Running cold

When the cards aren’t coming, it’s how you deal with it that counts, says Mark Stuart

The top players are able to divorce themselves from the variance that exists in poker

In 2003 the late, great Chip Reese lost $2.5m during the course of a three-week session in the Big Game. Yet he was proud of his performance during that period, later claiming that if someone else had been dealt his cards they would have lost $7m! It’s proof, if any was ever needed, that even the world’s greatest can play their very best game and still get beat. But as Chip always said, it’s how you deal with a cold run that counts…

It’s widely acknowledged that the top players are those who are able to divorce themselves from the high levels of variance that exist in poker and continue to plug away until the poker gods smile on them again.

Well, I wish they’d smile on me right now. Since I first hit the virtual tables nearly three years ago I’ve had three prolonged bad runs, but my current one has lasted longer, and is distinctly chillier, than previous cold snaps. And there seems to be nothing I can do about it.

When you hit a cold stretch like the one I’m currently enduring it’s easy to start questioning your ability and whether you have what it takes to be a ‘poker player’. I’ve never tried to hide the fact that I would love to play poker for a living, but to do that, besides obvious things like acquiring more experience and improving my reading of the game, I clearly need to conquer the mental side, too. Many people ignore this and their temperament will forever be a barrier to them reaching a higher level.

Although I’m past regaling bad beat stories to despairing colleagues (I’ve generally settled for a grumpy look that signifies I had a bad night online), when I’m playing I still find the need to yell at my laptop, punch the wall on occasion and call people names in the chatbox. I’m sure many of you are nodding your heads and thinking, ‘I do that, too,’ but the point is that my game – and I’m sure yours – deteriorates immeasurably when running bad, and that only adds to the problem. So it’s time to find a solution and become a better player…

Anger management

The first thing I need to do is lose my anger. Tilt is, of course, the curse of many players and it can see even the best players go from playing their ‘A’ game to ‘D’ game. It’s safe to say when you’re playing angry, you’re not making good logical decisions.

I almost exclusively play MTTs, STTs, heads-up matches and satellite qualifiers online. The trouble with all these formats is that the pain of being knocked out of a sit-and-go on the bubble, or an MTT when I’ve put in hours of effort only to win nothing after taking a bad beat, is that it can be a soul-destroying experience.

However, what I’ve come to realise is that multi-tabling as many STTs and MTTs as I can feasibly manage without my standard of play getting noticeably worse is the best option, as it’s easier to get over the bad beats with more tables to concentrate on.

Another piece of advice that many pros vaunt is to drop down a level if your bankroll is suffering, or give the game a break for a while. Both these suggestions are sound, especially if you’re in danger of busting your account, but I find that actually playing more and not allowing the game to beat me (I know… it sounds silly) is my best approach. Sometimes I drop down in stakes to play at a level where I don’t care if I lose so much in a bid to try and get that winning feeling again.

Lastly, in a bid to shake things up, I’ve started playing mixed games. If I’m getting brutalised in no-limit Hold’em, where it’s easy to go bust in one hand when steaming, I’ll register for a H.O.R.S.E. tourney where I can make lots of decisions at very little cost to my stack. The break from Hold’em can be a fun alternative too, and it never hurts to widen your poker experience.

Ultimately, making it through the tough times and maintaining a good level of play during the cold run is essential to raising your game. So if, like me, you aspire to taking your game to a higher level, it’s time to let go and accept that sometimes poker’s going to give you a bum deal.

In the meantime, if those lovely, wonderful folks at PokerStars and Full Tilt could kindly flick my ‘boom switch’ please… I’ve had enough of losing.

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