Have you ever run bad in poker? Have you ever run bad for an extended period of time? Has that run bad ever made you irrate? If you answered no to all of those questions, I’d love to meet you and steal your luckbox. If you answered yes to any of those questions, welcome to the 99.99% club! The club of poker players who have experienced a bad run of cards. But the club you really want to be a part of is the club of players that have run bad AND survived to play another day.
Running bad can take many forms. You can constantly get your money in with a two pair against a flush draw and lose. You can constantly run your KK into AA. Or you can experience the secret kind of run bad where you flop a set against QQ, but the turn card is a King and now QQ doesn’t pay you off. The thing you have to remember is that this is what you signed up for!
Poker has never been a game of certainty. Playing consistent poker doesn’t mean you will have the most consistent results in the short term. Most hands always have a chance of winning, even if they seem remote at first glance. You can get AA all-in preflop against 72 offsuit, and you will still lose 12% of the time. You can get a set all-in against a gutshot on the flop and still lose 14% of the time. The only things you control as a poker player are your lines and your reactions. Hopefully your lines create lots of spots where you get money in with an edge. And hopefully your reactions are neutral-at-worst on the times your opponent sucks out on you with their nugget of equity.
With all of that being said, how do we deal with running badly? Not just the runs where we keep getting sucked out on, but also the times where we keep running our huge hand into a slightly-better huge hand. Well there are a few different suggestions that seem to always pop up:
1. Take a break:
Many players suggest taking a break in the midst of running bad. I’d say this is a good idea when the run bad is affecting your play. When tilt starts to take over your game, it’s time to take a break. But how long should the break be? Well, that will differ from person to person. The more tilty you are, the longer your break should be. But if just taking a day or two off from poker to hang out with family or play some Words With Friends will do the trick…keep the break short to recuperate and then get back to the tables with a fresh perspective.
2. Keep calm & grind on:
This one is fairly obvious. Suck it up, accept that running bad is part of the game, and keep grinding. Depending on your personality type, this could be awesome or awful advice. If you shine in the face of adversity, and consider run bad to be a form of adversity, this your preferred option. But if run bad effects you too much and creates added tilt which in turn reduces your winrate (possibly to neutral or even negative), revert back to the ‘take a break’ option.
3. Play tighter:
Some players will suggest tightening up and reverting back to total ABC poker in the midst of running bad. And while this advice is well-intentioned…it’s usually incorrect. If you are running badly it’s because you are putting money in with an edge and unfortunately coming out behind. Why would you want to play tighter and miss spots where you can put money in with an edge? Putting money in with an edge is how we play poker! Avoiding +EV spots seems like a waste if you ask me.
I personally employ a mixture of all 3. If I’ve been running badly and I know that tilt is starting to affect me…I do the following:
1. Take a break from my main game
2. Start playing (or even learning) a different poker game
3. Because I’m starting with a new game I naturally play tighter until I understand the strategy better
See, all 3 suggestions in one fell swoop! Playing a new game distracts me from the run bad of my main game. It forces my brain to focus on something else (other than the monster tilt from getting sucked out on YET AGAIN!) And learning a new game is even better as certain skills may translate to my main game later down the line.
You don’t even need to play for real money. Just find a friend or a play-money game and start playing. I’m extremely lucky because my wife will play Pineapple OFC with me…so I work on my play in that game. By playing Pineapple OFC my math game has gotten strong, which in turn has improved my on the fly deck analysis in NLHE. And games like Omaha can help you read board textures better and games like LHE can help you understand hand strengths better (hint: it’s really hard to have a big hand).
By learning and playing a new game I continue to grow and refine my poker skills while also giving myself fresh perspectives on my main game. Rather than take an extended break from the game and watch certain skills degrade, I can repurpose that time to create long run benefits. This turns run bad into run good, since I’ve turned off the tilt and turned on new parts of my poker brain.
Now this is what works for me, and it may not be best for you. Maybe you really do operate best by taking a month off from poker. That’s OK. Just figure out what works for you and make sure that you don’t let run bad turn into a massive collapse that blows up your bankroll. You worked hard for your bankroll…so don’t let it slip away just because you keep getting unlucky. Use good bankroll management, monitor your tilt levels, and make sure you adjust when necessary. Do this, and run bad won’t be a huge explosion to your bankroll and game!