasons to get yourself back on track:

  1. If the session gets off to a bad start, you’ll play fewer hands in your frustrated mindset.
  2. If the session gets off to a good start, you’ll be able to book wins and regain confidence.

Either way, you’ll play fewer hands and have more time away from the table. You’ll be free to work on your game, and avoid the pitfalls of future bad runs.

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