Recently I went through the type of bankroll destroying, confidence crushing downswing that I had previously only read about. The following are some lessons learned from my experience.
Don't overestimate your short run edge.
I often sit down at a NL$100 table and see a minraise, min-reraise, 4 callers to the flop, and start counting my money. This is a mistake. The truth is, you can sit at a table full of donks for 5 hours and get your ass completely handed to you on any given night. Once I accepted the fact that even though I am usually one of the best players at my table, I can still get pwned, it became much easier to handle variance. Many people seem to believe that if they play solid poker, it is their god given right to come out on the winning end of things. When these players run bad, their arrogance and complete disrespect for their opponents makes it very difficult for them to deal with losing. I'm not saying you shouldn't be confident, just that you need to accept the fact that on any given night, you can get owned by horrible players.
Don't root for certain cards to come.
Much of the attraction to this game is the adrenaline rush that one gets from gambling. Many players love the feeling they get when they put their whole stack in on a draw, and watch 2 cards peel, hoping for that diamond to hit. While difficult to do, I think it is important for players to avoid this gambling "rush" as much as possible. The true grinder plays every hand with complete emotional indifference. They focus on making the most +EV decision in every single situation, and avoid getting caught up emotionally. Obviously, once you make a decision in poker, the results are completely out of your control. Though this is obvious, I see so many players get furious when their 17 out draw doesn't hit, or when a player calls their big river bluff with bottom pair. Poker can be very frustrating at times, and the less you allow your emotions to impact your decisions, the better equipped you will be to deal with a cold run. Lastly, I think that players who enjoy the thrill of gambling tend to make decisions based on their desire to gambool rather than on the overall EV of the decision being made.
Don't spar in chat or "go after" a certain player.
Nothing puts me on tilt faster than having a fish talk [censored] in chat after rivering me, or having a table coach ridicule me for getting my stack in on the flop with 15+ outs. For this reason, I try to avoid chat at my tables. Of course you should read chat because you can gain lots of info on your opponents thought processes. My point is, don't get suckered in to sparring wars/arguments with the players at your table, nothing good can come of it. This is particularly true if you multitable. While your talking [censored] in chat at one table, your missing action and valuable info at your other table. Also, don't go out of your way to "get back" at a player. Anytime you play differently for reasons such as anger/revenge/etc, there is a good chance your play will not be optimal. What starts with trying to get your money back from a fish often ends with sending a couple more buyins to the said fish. Lastly, don't tap the tank. I know it's very difficult, but in the long run, pointing out the flaws in a players game will only result in all of us making less money.
When your running bad, bluff less and play tighter.
Some will disagree with this, but I think it's very important to pull back a bit when you sense that your running bad. I don't mean to play weak tight, or to value bet less, or play your hands more passively. I am referring to situations which require fold equity. Typically, many players at your table are not paying as much attention as you. They aren't checking hh's to see whats being shown down or paying attention to how tight or loose their opponents are. Many players judge a players skill based on how much money they are winning or losing. If your running bad and the donks at your table are watching you ship stacks all over the place, they are more inclined to give you less respect. So when you fire two streets with whiffed overs, or bluff a busted draw on the river, they are more likely to look you up, because they think you suck. I also find this to be the case pre flop, if I've been running bad, my pre flop raises get much less respect. My normal game is 21/14, but when running like [censored], I tend to drift down to 16/10. Hands like A3suited or KJo, which are typically in my UTG opening range, are often folds for me in EP when I'm getting less respect and running bad. Pay attention to the feel of the table your at. Typically, if you tighten up, people don't tend to notice until you start showing down some big hands, and then you get more respect and can open your game back up. It is amazing to me how many people will play even more aggressively when they are losing, which I believe goes against the logical solution.
At some point, you will run worse than you ever thought possible.
I know, this saying is a tired cliche that we've all heard over and over. In all honesty, I never really understood what this meant until I experienced it myself. At NL $50, I ran breakeven for close to 25K hands, and thought that was my "running worse than I ever thought possible." Boy was I wrong. I used to read BBV posts about someone dropping $900 at NL $50 and thought, dude, you suck at poker, find a new hobby. I never believed that a downswing of greater than 10 buyins was possible without some serious tilt/bad play/both. I'm here to tell you that it is. Obviously my game has some holes, and sometimes I make bad plays, as we all do. That said, I played fairly solid poker for a week and lost almost 19 buyins at NL$100. No ninja monkey tilt. No obvious spew. No drunken shots at $5/10. Just complete and utter destruction, day after day, for a week straight. There are many 2+2er's who believe that a WR of less than 5PTBB's is unacceptable, or that a 5 buyin downswing can't happen to them because they are "too good." If you are one of these players, and you hit a wicked downswing, it may be difficult to accept and busto could be the result. Just realize that no matter how bad you've run, a worse downswing is definitely possible. The crazy thing about poker is that there is absolutely no guarantee that you will win. While good play will win over the long run, there is no way to know for sure how long a short run losing streak can last. You can plug your stats into a BR calculator, and get comfort from standard deviations and confidence intervals that tell you +/- x buyins is likely based on your stats, but the truth is, you really need a huge sample size to really know how big of a swing you could encounter. Most of us don't have a sample size large enough to confidently predict how bad of a run we can hit at some point.
Don't be shy about dropping down a level.
My downswing started playing NL $200 with a $3200 roll. It ended with playing NL$50 on a $1300 roll. Probably the biggest mistake I made was not moving down sooner. It is difficult to move down from a level that you have been a consistent winner at. I beat NL $100 for 7PTBB's/100 over almost 100K hands before this swing. I kept thinking that eventually it would turn around, I am too good for NL $50, etc. Don't make the same mistake. Even if you are rolled for the level your playing, if you start losing a lot, just move down until you start running better. There is no shame in it, and often the worse play at the level below can jump start your comeback and re-instill some confidence. I know it has for me.
Hopefully this has been helpful for some of you, holler back with a tl;dr and I'll know my time was well spent . If anyone has additional advice for dealing with a cooler, throw it in here, I'd love to see some more tips. Good luck and see you all at the tables,