The Downswing Revealed

For this article I want to assume that you have been playing cash games such as texas holdem successfully for a very long time. You have a huge sample of hands and you have been a proven profitable player for a decent period (I will talk about the samples and the confidence interval in another article). However over the past few weeks you have found that you are losing any cash game session you play. You may manage to win a few sessions, but the results of the period we are talking about are considerably lower than expected. Or perhaps the situation is even worse, and you have losing session after losing session.Your Pokertracker graph gets closer and closer to the bottom and you start to wonder, what is wrong?


Let’s talk about “Downswing”.

They say that all the poker players – good or bad – are going to experience this period of downswing. The difference is that the bad player believes that it is bad luck, a rigged poker room or anything else that he/she can create in his or her mind. On the other hand, the good player knows that he cannot be happy every day. Players with a lot of experience are talking about “a terrible downswing” and they are giving the impression of a black hole in the earth which is gulping people up and you don’t know when you will be back to your profitable positive variation. They forget their good days, when everything was working and they managed to “sucked-out” their opponents a lot of times with their mediocre hand(s).

This is why poker exists!  It exists because the majority of the players out there are seeing only a small snapshot of their life time poker games. The newbies are seeing only an isolated hand and the more experienced an isolated session or in some cases a sample of a week’s worth of hands.

Let’s do some calculations. A good player wins 55-60% of his sessions. If he or she wins 55% then he or she loses 45%.

# session % to lose odds
1 45.00 % 11 : 9
2 20.25 % 4 : 1
3 9.11 % 10 : 1
4 4.10 % 24 : 1
5 1.85 % 53 : 1
6 0.83 % 120 : 1
7 0.37 % 270 : 1

And it doesn’t stop here. We can lose for 8 sessions in a row, so the possibilities for this to happen will be 0.458 (or 0.0037 x 0.45 = 0.0017 = 0.17%) etc. consequently every time you sit on a table you have 1 in 25 possibilities to lose this and the 3 next sessions, or 1 in 54 to lose 5 times in a row. Of course the possibilities to win the same number of sessions in a row is a little bit better, after all you are a profitable player.

When something is possible 1 in 271 times you may believe that it is very difficult to happen, but if you play almost every day then you should expect to lose 7 sessions in a row once a year. Also, once every 2 or 3 years the situation may be even worse, like losing for a month or more, and many times in a year perhaps you will lose 3 times, then win 1, then lose again 5 times, then win 2, etc. and here comes the Negative Variation!


You have to be confident and play your “A” game any time you are on a poker table. If you have the required bankroll and you know how to manage it then you have nothing to worry about. The key is to play as much as you can and research your results from distance. I know that is difficult to change your feelings and your mindset in a day but the more you start thinking deeper about poker the more calm and prepared for any situation – good or bad – you will be.