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Handling Bad Beats

11 Tips for Handling Bad Beats and Variance

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Handling bad beats and variance is an inevitable part of playing poker, often testing even the most seasoned players’ patience and resilience. In this article, we’ll explore 11 essential tips to help you handle these challenging aspects of the game effectively. By learning how to manage your emotions and maintain a strategic mindset, you’ll be better equipped to navigate the highs and lows of poker with confidence.

Play Smaller Stakes

If you were playing a $1.00 buy-in home game with your friends, would you get tilted if you lost a huge pot? Probably not.

If you were playing a poker game for your entire net worth, would you get tilted if you lost everything?Yeah, probably. That would only be human.

So, as we can tell, what we buy in for often dictates how tilted we get. If we’re playing stakes that we can afford, then we won’t tilt as much.

We want to find that sweet spot where the winnings mean something to us, but losing won’t sting too much. This is why so many people like tournaments. They make a small investment that they can afford to lose. But if they win, the payout could be meaningful.

Pretend you’re buying a concert ticket. You’re in this game for the enjoyment of it. The money is a bonus.

Keep Records

Another way of handling bad beats in poker is to keep records. If you keep detailed records, you will be less likely to tilt. If you’re a winning player over a long period of time, one data point or even five won’t worry you. You’ll see that the larger trend is going in your direction. And then you’ll know you can trust yourself.

Have A Life Outside Of Poker

When I made poker my entire life, my game suffered. I’m embarrassed at how much poker I’ve played in some years and how little I improved. It’s difficult to get better at anything, let alone poker, when you’re never pausing to reflect. You keep grinding yourself to a nub, making the same mistakes again and again.

Whenever I’m tilted now, I go do something else. I go to a metal concert. I take my girlfriend to a museum. I go for a hike.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been aimlessly wandering somewhere else and then had a great idea in regards to poker. The mistakes I was making became blindingly obvious because my brain had a chance to rest and catch its breath. When the brain is constantly overworked, it can’t review all of the things it has seen to look for patterns.

Don’t Rely On Poker For All Your Income

I used to rely on poker for all of my income. When I would start running bad, I’d freak out because I wasn’t sure how I was going to pay my bills.

Then, I spent years on the tour. All of the successful poker players I met had other investments and businesses. Some of them, to my amazement, still worked another job. They could have easily been a full-time pro, but they didn’t want the stress.

What they taught me is that if you have other income streams, you’ll be able to keep poker in perspective. And when poker is in perspective, handling bad beats is so much easier. A day job is a trust fund you give yourself. You can build off of that kind of diversification.

Exercise More

This falls under the “no sh*t Sherlock” category, but it’s worth repeating. I’ll tell you what I do when I’m tilted. When I’m pissed off about the game, I go to a weight room and lift heavy. After an hour of deadlifting, squatting, or bench pressing, I feel looser. The swings of the game impact me less.

Of course, lifting weights before every poker session is impractical, but if you can get some kind of exercise in (maybe a walk or run), it goes a long way. Sometimes, on the road, I’ll bring my resistance bands with me and do some stretches in the hotel room. Anything active counts. Draining nervous energy before you play will help you be more relaxed when the inevitable swings come and make handling bad beats easier.

Sleep Better

This one is another “no sh*t Sherlock” contender, but it’s still worth repeating. Poker is often played in fun locales. It can be easy to stay up late drinking and partying. If you instead wait until the tournament is over to have your fun, you’ll be in a much better place. And then if you are playing again the next day, make sure to get to bed at a decent hour.

If you have trouble sleeping, at least get some rest. Don’t stay up on your phone if you can help it. Put on an eye mask. Listen to a podcast that’s interesting but not too enthralling. See if you can drift off.

Eat Better

This is another fundamental that we need to review. Handling bad beats on an empty stomach is brutal.

I cashed the Main Event last year after a long, fruitless summer. I was tired as all hell at different points of the tournament. Staying hydrated with those electrolyte packets and eating lighter helped me keep my focus together during the later stages. I walked away from that tournament happy with my play. I couldn’t have done that if I was weighed down with heavier meals or if I was starving.

After the tournament was over, I went to an Italian bakery and bought every sweet in the place. I downed it all with coffee. It was delicious.

Our goal isn’t to never eat food that is bad for us. Food is one of the great joys in life. The idea is to not eat anything too heavy that will slow you down when you’re in the middle of a poker tournament.

Deep Breaths Help You Handle Bad Beats

Whenever you’re up in your head, it’s a good idea to breathe deep into your gut and exhale slowly. It will cool you down. If you’re breathing shallowly, it will stimulate your body’s fight or flight response. You don’t want to start your mind racing when you’re playing poker. You will be completely tilted the first time you have to handle any bad beats.

Go for a walk. Loosen up your muscles. Stretch. Deep breaths. Come back strong.

Headphones Can Help with Handling Bad Beats

There are some players who use table talk to get under your skin. It’s part of the game.

There’s no rule that you have to listen to them. Bring a pair of headphones with you. If you need them, turn on something to drown out the noise of the table talker. It is much easier to move past the variance and handle bad beats if you don’t have other players nattering in your ear.

Cell Phone Off

Turn your cell phone off. Or at least have certain notifications turned off.

I was playing higher stakes poker once and had someone blow up my phone with a matter that could have easily waited until the next week. It was extremely tilting. If I had turned off notifications from anyone but my family while I was playing, I would have been fine. My family knows to not text me while I’m playing unless it’s something serious. The rest of the world might not know when to hold back or care to learn that boundary.

Protect yourself. Poker should be your private time. Don’t let anyone intrude upon your recreational hours.

Have A Game Plan BEFORE You Play

A great deal of tilt comes from making a play that you’re uncomfortable with. If you make a big bluff or big call that you didn’t prepare for, and it blows up in your face, you will be extremely angry. You’ll wonder why you tried such a big play. You’ll keep replaying the hand in your head.

If you have a game plan before you sit down, you’ll be in a much better spot to handle bad beats and unfavorable variance. If you know the exact situations where you will bluff or make a huge call, you’ll know when to just fold and not get out of line. Sticking to a game plan will give you a stable mental framework. People won’t be able to tilt you because you prepared for their crap before you sat down.

Do you have a game plan set up? If not, you can copy the game plan I made for tournaments in 2024. The videos include ten hours of rapid fire testing, but if you want to see the whole blueprint quickly, you can watch the final video to get the cliff notes on every situation.

That package is technically not on sale right now, but if you use the link above, you’ll get access to an exclusive coupon. Only ten people can use that coupon before it expires, so act fast!

Conclusion: Handling Bad Beats and Variance

Handling bad beats and variance with grace is crucial for your long-term success in poker. By applying these 11 tips, you’ll build mental toughness and maintain a positive attitude, even during tough sessions. Remember, the ability to stay composed and focused will set you apart from your opponents and improve your overall game performance.

Want to read more from APT Head Pro Alex Fitzgerald? Try his article about the Three Most Underappreciated Poker Skills.

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Alex Fitzgerald

Master Poker Coach | Low-to-mid-stakes | WPT & EPT final tablist | $3.5M cashes | Best Selling Author

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