Anatomy of a Downswing

zachvac

zachvac

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For this thread, I'm going to make the very incorrect assumption that a player will play the exact same whether they have just finished a week winning at an amazing rate or losing horribly. Basically we're assuming you don't tilt, which is flawed.

So let's say you're a winning player, and whatever it means you have a 60-40 edge. So let's use a coin, after all coins don't tilt. So it's a rigged coin so that heads comes up 60% of the time. Now good players sometimes expect to win every time, but obviously they will not. One of the biggest concepts people usually don't realize is that good players will usually be in hands with the best of it. This means they will get sucked out on yet will suck out relatively few times. But that's because our mind simply classifies hands as the "favorite" and "underdog". If the best hand held up every time, it would also be rigged. How many vent threads do you see with a "finally, about time a hand held up as it should"?

So I'm going to convince you that when your AA beats KK, it was a suck-out. You're thinking I'm crazy right? AA is SUPPOSED to beat KK you'll tell me. Ah, but not 100% of the time. Your equity with AA vs. KK is approximately 20%. So when you win a pot, you are taking 20% of the pot that you shouldn't have won. So when the best hand held up, you just got lucky. It wasn't a neutral result as many treat it as, you just sucked out on your opponent.

ok that was a side tangent but very important point that I had to get out of the way before the rest of this, because that principle is very important. So back to the 60-40 coin. Now obviously your expected value is to have a heads 60% of the time on the next flip and tails 40% of the time. But the coin is not going to come up some heads and some tails. It has 2 discrete possibilities, heads or tails. One person must "suck out", as explained above. So now that you have the terms "rightful outcome" and "suck out" out of your system, we can look at this objectively. Because a coin flip is an independent event (and without tilt each poker hand is), the probability of each flip coming up heads or tails is the same on each flip. Yet if you flip the coin 500 times you'll notice that approximately 300 of them were heads and 200 were tails. Yet despite it being 60-40 distributed, I'm going to bet that you saw streaks of up to 5-10 tails in a row and even more runs of heads in a row.

I think most people understand up to here, and realize that the tails runs are downswings and heads runs are hot runs. But there is one important concept that a lot of people seem to miss. And that is the concept of a downswing. A downswing can be seen and identified after the fact by looking at the entire sample. Yet at ANY POINT, the probability of an upswing is actually more probable than a downswing. After 5 tails in a row, you're not in a downswing, you had a downswing. It's past tense. You are at the same state (minus tilt, again this emphasizes why we must avoid tilt during downswings especially) as you were when you started flipping this coin. You are also at the same state as you are at the peak of your hot run.

So I think the term "in a downswing" inherently makes no sense. At any point in time, your odds of having a winning day is the same, and if you are a winning player it is higher than the odds of having a losing day. Go ahead and try it. It works with a fair coin too, you'll just have worse downswings and not as good hot runs (they'll be equal, this is not true for a winning player). Start flipping it assuming heads is a good day and tails is a bad day. Now pick times when you would claim you are in a downswing if it were poker. Track the next 10 flips. Do this also for the winning sessions. Do it until you have a decent number of series' after cold and hot runs. Compare them, any glaring differences? If you didn't already realize it, this should re-inforce that the odds of a downswing in the future is the same regardless of if you have been hot, cold, or neutral in the past. So although after having all the data you will see upswings and downswings in poker, it has absolutely no impact on the future. So if you are "on a downswing", it doesn't mean your hands hold up less than they're supposed to, it doesn't mean something intrinsically changed. It means that in the past, there was some variance.

If you can eliminate tilt, the past can not indicate the present or the future in poker, because each deal, flop, turn, and river are all independent (all of them combined, the flop is obviously dependent on the deal, as if you are dealt the Ah the odds of a flop containing the Ah has obviously decreased heavily).

What follows directly from this is that thinking about the past will not help you one bit in poker, and being of the mentality that you are in a downswing will hurt your game because it will cause you to play differently than you would in a normal situation. Once you have a sample of 50k hands, feel free to examine them as a whole, feel free to look for leaks in your game and use it to estimate a win-rate. But don't look at the last 2k hands and adjust your play or use the fact that you are in a downswing as part of any decisions. Cold and hot runs are artificially created by our brains. A person or certain probability cannot be "hot" or "cold". Being hot or cold in the past is possible, but today and tomorrow, my luck is the same as your luck is the same as Phil Ivey's luck. It doesn't matter who is hot or cold or due, that set still has the same odds of hitting for all of us every single time.
 
HartAttack3

HartAttack3

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Im amazed nobody has said anything yet. I am in total agreement with everything you have said and I follow the same rationale of thinking. We must all examine the hands that are dealt and remember that when our ak beats the 67 with a pair of aces its because we hit one of our 6 outs to make a pair. There is a reason these are coinflips and we must all remember there is a reason that there are 5 cards on the board and thats sometimes the high card is a 9 and sometimes its an ace. Dont get mad at other players, just play the game, after all isnt that all this is?

++++++rep I must also add
 
ABorges

ABorges

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Very nice thread again, zach. You make a lot of great points that should help everyone around here gain some perspective over the psychology this game involves. Make more of these, it's good for this forum :)
 
aliengenius

aliengenius

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Right, "downswings really don't even exist from a theoretical perspective" -- Taylor and Hilger, The Poker Mindset, pg. 105.
 
HartAttack3

HartAttack3

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Right, "downswings really don't even exist from a theoretical perspective" -- Taylor and Hilger, The Poker Mindset, pg. 105.


Im not sure if you are saying they exist or do not, I am leaning towards you are saying they do and this is a tough subject to think about. Technically a downswing is when we are losing those 60/40 coinflips in bunches correct? Well statistically it IS impossible for that not to happen since it can not alternate win loss win loss etc. We will win those in bunches and lose those in bunches and the biggest thing we need to realize that a lot of times the good players can fold those losses before we take huge hits.

I do have to agree with zach though, downswings are more of a psychological thing than a statistical certainty. It is possible that someone could never experience a downswing (check this guy out lol http://img108.imageshack.us/img108/8505/downswingsmq8.gif ). Being a football coach I must use a football analogy here, a good poker player has to be like a good quarterback, our short term memories sometimes cant exist. It is when we get mired in these downswings that we play worse and try to play catch up, we must forget the losses and focus on what we do that wins us money, only then can we really play "perfect poker".
 
SavagePenguin

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...when your AA beats KK, it was a suck-out. You're thinking I'm crazy right? AA is SUPPOSED to beat KK you'll tell me. Ah, but not 100% of the time. Your equity with AA vs. KK is approximately 20%. So when you win a pot, you are taking 20% of the pot that you shouldn't have won.

I like that. I think an example would be nice though, as it might go over some people's heads.

Let's say that you buy-in for $100 at a heads up table and your opponent has $100 as well. You are dealt A/A and he is dealt K/K.
You both go all-in pre-flop.
You are 81% to win, so percentage-wise you "should" win $81 of his stack on average. But you don't, you get it *all.* You just sucked out for a significant amount of money.

Virtually every win is like this. You win *more* than you "deserve," according to the percentages.
 
X

xtncx

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i understand your concept here and it makes sense for the most part. and i realize you say that AA is underdog to KK for the sake of effect of your concept. yet, putting it in with your KK vs. AA has a negative equity, so to speak. while for any given hand this may not be the case. in the long run, which is what matters, bullets prevail. ill play my AA vs. your KK every time and appologize for my suckouts after i have ur bankroll.
 
blankoblanco

blankoblanco

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bump because more people should read this (and it should probably be golden archived)
 
RogueRivered

RogueRivered

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Glad you did bump it, although I've been thinking the same thing all along. The last x amount of hands has no effect on the very next one, assuming you're not playing stupidly. All this "I'm running good" or "I'm running bad" doesn't really make any sense other than to talk about it in the past tense; it has no future application. If it does, you are doing something wrong, like believing there is more going on than random card dealing.
 
regd87

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a very good post, IMO should be a sticky somewhere...that way we can link it to all the threads "MY AA gets beat again by KK"
 
Jurn8

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Great post zach, thinking about the concept of the flipping its just obvious that heads may hit 3 times and tails then 5 etc they are not going to alternate every time. NIce post zach good content covered there.
 
dweezel

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I think this post reminds us all that we must ......... I hate to say it........
LEARN THE MATH OF POKER.
It doesn't matter what happened before, the math doesn't change.
Its a constant in poker that we all disguise as luck, being on a heater,
or the dreaded cold deck .
We all believe that "any two cards can win", but it is also true that "any two cards can lose" although we really don't want to believe that.

Great post.
 
bob_tiger

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I just read this for the 2nd time and man this is so inspiring. Can this be stickied in like learning poker section or strategy forum? I mean everybody needs to read this, it kind of makes you think as it did to me just now, because I just experienced a downswing and obviously its annoying, stressful etc etc but I know I'm better than the bad players and all I can do is play for the long run.
 
B

brendonius

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Thank you for these inspiring words. I just lost a few large pots in a row and this definately straightened out my thought process and thinking. Very good read.
 
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