Poker can be the most difficult game in the world to achieve success. Just when you think you’ve got a handle on the strategy, luck can kick you in the two-outers and you’ve lost your tournament life. Just as we all know how it feels to have a rough session on casino sites for playing video poker, the overwhelming majority of poker players understand how much of a gut punch it can be to take a major hit to the bankroll. But what if the opposite is true? If you’re on a sun-run and winning is no problem, then surely everything in poker is going great?
As ever, nothing is simple in poker, and playing a heater can be just as tricky as dealing with a downswing. Here’s how playing the ‘rush’ can go right or wrong, and most importantly, what you can do about it.
There can be no doubt that variance plays a huge role in poker, but often a downswing will influence a player’s game at the table far more than a heater. When you’re running hot, it can feel like it’s impossible to lose. The reality is, of course, quite the opposite. Over time, all your luck should be equal, so if you’re catching two-outers to win flips, then the same sauce will likely be served to you again in time, only cold. People who barely know how to play Texas Hold’em will somehow emerge victorious when you’re a 9:1 favorite in a hand.
Variance is impossible to control, so if things are going well, be mindful that it will eventually turn. The very notion of a good run of luck is that at some point it will come to an end. No one is lucky forever. So maintaining strong focus and a level of concentration that is lasered in on how to improve your game while enjoying luck is the ideal elite mindset. Every situation involving variance is a chance to work on your ability to deal with it. Don’t make the mistake of believing that you only need to improve when things aren’t going to plan.
Confidence is a key component in any poker player’s arsenal, but can you have too much of it? Certainly. If you’re winning over an extended period of time, then reining in that confidence can be as hard as grabbing onto some self-belief when you’re at a low ebb. Over-confidence in poker can manifest itself in many ways. It can increase your VPIP (voluntarily put into pot) ratio to the point where you’re risking losing too many pots. It can lead to you make silly bluffs in the belief you can’t lose. It can even lead to believing in ‘White Magic’.
Staying confident is huge in poker, and one of the natural benefits of being on a good run is automatically having plenty of confidence in your ability to win. However, you can have too much of a good thing, as Shakespeare once wrote. He should know, once penning the missive: “Our doubts are traitors and make us lose the good we oft might win by fearing to attempt.”
If that isn’t someone who tightened up after losing a few coin flips, we don’t know who is.
Don’t be Shakespeare, but make sure you’re not slipping into arrogance, because poker is a vicious mistress, and she’ll highlight all your leaks in time.
3. Loosening Up
Poker players who are on a good run will often loosen up at the felt. This isn’t restricted to a tournament winner who then enters a new event and plays a more attacking, front-foot style compared to before they got their hands on a trophy. It can also apply to someone who won a big pot splashing about in every hand during the next orbit.
The positives to this are obvious – you could keep winning pots, you’ll get better at playing non-conventional holdings such as five-four off-suit, and the table will likely buy you a free drink. The downsides are just as clear, however. Keep splashing around and sooner or later, all the water you’re diving into will be outside the pool. It’s then that jumping in with two feet starts to hurt.
Remember the strengths you have at the felt. Pressing them without stepping outside your personal boundaries is a great way to maximize your heaters and save yourself from losing what you’ve just won.
4. Winner’s Guilt
We’ve all felt the buzz of getting a win, then wondered why we couldn’t follow it up with another quite so easily. Often, this is down to one of the three factors we’ve already spoken about. But if it isn’t, then it could be a result of ‘winner’s guilt’. This perilous position comes into play when you’ve managed to win a large sum of money. The player then proceeds to donate back to those he or she lost it against – or their type – in a subconscious attempt to assuage that guilt.
Life lesson from poker:
A good process will occasionally produce a poor outcome, and a poor process will occasionally produce a good outcome.
Those who see and understand the difference get to play for the highest stakes.
— Elliot Roe (@ElliotRoe1) May 15, 2019
Elliot Roe, the mindset coach who has helped World Champion Scott Blumstein, Fedor Holz, and many other poker players maximize their potential, spoke to me in detail a few years ago about one of the biggest hurdles poker players face. Often during the period of their greatest success, when they’ve won the most, and it has taken them past what might be known as a ‘comfort ceiling’, poker players can find ways of giving it back so that they return to a level of wealth that they are more acclimatized to.
This, of course, is the very opposite of what you’re going for as a poker player. So if you find yourself winning dramatically more than you’re used to, it’s worth remembering not just the name Elliot Roe – though that’s a good start – but the notion of winner’s guilt. Stop punishing yourself for experiencing good fortune, and think more about what good you could do with the proceeds instead.
5. Upping the Stakes
One of the biggest perils in poker is increasing the stakes when you’re not at the skill level to be able to make a profit. We’re not saying George Holmes did the wrong thing by going straight from finishing second at the 2021 WSOP Main Event to pitching up at Bobby’s Room to play cash. Actually, we’re saying exactly that.
Winning a massive amount of money — or even an MTT at your usual buy-in — can lead to the misconception that you are then immediately able to sit down with players who consistently win at the next level. Whether that’s playing $2/$5 after a big winning session at $1/$2, or firing a $5,000 buy-in with your winnings from your local casino’s $500 monthly event. Don’t be so quick to believe you’ll be able to win when you move up out of your comfort zone to take a shot.
Winning at poker gives us all an adrenaline rush. Knowing what to do with that feeling is a very difficult balance. Sure, you should enjoy playing the rush as much as possible. The best feeling you can experience in the game is winning big. But if you protect yourself at the same time, you’ll give yourself the best chance of doing it all again a lot sooner.