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OTB #018: 7 Top Tips to Survive & Thrive During a Tournament Poker Downswing

Updated: Jan 25

Let's be honest, tournament poker can be brutal.

Those last two table finishes when you can't win a flip with AK vs QQ soon add up.

MTTs are known for their somewhat unpredictable nature, and even the best players in the world experience downswings.

Dealing with downswings can be challenging, as they can affect your confidence, mindset and bankroll.

However, with the right mindset and strategies, you can effectively manage downswings and navigate through them.

Here are 7 ways to deal with downswings in poker tournaments and make sure you come out the other side.

Let's dive in...

1) Accept variance

Downswings are inevitable and variance is an inherent part of all forms of poker.

While it's important to understand that poker is a game of skill, there is also an element of luck.

Accepting variance as part of the game will help you mentally prepare for downswings and not get discouraged when they happen.

If you want to explore the effect of field size, ROI and number of games played on variance, check out this great tournament poker variance calculator.

Plug in your numbers and see the spread of results.

2) Review your game

It's important to objectively review your game all the time to identify any potential leaks or mistakes you're making, but especially when you're on a downswing.

Analyse and review your hand histories and marked hands and ask for feedback from fellow players or a coach.

Be honest with yourself and identify areas where you can improve.

There will always be areas you can work on. It won't just be that you can't win a flip with 13 left.

Focusing on the things you can control and striving to improve can help you regain your confidence and get back on track.

Stick to focusing on developing frameworks for the most common spots off-the-table and make great decisions based on sound poker strategy.

Also, improving your game will lead to a higher ROI, which in turn will reduce variance. Again, try putting in higher ROIs into the tournament variance calculator to see how it affects the spread of results and your risk of ruin.

3) Take a break

Downswings can be mentally and emotionally draining.

It's essential to take breaks to avoid going on tilt or making impulsive decisions, which is easy when you're playing cash games, but much harder when you're in the middle of an MTT session.

Taking some time off can help you clear your mind, regain perspective, and come back with a fresh mindset.

Engage in other activities you enjoy, spend time with friends and family, or pursue hobbies to help you relax and recharge.

4) Work on your mindset

Mindset is one of the most overlooked areas for most poker players. They often dismiss the mental game of poker until they're in a hole and struggling to climb out.

Maintaining a positive and disciplined mindset is crucial during downswings.

Tilt and frustration can cloud your judgement and lead to poor decision making.

Stay patient, focus on the long-term, and trust in your ability and skillset.

Quick note: Ideally, this is something you work on when things are going well rather than when things start heading south.

5) Manage your bankroll

Proper bankroll management is crucial in poker tournaments, especially during downswings.

Bricking many tournaments in a row can eat into your bankroll pretty quickly, so it's important to have a plan in place to avoid going broke.

As a general rule, I recommend to have at least 200 buy-ins for the max tournament stake that you play. This multiplier should be higher the bigger the field size and the lower your own risk tolerance.

If you're in the middle of a downswing, you should also seriously consider moving down in stakes to regain your confidence and protect your bankroll.

If you have a $10k bankroll and play $50 MTTs, but have an horrendous Sunday where you lose $2k, you are now not rolled to play $50 MTTs and should drop down to $40 (and under).

Quick note: field sizes are much bigger on a Sunday and you will need much more than 200 buy-ins for the max stake you play to lower your risk of ruin. Again, you can use the tournament variance calculator I mentioned above to investigate your risk of ruin at certain buy-in levels with a specific bankroll.

6) Seek support

Dealing with downswings can be emotionally challenging, and it's important to have a great support system around you.

Talk to fellow poker players, friends or mentors who can offer you advice, encouragement and perspective.

Surround yourself with supportive people that will help you stay positive and motivated during tough times.

7) Stay disciplined

Downswings can tempt you to deviate from your usual game plan or strategy. It's crucial to stay disciplined and stick to your solid fundamentals.

Avoid making drastic changes to your game based on short-term results.

Trust in your effort off-the-table, and make decisions based on sound poker strategy rather than emotions.


Downswings are an inevitable part of poker tournaments, and how you handle them can greatly impact your overall performance and results.

If you want to ensure that downswings don't derail your entire poker career, follow these 7 tips:

1) Accept variance

2) Review your game

3) Take a break

4) Work on your mindset

5) Manage your bankroll

6) Seek support

7) Stay disciplined

Remember, poker is a long-term game, and success comes from a combination of skill, discipline, perseverance and proper mindset.

Good luck.


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