Full Tilt Poker Lessons and Tips from the Pros, Team Full Tilt
Full Tilt Poker Lessons and Tips from the Pros, Team Full Tilt
Full Tilt Poker Lessons and Tips from the Pros, Team Full Tilt
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Poker Lesson #35
Bad Cards or Bad Plays?
November 14, 2005


Losing is part of poker and all serious players, including the world's best, can
recount losing streaks that lasted for months. Often, the downswing starts
with a particularly unlucky run of cards. A series of bad beats or impossibly
tough hands eat away at the bankroll. As the bad run continues, and money
continues to disappear, players are forced to confront one of the toughest
questions in poker: Am I a victim of lousy luck or am I playing poorly?

John D'Agostino knows how difficult it is to find the correct answer. "Any time
I lose a few sessions in a row, I start questioning myself," D'Agostino says.
"But I know that some days, even if I play perfectly, I'm going to lose."

Erik Seidel notes that in tournament poker, months-long dry spells are to be
expected. In the midst of such a run it's hard to know if you're a victim of
expected fluctuations or if there's something wrong with your game. "It's
really hard to determine," says Seidel, "but I think most of us tend to fool
ourselves and tend to think we're playing better than we are."

Then there's the inevitable interplay between bad cards and poor play. The
pros report that in the midst of a bad run, bad luck can lead to bad decisions.
Jennifer Harman notes that when things are going poorly, she has a
tendency to push hands. "Let's say I have Ace-King and I don't flop a pair,"
says Harman. "I'll be in there raising. But there's no point. My table image is
bad and nobody thinks I can flop a hand, so I can't bluff. I might as well wait
till I flop a pair. At that point, my opponents are going to call me down and
pay me off anyway."

For D'Agostino, a bad run can lead to more timid play. 'I definitely made some
bad days a lot worse than they needed to be. Sometimes, I started playing
more passively. In the middle of a hand I'd be asking myself, ‘How is this
going to go wrong?' But if I played the hand the way I usually would, I'd have
won the pot earlier on." D'Agostino says that when he has that sort of
mindset, he's likely to miss bluffing opportunities.

Such a streak can destroy a promising player. Harman says, "There are a lot
of players who have gone on losing streaks and can't recover. They start
playing bad and thinking that they're doomed forever. And all of a sudden,
they're on the rail."

How do the pros get a handle on their play and determine what's causing the
downswing? Harman recommends sharing hands. "I'd ask people to watch
me play or I'd jot down hands and ask friends ‘Did I play this right?' If they
said I was playing it wrong, I'd have to reevaluate my play because I was
letting the losing streak affect my play."

"Just book a win," says D'Agostino. He notes that confidence is critical at the
poker table. So, in the midst of losing streak, leaving a session with a win -
even if it's a small one - can help a player regain that mental edge. "Once you
can feel confident about yourself, things will start to roll," he says.

Finally, a winning player needs to develop an honest, self-critical nature.
Seidel notes that he rarely talks poker, but when he and John Junada chat
about a play, the conversation usually begins, "Listen to how badly I played
this hand.…"

When playing online, there's every opportunity to assess your play. Save
your hand histories. When a session is over and your head is clear, review
your actions and see if you can spot problems in your play.

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