Dealing with a poker downswing

Dealing with a poker downswing

[Our hero Ben Adler has been a poker pro in Las Vegas for a couple of months now. Let’s catch up.]

When we last talked, you’d just gone to California for the first time in your life, in the back of a car with vlogging legends Andrew Neeme and Brad Owen…

Before I go further, I need to say that my parents love these articles…

That doesn’t absolve you from your responsibility to call them on occasion…

No, no – but they’re really tickled to read these. Honestly though, I’m having a great time being the subject of this mini-series.

How’s it feel?

“Poker looks so glamorous on YouTube and TV. But it’s definitely not glamorous – it’s hard work. I won a little bit in February, but in fact this month (March) I’m in a pretty big downswing. Last night, I booked my first win in two weeks. Something like 7-8 straight losing sessions.

“I mean, I think I’m playing well. Not perfectly – nobody plays perfectly – but these bad results are just part of poker. Anyway, last night I had a $900 win in the $2/5.

“Ultimately, it boiled down to me playing better, and even a bit tighter than I usually do. And that’s saying something – I have one of the lower VPIPs of the regulars in the room, and I screwed that down even more. I know I keep saying this over and over, but it’s as simple as going for big value with your value hands.

“It really tests your mental stability – a lot tougher than I thought it would be. Even with my staking arrangement. Or maybe “added to” my staking arrangement. I mean, if I lose my money, whatever. But losing money for my backer, whom I consider a friend – that’s much harder. I know some people would be delighted to share their losses with somebody else, but that ain’t me.

“We’ve got the big March Madness weekend coming up, and I have to be in good shape to grind hard then. It’s all good, I know it’ll turn around. But it’s a long walk from the poker room to the garage when you’ve lost again.

“That’s the part you don’t see on the vlogs and TV shows. I mean, yeah, they show losing sessions. But when was the last time you saw a vlogger look into the camera and say, “I haven’t had a winning session in two weeks.” Like, would you want to watch that vlog? But it’s absolutely the reality for all of us playing this silly game for a living.

“I’m trying to justplay the course, like Ed Miller taught me to. My backer says I’m playing just fine, they like the hands I send them. So I’m not doing anything egregiously bad. I just need to keep at it. And I’m ever so grateful to have my backer’s (and my community’s) support. Without that, I have no idea what I’d do.”

“When you started this journey, could you honestly say you knew this period would come?”

“I mean, I could say all day I knew it was coming. Going through it is a completely different thing. I knew I wasn’t going to print money forever, but when it happens… I don’t want to say the win streaks poison a poker player’s mind, but… well, they kinda do. When you’re flopping every set, holding when you’re in front and getting there when you’re behind, you start to think you’re invincible. Even though you know – you know that you’re not. Let me tell you a hand?”

“Yes, please.”

“Cutoff opens. I 3-bet from the small blind with AJ. Cutoff calls. Flop comes 5-8-9, smashes his range, not mine. Check, check. Turn ace. I bet $120, he makes it $500. During an upswing, I fold and am sipping on my Diet Coke before the dealer pushes him the pot. Like, I folded, but I was pissed off. I told my buddy sitting next to me that I had to stand up and walk it off.

“Maybe if I were more robotic, but I’m human, right? This may sound weird, but my backer went on a downswing last month. And I found that comforting. What was really interesting is that he said to me, ‘The money doesn’t matter – I have plenty of that. It’s just that I hate losing.’ I get that – I hate losing too.”

“Some of the vloggers I watch, they say, ‘I could quit now, but I’d be down 30 BBs. So I’m going to stick with it until I get unstuck.’ That sounds really dangerous to me.”

“Oh man, that’s my single biggest leak. I know it’s one long game, and who cares about this specific session. But I’ve glued my ass to a seat for eight hours trying to grind back to even. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t, sometimes it goes way south. I’ll tell you – when I whip that problem, I’ll be deadly.

“Something else – if you’re stuck and trying to grind it back, the other players will spot that. They will leverage that and make your life hell. In Vegas $2/5 games, this happens 100% of the time. It’s the sharks smelling blood in the water.”

“Details. Give us details.”

“People that are trying to get their money back – they play more pots, they’re raising more. Like, if I see a tilted guy in the hijack, I might 3-bet my button more than I normally do. Or maybe squeeze more from the small blind. Whatever, if there’s a wounded fish on the reef, that’s my lunch right there.”

“Back to losing streaks. When you walk into the room the day after your fourth straight losing session, what strategies do you have for playing your A-game that day?”

“This is going to sound obvious, but I’m taking care of myself. I’ve lost a bunch of weight. I’m not walking into the room hungover because I got mad after the losing session and went to the bar. It’s basic lifestyle things, but they really matter.

“I review hands that I played recently. If I ran KK into AA preflop, whatever. But the two ‘poker’ things, if you will, that I’m working on: preflop tightness and river calls. When I’m getting clobbered, I tighten up preflop, and I just let them have it on the river. Mostly because they always have it on the river. Another hand?”

“Always.”

“Last night. I opened K♣J♣, big blind calls. Flop comes J-T-9 with two hearts, one club. He just leads right into me for $50. I call. Turn 6♣, so I pick up the flush draw. He bets $150. I call again. River is K♥, bringing in the wrong flush and putting out a 4-liner to the straight. But it gives me top two pair. He bets $300. I thought, ‘Nah, I don’t think he’s bluffing,’ and I folded. And he showed me Q♥7♥ – he’d hit both the straight and the flush on the river.

“Why in the world do they show you? It just injects confidence into your system.”

“I have no idea, but bless that guy for letting me sleep that night. As soon as he did that, I thought, ‘OK Ben, you’re on your A-game here. Let’s get ‘em.’ Sure, that hand cost me $200, but the confidence it gave me – to know that I made the right decision – was well worth the $220. I ended up winning $900.

“But back to the overall point: getting jiggy preflop, and making big river calls – I doubt they’re +EV, but even if they are, they add massively to my variance. When I’m in a downswing, I don’t want variance – I want a slow steady grind back to profitability. If I book a $300 win in the $2/5 game, great. I just want that ‘W’ under my belt.

“If I take that attitude, ‘I have top two pair, I’m entitled to win,’ man, I’ve said this before, but entitlement tilt will break you. You have to look at each situation on its merits, at the time, and that’s how the professional differentiate themselves from any other player.”

“That seems like a great place to press pause. We’ll get back to discussing the downswing, and, more optimistically, March Madness, next time.”

“For sure. And by the way, my folks say ‘Hi.’”

Author: Brandy Lawrence