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.

AA v 72o

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.

PRO Tip:

The longer your break is, the rustier you will be when you return  

Learn More

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!

James "SplitSuit" Sweeney
James is one of the busiest poker coaches around. He wrote DFRP, c0-founded Red Chip Poker, has made 300+ videos and coached 500+ students. Learn more about James
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Showing 6 comments
  • Roger
    Reply

    Great article,I watch your videos on youtube they’re very good. I’m currently on a massive downswing I’m a 6max sng specialist but can’t get a win in the last 2 days to save my life 200 games played 34 second places only 3 firsts and heres the killer 69 3rd place finishes. I’ve reviewed every game and my ICM charts have been bang on. With 3 left I’ve just been beaten down by terrible hands consistently. I keep telling myself it’ll change and the variance will sort itself out but its difficult when players push all in on the steal and I get my chips in with the edge everytime but lose.I play 8 tables at a time and my last session I finished 3rd on all 8 tables. I’m not gonna bother with the bad beat stories and I don’t mind losing flips but the majority aren’t even flips it can get very frustrating

    • Reply

      Thanks Roger! It can certainly be frustrating…but just grind through it, keep ensuring your ICM decisions are spot on, and you’ll pull through =)

  • Yakai
    Reply

    Take a break! Dont grind through. NO point playing if you are running bad mate

  • Sanat
    Reply

    “How will you know when you are “done” running bad though?!”

    Here is what I do to find out if my card dead spell or running bad
    is over or not. I noticed that the mysterious cycle of running bad may
    last for days, weeks or even some time months. It is very hard to find out when you are
    out of the cycle. So I devised a crazy scheme on my own. Note that this is not a very scientific method. But it gives at least an indication of ending a cycle or at least near an end of it.

    First let me make one thing clear. I divide running bad into two separate issues.
    1. Card dead and 2. Running bad.

    In card dead situation you play for hours and hours and you don’t catch a single good card. You keep on getting cards like 7-2, 8-3, 9-4 etc. There does not seem to be an end of the card dead situation. It is very frustrating.

    In 2nd case you still catch good cards but your AA, KK, QQ get cracked by donkey calls. That’s frustrating too. Really running bad.

    So here are the steps I do. It is crazy and insane and laughable. But it works for me.

    1. As the article said take a break or reduce no of visits to casino.
    2. Every night after your family go to bed, go to your dining table and deal full ring game by yourself. Deal all cards face up for all 10 imaginary players sitting there. Try to simulate as real as possible by moving the button and blinds. But no cash, no betting. Deal several hands and observe how many time you get good playable cards. If you are still card dead, the same shit will continue with your fake game also!!! Keep on doing every night. When you see some improvement it is time to take a trial. Follow step 3.

    3.Go to your casino and buy minimum not maximum buy in allowed.(as an example at Foxwoods 1-2 NL Min. is $80, Max is $300) So go with $80. Play well and see how long you survive. If you loose too fast just leave and go home, to practice more on your dining table. Don’t rebuy. Have a discipline. You are still card dead. But at some point your fake simulation will give you an indication that you are out of the hell.

    4. This is for 2nd part. Do same thing as in 2 above and note how many time your AA, KK etc. get cracked by river. Deal all hole cards face up. And deal all street cards up to river.
    Simulate lots of hand and observe how many times your premium hand stand or loose. At some point you will see that your premium card started standing strong. Or it started improving into set, straight or flush by the river. Now time to take trial. Follow step 3 above.

    This exercise gave me pretty good idea when my bad cycle is over. It looks insane and laughable but as long as it works for me I am sticking to it.

    Many players may think taking an alternate approach by playing online to test. But don’t do it. You will get into a wrong habit of chasing your junk cards all the way to the river.
    Many of the online poker site are programmed for action(Now that’s my opinion. You don’t have to agree with me.) and wrongly you will learn that you get runners, runners and loose your AA full of 3s against quad of 3 on the river.You will derive wrong conclusion thinking you are still running bad. So don’t do it online. Just stick to your plain old dining table.

    Let the poker addicts know how it worked for you. Good luck to all. Have a happy end of bad cycle.

  • Kai
    Reply

    For less experienced players like myself, I find it useful to move down to minimum buy-ins, with the intention of experiencing the bad run cheaply. Or paying for the experience. I am concentrating only on my emotions, and my ability to control them. If you are a pro this will prob not help, as the game is so different. After playing just for fun, and analysing my mood. My run appears to improve when I return to the buy-ins I’m comfortable with. Obviously the game is totally different at low levels.

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