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Poker Strategy With Alex Fitzgerald: How To Escape A Downswing

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It can be nauseating to be in a downswing.

Literally nauseating. It makes you doubt everything you thought you knew about poker. It feels like you can do no right. No matter what play you try you still seem to lose.

After a while, you start dreading playing cards. The accumulated frustration comes out constantly. When you miss your flush draw for the 44th time in a row you want to blow a gasket. It seems like nothing is going your way.

How do you get out of a downswing? How can you stop your downward spiral?

The first thing to do is take a deep breath. Realize that downswings happen to everybody. Every professional poker player can tell you that they have been through an awful downswing. Sometimes it will seem like an entire year can pass with you missing every flop.

The next thing we need to do is realize that downswings can teach us something valuable. Sometimes, there is one key reason we are not winning anymore. The downswing is our signal to go find that leak.

Additionally, we are going to be dealing with downswings for our entire poker careers. We will need to get better at playing under downswing pressure. If we move up in stakes eventually this will become a huge skill to possess.

Most people make their down swings much worse because they stop trusting their normal game. They start trying to play a style that they are uncomfortable with. Before, they made disciplined folds on the river. Now? They are calling everyone because they just can’t believe that they got outdrawn again!

Another frequent error people make when they are frustrated with the game is that they start double barreling and triple barreling more than they used to. They start seeing ghosts. They believe everyone sees their downswing and is trying to exploit them. They believe they are getting floated non-stop by hands that will eventually fold. What they are failing to realize is that they need to stop compounding their losses. Eventually, the flops will start hitting them again.

Another common way that people increase the length of their downswings is they stop being aggressive when they need to be. When they were excited about poker, they would three-bet more often and take the initiative when they had a superior position or hand. Now? They feel ridiculous three-betting because they keep missing the flop and having to fold on a later street.

Sometimes the players at the table call them out for constantly three-betting when they apparently don’t have anything. To avoid this embarrassment, they start cold calling more. The problem with this is now they are playing multiway pots. You can’t bluff loose recreational players in multiway pots. Most likely someone has hit something when there are multiple players seeing the flop, and that person does not want to fold. They’ve reduced poker to a card-catching game at this point.

Let’s discuss some leaks that could have started the downswing to begin with.

One common leak that players develop is opening too many hands. When they start playing poker they are disciplined. As they become more comfortable at the table, they begin opening more liberally. They start opening more when the players behind them are passive or weak, but once they realize how fun it is to open more they begin opening all the time.

This opens the door to a second huge leak that can jumpstart a downswing, which is calling three-bets too much out of position.

It is wildly difficult to make money when flatting a three-bet out of position. You might be losing less than if you folded to the three-bet, but you’re losing more compared to outright folding your hand preflop. If you are opening that hand versus aggressive players who are going to be three-betting you the majority of the time, this sets up a ton of problems.

The best way to stop losing with weak hands from early position is to revert back to playing A-Q offsuit+, A-J suited+, 7-7+, the suited broadways, 10-9 suited, and 9-8 suited. When the table is softer, you can open 2-2+ and weaker suited connectors again.

One other key leak is calling too much from the big blind. When one person has raised and another person has cold called, many people call out of the big blind with close to any two cards. While they’re getting a great pot odds price to call, it is more difficult to realize your equity in that situation.

Playing out of position in a multiway pot makes it difficult to bluff. It’s hard to know when your hand is good and when you’re dominated. Out of position your opponent gets more information because you act first.

When completing a bet out of the big blind versus multiple players, it is a good idea to make sure your hand has some playability multiway. Look for suited hands and connectors over random junk like 10-6 offsuit that will see you calling down when you’re losing.

The best way to stop making these mistakes and others is to move down and play limits that don’t get you riled up. Focus on the fundamentals for a few sessions. Play big pots in position with superior hands. Play those hands hard. Be patient!

If you win a little and you’re tired? Call the session early. Just book a win. Book a couple wins in a row. Get the winning feeling back again.

Alexander FitzgeraldOnce you book a few small wins you’ll often feel the panic starting to dissipate. Do not move up again once you feel this calm. Keep hammering the fundamentals at the lower stakes game. Do it until you’re a little bored again. Once your fundamentally-sound game feels routine, that is the time to move back up. This is when you will break the downswing spell. ♠

Learn how to play A-K when it misses the flop!

Alexander Fitzgerald is a professional poker player and bestselling author who currently lives in Denver, Colorado. He is a WPT and EPT final tablist, and has WCOOP and SCOOP wins online. His most recent win was the $250,000 Guaranteed on America’s Cardroom. He currently enjoys blasting bums away in Ignition tournaments while he listens to death metal. Free training packages of his are provided to new newsletter subscribers who sign up at