Downswings, Durrrr & Isildur1

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The Scourge of the Downswing

The downswing in poker is simultaneously one of the most important and demoralising aspects of the game. We may have a habit here at Mosesbet of writing things in stone, but defining a downswing isn’t straightforward. Loosely, it can be defined as a sustained period of time where the player fails to achieve +EV (expected value) – that is, he loses races, has his pocket aces cracked by kings, and so forth. A poker downswing is not to be confused with tilt – even the best poker players in the world, making consistently the correct decisions, can endure painful downswings. Regardless, the two terms can be interdependent, with a prolonged downswing often precipitating tilt in a mentally fragile player.

As poker players, we love statistical definitions, so let’s try and describe a typical downswing. It usually involves the loss of between 5 to 8 buy-ins, which equates to between 25 and 40% of a bankroll (assuming the traditional 20 buy-in buffer in NL Hold’em).

There is a fundamental thing you have to deduce during a downswing. Is it merely down to variance (you’re a 4-1 favourite when your AK runs into your opponent’s AQ, but sure enough a queen spikes on the river…you’re on the marginally plus side of a coin-flip when your pocket eights succumb to A9/o etc), or are there major leaks in your game that are costing you money? Are you raising too much on the button? Are your value bets too thin? Do you need to move down a limit because the competition is too stiff? Regardless, be sure to analyse your game during a downswing, but don’t start to second-guess your poker playing abilities to the extent you lose all the confidence in your game.

Let’s just list some general advice for dealing with downswings without trying to sound too cliché. Firstly, remember that poker is a long-term game, meaning success should be measured in the long-term, over thousands of hands. So be happy that you put your money in as favourite (even if it is only marginal, as is so often in the volatile Pot Limit Omaha environment), because in the end it will pay dividends. Secondly, be prepared to take a break from poker (just like esteemed pro Sami ‘LarsLuzak’ Kelopuro did over the summer) if you feel like you’re prone to tilting, and find other ways of venting your frustration (using a punch-bag, etc).

Tom Dwan, Downswings & Isildur1

dwanNow let us consider one of the most prominent examples of a poker downswing. Young phenomenon Tom ‘durrrr’ Dwan has experienced a breakthrough year in many respects. Durrrr’s dominance on GSN’s High Stakes Poker and Poker After Dark the Cash Game, where he displayed his ability to ‘think outside the box’ and out- manoeuvre opponents (85/o against Howard Lederer anyone?) won him many plaudits. Dwan’s squeaky clean image (there’s none of the Hellmuth-esque berating of opponents) earned him a coveted membership to Team Full Tilt and a financial cushion for life.

Yet Dwan’s live exploits have been painfully overshadowed by the $6.8 million he’s lost online in 2009. Is this a major downswing? Or do the 68 buy-ins of $500/$1000 squandered reflect a fatal floor in Dwan’s PLO game? Can the star frequently hailed as the best internet player of his generation really be out of his depth?

The fact is, and it all boils down to the intrinsic ambiguity of the term ‘downswing’, no-one really knows. With all the stellar pros throwing their hats into the ring, the nosebleed stakes are the most volatile of all, with players such as Martonas enjoying short stints of success before disappearing off the radar. Not even the impregnable Phil Ivey can escape a month in the red. Just how much $6.8 million represents of Dwan’s bankroll remains to be seen, given his newfound marketability and stake in Tiltware, the company that runs Full Tilt Poker. Furthermore, money is constantly swapping hands between the poker elite, with Phil Galfond even rumoured to be staking his close friend durrrr. One thing for sure, however, is that Swedish sensation Isildur1 has got Tom Dwan’s number, and he’s barraging him with prank calls. Isildur1’s identity, believed to be iPoker legend Viktor ‘blom90’ Blom, has taken $5.2 million off Dwan over the past month. Whether this constitutes outplaying him, or merely he’s on the right side of variance, is up for debate.

Concluding on a more positive note, upswings are pleasurable as downswings are depressing. Just ask Viktor Blom, who went from $250 to $2 million in 3 months back in 2007.

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