You just played four hours of $1-$2 no-limit hold’em, and you lost $300. Did you play badly? Or did you just run bad?
As you might imagine, it was probably a bit of both. After a session, it can be difficult to tease out the play bad from the run bad. If you want to learn from your mistakes, however, it is worth it to try to do so. In hands that didn’t go well, did you play bad, did you run bad, or was it a double whammy of play bad and run bad?
There are a lot of ways to run bad at poker, and many of them are subtle. I’m not exploring this topic to give you ways to rationalize your lackluster results. Quite the opposite, I think being aware of how luck works allows you to better understand what is under your control.
Here are six different ways you can run bad at poker.
1. Opponents catch their cards against you.
This is the obvious one and the type of run bad that gets the most attention. You get it in on the turn, top set against bottom set, and your opponent catches his one out for quads on the river. Brutal beat, man.
2. You make few to no hands for a while.
“I didn’t get dealt one pocket pair in four hours!” It happens. “I had A-K or A-Q seven times and didn’t catch a pair once!” Yup. Again, this one is fairly obvious, so I won’t belabor the point.
3. Your opponents catch hands against you.
This one can be subtle and very frustrating. This is different from the first way to run bad. You’re not getting the money in good and the wrong card comes. Instead, your opponents are just making more hands than usual. You raise three times preflop, and someone reraises you each time. Hyper-aggressive game? Maybe. But not if those three reraises were the only ones for the past hour. Instead, you just ran into big pairs three times. Run bad.
You raise preflop with K-J and get two callers. The flop comes T-7-5. The callers check, you bet, and one player calls. The turn is a 7, and your opponent makes a big bet. Run bad.
You raise preflop six times in an hour and a half, and all six times you miss the flop, and an opponent calls or raises your flop continuation bet. It’s very frustrating, and in most small stakes games it’s almost all run bad.
You raise preflop with Q-Q, and the big blind calls. The flop comes J-9-3. Your opponent checks, you bet, and he calls. The turn is an A. He checks, you bet again, and he check-raises. Run bad.
This particular form of run bad can play with your head. Unlike simply getting nothing to play, you are investing money in these hands before things turn sour. And unlike getting it in with the best of it and losing, these hands don’t go to showdown. They usually end with your opponent raising and you folding, or your opponent calling a bet and you checking and folding on the next round. After a few times, that ugly little thought, “Maybe I’m getting bullied,” starts dancing with your sanity.
Don’t worry. The table has not suddenly consipred to push you off every hand. You aren’t getting bullied. Your opponents are just catching hands, and you are running bad as a result.
4. Your opponents cold deck you.
You have the queen-high flush draw, and on the river the ace of your suit comes. You get it in, and your opponent has the king-high flush. Nothing you can do.
This is the same phenomenon as the previous way to run bad, except that instead of your opponent raising and you being forced to fold, you happen to have a big enough hand that you get all-in instead. Just one bad cold deck can ruin a whole session, and often it’s pure run bad.
5. Your opponents miss every time you make a hand.
You made three sets and two flushes tonight, and each time you bet the flop, and everyone folded.
This one is frustrating, and it can have you questioning how you play. When this happens to you a lot, you may start to think, “Should I be slowplaying all my big hands to make sure I get something from them?”
Slowplaying makes sense sometimes in no-limit, but it’s easy to overdo it. More importantly, slowplaying decisions should be based on the board texture and your opponents’ tendencies, not on what happened the last five times you flopped a big hand.
6. You’re stuck at a bad table or in a bad seat.
This one obviously applies most directly to tournaments where you’re assigned a table and seat. But it can happen to you in cash games as well.
As a winning poker player, over time I can expect to win X dollars per hour on average when I play. But that number is my average hourly win over every poker game I will play for a year (or longer).
On any one particular day, what I can expect to win per hour could be much higher or much lower.
Not every $2-$5 game is equal. Some days I sit down, and there is a drunk NFL player on my right with a $5,000 stack. This setup would be worth considerably more than my X per hour average. Other days I sit down, and the tourists are all sitting to my left, nursing $200 stacks. This setup is below average.
You should invest some effort to find the best game and best seat in the house. And if there’s no good game, perhaps you should try a different cardroom. But, by the definition of average, you will sometimes be forced to play in a below average seat or game. This important form of running bad is worth acknowledging.
About half the time you sit down to play poker, you’re going to run bad. If you’re a skilled player, you might book a win anyway as long as you don’t run too bad. But if you miss every flop for five hours and get cold-decked the one time you hit, you’re going to lose no matter how awesome you are. Good results depend on catching a few breaks.
It’s important for your sanity as well as for your attempts to improve that you be able to look back at a session and pick out the bad outcomes that were beyond your control.
But don’t rationalize every bad result as running bad. Often there’s some bad play in there as well. Next issue I’ll talk about ways that bad play can put you in situations you could have avoided and how it can cause you to lose more than necessary.
[This article appeared in the September 21, 2011 issue (Vol. 24, No. 19) of Card Player.]
Tags: no-limit-holdem, poker, poker-psychology, running-bad