Running bad in poker

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Mark | Poker Articles, Poker Cash Games, Poker Strategy

Submitted by Cory, this article belongs to the Poker Strategy series.

Cory wrote the article below about running bad in poker….something I’ve experienced myself lately. If you have time check out his band’s website at

We’ve all been there before, it’s called running bad. What is running bad though? It’s actually a combination of a few things.

First, never picking up hands. Remember, in low stakes cash games your opponents are calling too much, so your goal is to make strong hands and get maximum value. If you don’t get strong hands, your bluffs are not going to be effective enough to keep you winning. The last thing you want to do in a low stakes game is bluff off all of your money.

The second part of running bad is getting cold decked. You have KK and he happens to wake up with AA the last three times. Oh and the last time you had AA against KK, he flopped a King.

Then you have running bad in the form of never getting your good hands up against strong second best hands. You raise pre-flop with Aces and everyone folds. The flush draw finally comes home, you bet and everyone folds. This can be particularly frustrating in low stakes cash since you expect to get action almost every time you hit big.

Another kind of running bad is when you have a lot of small and medium pairs and go a long time without flopping a set. Or you have open ended straight draws, flush draws, or even big combo draws that don’t ever seem to come home. There hands you need to play and put some money in the pot with, but you need to catch a card or two to rake the big pot.

Now that we know what running bad really is, how do we deal with it? It can be very difficult, but too many otherwise winning players either blame bad luck too much when they make mistakes, or they change their game too much when they’re just running below expectation.

All winning players analyze their hands after losing sessions and winning sessions, but if you’re honest with yourself, way more analysis happens after a big loss. This is because if you are a long term winner, you have an expectation to have more winning sessions than losing sessions. While this may be true, it doesn’t stop even the strongest players from running bad for a while. The worst thing a good player can do is start to make drastic changes to their game.

My local card room runs a promotion where any time you have a flush or better you fill out a little ticket that gets submitted in to a drawing which takes place every half hour Friday through Saturday nights. The winner of each drawing gets $200, so the more flushes, boats, quads or straight flushes you get, the better chance you have of winning one of the drawings. I recently went through a run where I played two times a week, for five hours or more per session for about a month and never qualified for a single ticket. That means I went something like eight, five hour or more sessions without making a hand as strong as a flush. Let’s face it, beating low stakes cash is very difficult when you never hit hands. I did not find a way to somehow come out ahead over this sample size, but here are some things that helped me get through it with my bankroll intact and never going on tilt.

First, I know I’m a winning player. I needed to keep my confidence up. There’s a huge difference between losing because I played badly and losing because I had ten pocket pairs and never flopped a set and had four missed flush draws in two hours. If I let my confidence drop, I’m going to start playing sub-optimally and start losing even more.

The second thing is to avoid trying to make something happen. I found my best fix was just to stay patient and stick to my standard game plan. Eventually the cards will come to me and the action will come along with it. I didn’t start trying to bluff more to make up for the pots I was losing, if I saw a bluffing opportunity I would take it, but I didn’t force the action any more than I would if I were running hot. In fact, maybe even a little less since my table mates know I’m losing and since most people try to push harder when they’re stuck, that is exactly what many of my opponents would expect me to do.

The third thing I do is what I like to call a line check. I have a couple of friends who I feel comfortable discussing strategy with, who think on my level or higher and I go over some hands with them without giving away the result before they check my line, or the actions I took in the hand. They tell me if my line is good, or not without having the meaningless results of the hand to influence their opinions. I also will do line checks when I’m winning, so my friends don’t know if they’re analyzing a hand that I won or a hand that I lost.

The final thing I do is I leave it at the table. When I have a losing night, or week, or month I don’t take it home with me. I don’t worry about it, I don’t lose sleep over it, I don’t bore my friends with bad beat stories. Sometimes the best thing to do for your poker game is get as far out of your poker head space as possible for a while.

Remember, you will run bad. You’ll be bad beat, you’ll finally hit the nuts and not get action, you’ll be cold decked, but only you have control over how much it effects you. Keep this in mind during a down swing. Someone with the most elementary understanding of poker will win close to the same amount as you, a known winning player will when they’re running hot. The only way to tell a good player from a bad player is by how much they lose back when they run bad. You find out just how good you are when you’re not getting hands. It’s pretty hard to not win when you’re getting nut flushes against second nut flushes, or top set against bottom set etcetera. The poker skill really comes in when things aren’t working and you can still keep your head above water.

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2 Comments to Running bad in poker

August 16, 2010

Great advice as usual Cory! Never losing your composure and patience is the safest way out of bad runs.
.-= Mark´s last blog ..Running bad in poker =-.

November 12, 2010

Excellent article. Most people bang on about running bad in the form of bad beats, but you have drawn attention to all the aspects of a bad run at the tables. Its true, if the cards are not there the cards are not there.. obvious really isnt it. We cant force a result in most situations so we just have to play our usual game until the cards do come. If we stick to our “A” game then we are never dissapointed.. over time we truly understand this. Superb article and one that I will pass on to the grinders who are whinning there not winning!


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