When things go wrong at the poker table

December 18, 2012, Chris  

Someone recently asked me on Twitter how many tournaments do I lose in a row before I start to get annoyed, look for leaks and seek coaching. While the answers to these questions are probably obvious to all pros, most amateurs would likely come up with severely incorrect answers.

First, you should try your best to remove yourself from the results (good and bad). If you’ve watched me win a World Poker Tour event on television, you probably noticed I didn’t jump up and down and yell about how I am the best in the world, which is what you often see from most players who run well enough to win a major event.

This isn’t because I don’t care; it’s because I realize when I buy in to any event, I’m going to place in each position some percentage of the time. If I happen to bust on the first hand, bubble, final table or even win, I don’t care too much because I understand I’m going to have a fairly random distribution of results over time.

Compared to weaker players, I will simply cash and win more often than they do. Sometimes you’re going to go 50 tournaments in a row without cashing. While it’s certainly not fun, you must accept it will happen if you play enough. It doesn’t necessarily mean you’re playing poorly, though it could be an indicator. It likely doesn’t mean anything, assuming you have a large enough sample to know you’re a winning player.

The reason most players get depressed over long downswings is because they’re playing way too large for their bankrolls or they haven’t played enough games, or done the math, to realize how much variance there is in poker.

For example: I won three tournaments in a row at the start of the year. Since then, I haven’t won much of anything. Does this mean I’ve forgotten how to play? I don’t think so.

Whether you’re winning or losing, you should constantly look for leaks in your game. An extended losing streak should not alter your study time too much, as long as you spend a decent amount of time studying the game on a daily basis.

When I used to play SNGs online, I would play around six hours per day and study four hours per day. I’m confident this is why I was one of the biggest winners in the game. When I play poker today, I write down almost every hand I play and review them at the end of every day and occasionally when I have free time away from the game. I suggest you do the same.
If you aren’t looking for leaks and constantly evolving your game, you’re certain to fall behind.

I’m confident everyone who takes poker seriously should get a coach. I’ve paid more than $20,000 for private coaching in my life and I firmly believe that was the best $20K I’ve ever spent. When I used to play a lot of SNGs, I noticed my return on investment slowly dwindling. I hired a coach, paid him $5K, and watched my ROI increase 2 percent. While this may not sound like a lot, I was playing around 2,000 $200 games per month, meaning this coaching made me an additional $8K per month. Obviously, that is money well spent.
At some point, you’ll find you no longer need a private coach, but instead, a group of peers who play similar games as you.

I have a close group of friends I regularly talk to about hands and other poker-related concepts. We bounce ideas off each other and constantly try to find holes in our games. If you try to master this game alone, you’ll find it impossible.

— Jonathan Little, a representative for Blue Shark Optics, is the author of Professional Tournament Poker Vols. 1 & 2, owns the poker training site FloatTheTurn.com and 3bet Clothing, plus check out his iPhone app, Instapoker.