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Poker Downswing, Boredom and Improved Focus | Q&A Podcast #235


Sky Matsuhashi

on May 9, 2019

I answer questions about handling a poker downswing, improving on-the-felt focus and avoiding poker boredom.

In case you missed episode 233, I reviewed Poker Satellite Strategy by Dara O'Kearney and Barry Carter.

Q1: Poker Downswing (3:05)

From: Graham Wright

Q: Right now, I'm in a poker downswing. Biggest one of my life. -$9,200 in 15 sessions. 2-5-10 and 1-3-6 PLO. 15/30 Limit HiLo. 10/20 and 5/10 Limit Big O. 1-2, 1-3, 2-5, and 2-5-10 NLHE. 20/40 LHE. Doesn't matter what I play, I lose. I'm finally over it mentally and am taking the next week to recover my money a bit through dealing. My question is this… What's good timing wise to jump back into play? Do shorter or longer breaks work for you? Are you a specialist or do you play all games, if all games, do you focus back on one specifically or dive into the fire until the run bad is gone?


Take as long a break as you feel necessary. If don’t feel primed and pumped and ready to play, then continue taking time off.

But, continue studying poker every day. Maybe it’s mental game things you need to study or you need to analyze your opponents who put you on tilt or there are certain situations that you feel uncomfortable with. Just pick a topic and study it to prepare yourself for your eventual return to the felt.


When I hit a poker downswing, I take time off just like you're doing and I just come back when it feels right. I've come back after just a couple days before and there's been other times I've come back after a few weeks. During my time off, I make sure to go through hands in my database and try to figure out why I'm on my downswing. Sometimes it is just variance and I'm getting it in with the best and get sucked out on over and over again.

Other times, maybe I'm trying to force the action or I'm getting overly aggressive in bad spots trying to bluff my opponents off their hands. Or I'm playing my draws way too passively and calling too much on every street. Or I'm making too many terrible preflop hand decisions by calling 3bets really light or open raise stealing way too often.

Whatever the problem is, when I return to the felt I am focused on not repeating those same mistakes.

It sounds like you're mostly a LIVE player with some online experience. Thinking about your LIVE game, where do you think the downswing is coming from? Is it just variance, or is it probably some ways that you're playing or the opponents that you're up against or the games that you're selecting? You need to figure out why the downswing is occurring and then study and work to correct it.

I only play no limit hold 'em cash games, but occasionally MTT's and SNG's for fun.


Q2: Boredom (6:45)

From: Chris Lugiano

Q: I currently play on 3 sites (Ignition, ACR, and Sportsbetting) and I am in the midst of a pretty nasty downswing, mostly because I have taken “shots” that haven't gone so well due to some poor luck followed by tilt. I know that I should be playing 25 or 50nl to optimize my BB/100 win rate, but I find the games boring because of the lower stakes (I was playing 100nl and 200nl as a break-even/slightly losing player).


Try to flip your mindset from playing to earn money to playing to learn. Get in the headspace of a student or an apprentice playing to improve your skills. The money will come later once you’re a winner at 100nl and 200nl. You were a losing player at 100 and 200nl, so your goal is to be a winning player at 50nl, build your roll and get back to 100nl with a 40x bankroll ($4,000).

Your goal is to practice your strategies and work to exploit your opponents at every opportunity at 25 or 50nl. The stakes you play at don't matter until you're trying to play for a living or for substantial side income. Try to think of everything in terms of bb's, not $. So, a full buy-in at 50nl isn't $50, it's 100bb's. Your job is to make the best decisions you can to build your 100bb buy-ins into more with each session.


One important thing about your email was that you said tilt is a factor in your downswing.

I recommend reading Jared Tendler's book, The Mental Game of Poker.

Chasing losses is something too many players struggle with. They jump up in stakes when they shouldn't, bet bigger in hopes of winning bigger pots, etc. The book covers this very well starting on page 145 in the “Desperation Tilt” section. A desperate player will do anything to get back those losses and it's a form of accumulated tilt/anger/frustration at losing.

Logic statements are a big part of his book, and here's a logic statement to tell yourself before each session you play and after you suffer a big loss:

“Losing an entire stack is part of the game, so I accept that this will happen sometimes. But, I'm going to earn more stacks from my opponents than they earn from me due to my superior play and my ability to stay in control.”

Jared Tendler's 10-step Strategy on page 148

Here are the two steps I recommend you take ASAP from his list of 10:

#2 Write a tilt profile – write down the early signs that signify your tilt is increasing and the specific things that trigger your tilt. The more you know about how you're effected, the better you'll become at handling these situations.

#4 Take regular breaks or use a timer – use the breaks to assess where you're at mentally. Go for a walk, use the restroom, do push-ups. Do things that take your mind off of any beats you suffered and return to the table when you're in the right mental space.

Finally, if the games get boring, are you allowing yourself to get distracted with email or Twitter or sports on tv?

Here's a video that shows a focus session where I tried to learn from every hand dealt, regardless of me being in the hand or not. When you’re focused on every hand, you can’t get bored because there are so many things to think about, even during a 1-table session online.

Start your audiobook learning by picking up ‘Preflop Online Poker' through Click the pic above to begin your free 30-day trial (your first book is free) or to purchase the audiobook version if you're already a member.

Q3: Poker Focus (15:00)

From: Brice Bader

Q: I need focus


Figure out what is causing your loss of focus and stomp it out. Are you playing LIVE and you can’t help but watch the game up on the big screen? Sit in a seat with your back to the TV or wear a hat so you can’t see the TV above you. Does email distract you? Turn off notifications and clear your inbox before you start your session. Are you tired or drunk? Stop it!


We can all use a bit more focus on the felt.

This question is related to Chris' prior question about boredom. Boredom leads to distraction which leads to loss of focus which leads to bad play which leads to losing sessions.

Besides that prior recommendation of trying to learn something from every hand dealt, here are 3 more things you can do to improve focus on the felt:

Remove distractions. You know what pulls your attention away from the table (ESPN, email, social media, training videos, etc.). Ditch them all prior to your session start.

Warm up and choose a session focus. Prior to your play session, spend 60 seconds deciding on one strategy you want to focus on. Maybe you want to practice isolating limpers or calling cbets with <TP hands. Choose the strategy, write it down on a piece of paper and keep it in front of you as you play.

Play a Focus Session. Play just 1-2 tables with the goal of practicing your chosen strategy as often as possible (when the time is right and it's +EV to do so). For example, you don't want to isolate a limper with J7s, but A7s is probably a good choice. Whatever your focus is, make a goal around it. If it's looking isolating weak players, make a goal of 5 isolation raises this session (use a tick sheet to record each time you do it). If you easily hit your goal, bump it up for your next session.

You can use rewards to help you stay focused and hit your goals. Let's say you love Jameson (like me😊). If you hit your goal of 5 (or 10 or 15) iso raises, you'll reward yourself with one drink after your session as you go through and review your iso raising hands.

Pick a Challenge (19:25)

Here’s my challenge to you for this episode:  I just gave you 3 different potential Actions to take:

  1. Take necessary breaks but continue studying
  2. Have a “play to learn, not to earn” mindset
  3. Ditch the distractions

Now it’s your time to shine! Choose the one that’s most applicable to what you’re striving for right now, and step into action. Playing and studying with purpose are the best ways to improve your game.

Support the Show

The Smart HUD with 4+ hours of HUD training was purchased again, this time by the wonderful Ken!  Thank you so much for putting a bit of faith in this PT4 HUD.  The webinar that comes with the Smart HUD is going to teach you all you've ever wanted to know about utilizing your HUD to understand the player you're up against and to make exploitative plays.

Robert Howard picked up PokerTracker 4 through my affiliate link (at no additional cost to him and he supported the show).  Robert's all about improving his online poker game and PT4 is the next step he's taking on this profitable journey.  In appreciation of his support, I sent him the Smart HUD to aid in exploiting every opponent he faces and in making more +EV decisions.  Plus, that database of hands to study is pretty nifty.

We're all about PT4 this week: Chris Dumas purchased my Getting the Most From PokerTracker Webinar ($5 off).  This is what you need if you're feeling overwhelmed or if you're just plain new to the greatest poker tracking software available.  Don't miss out on the $5 off deal, either.

Up Next…

In episode #236, I’m going to discuss following bankroll rules and conducting pre-session warm-ups.

Until next time, study smart, play much and make your next session the best one yet.


Sky Matsuhashi

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