Surviving Bad Runs in Poker

If the person who said you can’t escape death and taxes had played poker, they would have added bad runs to their list. Bad runs are the bent nails on a poker player’s road to glory, and it is essential for any poker player aspiring to success to learn how to deal with seeing their riches turn to rags.

What is a bad run?

All poker players have experienced a run of weak cards in a specific tournament or cash game. While other players are picking up pocket pairs or face card combinations with every hand, the player whose cards are running badly, picks up rags – hand after hand.

A bad run of form is similar, although it takes place on a bigger, and far more devastating scale. In bad runs players find themselves unable to win big pots in tournaments or cash games – irrespective of the quality of cards they’re picking up. In fact that’s part of what makes bad runs so frustrating – speculative hands never come off, while strong hands are cracked by weaker hands, once again – hand after hand.

It feels as if every opponent is sure to hit a straight or flush on the river, while their own straight draws and flush draws never hit the nuts. Stealing blinds becomes impossible as players on the blind routinely call with stronger hands, whilst players on a bad run are never in a position to defend their blinds.

After several weeks of a bad run, most players will have begun to feel as if the game of poker is governed by capricious gods who have taken a personal dislike to them, and will either throw away a lot of money trying to win back these gods’ favour or else consider quitting the game entirely to escape their wrath.

Handling a Bad Run

Before you reach the stage where you’re willing to sacrifice your grandmother’s chihuahua to placate the poker gods, you might want to take the following points into consideration:

Bad runs, like bad beats, are part of the game. If you’re intending to play poker for a long time, you’re going to have to deal with a bad run at least once.
You’re not the only poker player who’s had a bad run. Even the pros get hit by bad runs, and with poker being their career, this can cost them not only their confidence but their livelihood.
Bad runs present an excellent opportunity to plug holes in your game. If you can tighten up your game and try to understand what role you play in your losses, you’ll emerge from your bad run a stronger player.
If the advice above sounds a bit vague or abstract, here are some concrete steps you can take to improve your game when you’re on a bad run:

Stick to one game at a time

If you’ve been playing multiple tables, now is the time to restrict yourself to one table. Focusing on a single table allows you to gather information about other players and to use this to govern your play, rather than relying only on odds for each hand.

Avoid going all-in pre-flop

If you’re susceptible to bad beats you need to resist going all-in every time you have a strong hand. While there’s nothing wrong with a good aggressive raise pre-flop, you need to use the board and your opponents’ betting behaviour to govern your play.

Lower your stakes

There’s no better time to take your stakes down a step. This minimises your losses, pits you against weaker players, and gives you a chance to play out your bad run. You can always return to your original stakes when you get your form back.

Focus

Take time away from the game, and restrict your playing sessions to periods where you’re enthusiastic and energised. Playing when you’re disillusioned or bored lowers your attention levels, and can influence how tight your game is.

Hold back on bluffs

You’ll want to minimise your bluffing when you’re on a bad run. Other players are more likely to respect a bluff from a player backed by a big stack, and take their chances against players whom they can sense are out of form. Put your money in the pot when you make strong hands.

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