project poker: Dealing with a downswing

Life is good. I am on a downswing, actually, which isn’t great, but otherwise all is going brilliantly.
So far this year I’ve played a number of live tournaments as well as cash games online, and while things haven’t been going too well in either, such downswings always provide lots of opportunities to work on one’s game and improve a lot.
When you’re winning you rarely go back and think about hands you’ve misplayed or weaknesses you might have shown. People tend to attribute their successes to their skill only, but the fact is that usually isn’t the case. Some also tend to attribute losing to bad luck only, but if you’re serious about your game and understand that you really aren’t the master of variance, you can look more closely to see what you might be doing wrong (in addition to probably running bad).
When I am on a downswing I usually don’t feel like grinding a lot, and so actually that works out well because by playing less I give myself additional time to do the sort of analysis I’m describing. Another thing that often happens when players are on a downswing is they begin to doubt themselves. That, too, isn’t necessarily bad because it invites you to question certain areas of your game and in that way perhaps discover leaks.
Poker definitely rewards those who put in the work of self-study. It could be compared to what professional athletes experience, who are also often having to work on their games, with even the top performers sometimes having to go back to the basics. Tiger Woods springs to mind as a good example of someone who struggled with a big downswing over the last couple of years and now he’s back on top of the golf world again after having put in the work to reassess and improve.
Another example from a little further back is Andre Agassi. I used to play tennis a lot when I was younger, back when Boris Becker and Agassi were having their battles. What I find really inspiring about Agassi was how he had been the number one player in the world, then fell all of the way down to 141st in the world rankings, then climbed all of the way back to become No. 1 again in the late 1990s!
Such a comeback is kind of amazing if you think about it — kind of like Doyle Brunson going broke and grinding $1/$2 games at your local casino all of the way back to legend status again. In truth there are few in poker who are able to make it all the way back after hitting bottom like that — fewer than in sports, anyway. But the stories of those who do can be inspiring to those of us enduring relatively smaller downswings and trying to climb out of them.
Downswings can provide serious challenges when it comes to tilt control and emotional control and bankroll management. But while they’re obviously not a lot of fun, they provide opportunities that can prove especially rewarding in the long term.

Jan Heitmann
Categories Macau