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Comment | radiosick commented on Mobius Poker Blog

m9 - The Art of Preventing a Monster Downswing

I want to share an important lesson that I learned the hard way while moving up to high stakes last year. So far on this blog I have only written about moving up in stakes. This article is going to be about the opposite. I want to talk about when it actually makes sense to move down.

In order to illustrate the point, I’ll share my full graph to date below. To quickly recap my journey, I started playing full time at 200nl in 2019. Within about 6 months I made it to 2000nl and took a fairly epic shot that looked like this:

July-August 2000nl Shot

I won about 34 buy ins in my first 12k hands, and then lost about 23 buy ins in my next 8k hands. The result was I won at about 7 evbb/100 over my first 20k hands at 10/20. Pretty good, right? But it didn’t feel that way. It was actually fucking awful, because I simply wasn’t ready to go on a $45k downswing at that point in my career. (Remember, just a handful of months before this I was a 200nl player with a relatively small bankroll). This was the start of a rather dark period in my poker career that lasted half of a year or so, and I’m happy to have moved past it.

It wasn’t the downswing itself that was so bad, although that did hurt. In the end, I think it was the amount of time it took to rebuild at lower stakes that really messed with my head. Even after I moved down in stakes, I continued to run bad and run below EV. I probably wasn’t playing my best poker either, to be honest. I was in a big hole, and it felt like it took forever to recover.

To put this in perspective, here is my full graph since 2019 with the y axis in big blinds:

Graph To Date (Big Blinds)

And here is that same graph with the y axis in USD:

Graph To Date (USD)

Looks pretty different, right? That giant breakeven stretch between the two red arrows in the USD graph lasted about 7-8 months. I wasn’t playing this entire time; I took a three month break during this period dedicated solely to studying and making a new course for the Poker Detox cash game stable. But still, that’s a long time for a pro poker player to not make any money playing poker.

Nothing about my life really changed during this period. I had enough money. The lights were on, there was food in the refrigerator, and my car had a full tank of gas. I was still comfortably rolled to play 1000nl. But it didn’t feel that way--I felt completely burnt out. Losing even a few thousand dollars in a day was now enough to make me quit my session early. I used to not even flinch when that happened. Some days I would just play 500nl, or even 200nl, because I couldn’t stomach the thought of putting in a session at 1k and getting crushed.

It took a lot of time, but I eventually recovered. I’m back to crushing my 1k games and thinking about moving back up to 2k soon. But I learned a valuable lesson from this period. When I take my next shot at 2k, I won’t go on another soul-crushing downswing like this. I’ll simply take a break and move down to 1k before that happens.

The pros and cons of moving down in stakes

I think most people look at the decision to move down during a downswing like this:

  • The upside of moving down is it’s safe. It’s a lot less scary to play lower stakes, and it allows you to rebuild your bankroll with confidence.
  • The downside of moving down is you make less money for a little while, and it takes more time to recover your losses on average.
  • The upside of continuing to play at your current stake is it’s usually the highest EV option (assuming you’re still capable of playing your A game). On average, it’s the quickest way to make the money back.
  • The downside of continuing to play at your current stake is you could continue to lose a lot more money, especially if you’re now playing badly because the money you’ve already lost has gone to your head.

That’s probably how most people look at it. But actually, I don’t think number four, i.e. the financial risk argument, is the real downside of continuing to play at your current stake. The real downside is the long-term damage to your mental game that is the result of going on a downswing 50-100% larger than you’re comfortable with, and taking many months to recover from it. For me, this led to playing significantly less volume and playing a weaker, more risk-averse version of my normal game. It also hurt my confidence in real life and made me a generally more anxious/depressed person for a while.

Small jabs vs. the hail mary

When I take my next 10/20 shot, I plan to take more frequent breaks at 5/10 when I encounter a downswing. My consecutive stop loss will probably be around $30k, or 15 buy ins, even if I’m up more than that at the stake overall. If I hit that threshold, I’ll move down to 5/10 to recover, and come back to 10/20 in a month or two to resume my shot with confidence.

This is what I would call the “small jabs” approach to shot taking, as opposed to the “hail mary” approach. Both strategies start out the same way: you start out with a certain bankroll for your shot, say 5 buy ins, and move back down if you bust that. The difference is, in the small jabs strategy, you also have a consecutive downswing stop loss based on whatever your personal “pain threshold” is. That is, whatever amount you’re capable of losing without having major negative impacts on your mindset. For most people, a good stop loss at a new stake is probably around 15 buy ins. So even if you make 30 buy-ins and then lose 15, you preemptively move down and recover some or all of your losses at your previous stake before resuming your shot. This ensures that you never go on a downswing so huge that it takes many months to recover.

On the other hand, the hail mary approach simply pushes the variance to the limit. You stay at the stake until you either bust your shot or you’re too shell shocked to keep playing. Again, the upside of the hail mary is it is the highest EV approach in theory. If it works, it’s amazing. But if it doesn’t work, it really sucks.

The small jabs approach is safer, but more consistently annoying. There is a lot of extra time spent moving down preemptively to recover losses. On the other hand, the hail mary approach is riskier and can lead to either a euphoric victory or a devastating loss.

In practice, I think the small jabs approach is higher EV, even though it should be lower EV in theory. That’s because when a player exceeds his pain threshold on a downswing, it usually results in him playing less volume and playing worse poker. In extreme cases, it can result in him quitting poker. These outcomes are obviously far more -EV than playing lower stakes and reducing your hourly rate for a little while.

Of course there is a third option, which is to take a shot by mixing some higher stakes with your current stake. You could, for example, play 10/20 on the two softest days of the week, and then play 5/10 the other days. But still, there is always going to be a time when you have to decide to make 10/20 your main game, and I think it’s important to set some boundaries when you are making this transition.

I don’t want to say I regret the way I took my 10/20 shot, because I don’t necessarily regret it. The hail mary approach worked for me at 2/5, and it worked at 5/10. Of course, if I had gone on a $40k upswing instead of dropping another $20k, I would have felt great about my decision to stay at 10/20. Also, this downswing is what inspired me to do about 3 months of research which I may not have done otherwise. This made me a much, much better poker player than I was before, and resulted in a new Poker Detox course that I have used to create a second stream of income. But I do think I could have achieved the same result in a much smarter way. Yes. everything worked out in the end, but if I’m being honest, I would have rather just saved myself from going on a monster downswing that was, in retrospect, easily preventable.

No gamble, no future?

There are some people in the poker community who preach a “no gamble no future” philosophy that goes against what I’m saying here. This approach has never really worked for me. It might work for some people with an abnormal level of risk tolerance, but for the average person I think it just makes life harder than it has to be. In my opinion, there’s no glory in going on a giant downswing. At a certain point, you don’t come out stronger. It actually just sucks. Sometimes it really is better to take a more conservative approach, rather than setting yourself up for either a huge win or a devastating loss.

If this resonates with you, my advice is to simply think about how much money you’re comfortable losing in one stretch. Write the number down. Maybe it’s $5k. Maybe it’s $25k. Whatever it is, when you hit that point, move down, even if you don’t really have to from a purely financial standpoint. Take some time to rebuild, and then come back with confidence. You can’t ever truly avoid a bad run, but you can strategically move down in stakes to break up your downswings so that you ever don’t lose way more money than you’re comfortable with.

April 20, 2020 | 7:19 p.m.

Comment | radiosick commented on Mobius Poker Blog

HM3 pretty much just seems like HM2 with an updated UI. Basically just a polished turd. But it's what I'm used to.

April 20, 2020 | 6:53 p.m.

Comment | radiosick commented on Mobius Poker Blog

I'll be posting an article soon about this.

April 20, 2020 | 6:52 p.m.

Comment | radiosick commented on Mobius Poker Blog

Can you try using a different browser or computer? Both links you mentioned work fine for me.

April 16, 2020 | 1:41 a.m.

Comment | radiosick commented on Mobius Poker Blog

Update - 100k Hands of 1000nl

I played my 100,000th hand of 5/10 a couple nights ago.


My redline seems to be falling off slightly. I'm worried I might be turning into a bit of a nit. It hasn't seemed to hurt the results too much though.

April 15, 2020 | 5:50 p.m.

When you have 30 BIs for the next limit, move up at take a 5BI shot. Always move down when you get under 25 BIs at a limit.

Done :)

If you don't need the money, you can definitely adjust the thresholds to be a little more aggressive than this, but who cares?

April 7, 2020 | 5:16 p.m.

Comment | radiosick commented on Mobius Poker Blog

I don't currently offer any public coaching.

Right now the only way to access the courses I have made is to sign up for Poker Detox coaching for profits.

March 18, 2020 | 1:03 a.m.

Comment | radiosick commented on Mobius Poker Blog

pip = Pio right?

I've made it a goal to use Pio a lot more this year. It's probably important to mention I have been able to get away with flop/turn strategies that are stupidly simple because I only play in anonymous/semi-anonymous games. Thus my opponents only have 50-100 hands at most to figure out which nodes I am Xing range or c-betting range in. In known pools, I might get exploited more, but I doubt it would really be that much of a give up at low-mid stakes because a lot of people don't know how to properly counter simplified strategies anyway.

I guess I'd just say keep it as simple as possible with Pio. From what I have looked at so far, players/coaches who are not playing at the highest levels seem to be massively overvaluing the EV gain of multiple sizes and mixed strategies in a lot of common situations.

Jan. 12, 2020 | 4:27 p.m.

Comment | radiosick commented on Mobius Poker Blog

I know this was months ago but this interaction still bothers me. I just wanted to quickly apologize to this commenter for accusing him of stealing my course [facepalm]. gambler91 I honestly did not know that information was out there for free and was unable to come to any other conclusion as to how you got it. (Piracy has been a big issue for us in the past.) Regardless, I'm not sure where my head was at on that particular day. Sorry.

I really appreciate all the comments people post on here. I still can't tell you why your winrate isn't higher though :D

Jan. 9, 2020 | 8 p.m.

Hi Ben,

Every Pio sim is obviously a huge simplification relative to the full game tree. Ideally we want to find a balance between how accurately our sim fits reality, and how complex our sim is.

My question is, how do you go about setting up your trees when you run Pio sims? Specifically, how do you choose how many bet/raise sizes you input, and how do you choose what values you want to use for each sizing?


Jan. 6, 2020 | 3:57 a.m.

Comment | radiosick commented on Mobius Poker Blog

I agree with your points. Random checking is obviously a bad habit and should be kept to a minimum. But people are always going to check randomly, no matter how hard you try to persuade them against it. The article was intended to address the root of the problem, which is when people worry excessively about results over an irrelevant sample size because they actually don't understand the data they are looking at is almost pure noise.

Note: I am also not saying people shouldn't enjoy winning and dislike losing. That's just human nature. It's just when people totally freak out about standard downswings and feel shitty about life (which I am probably as guilty of as anyone), that's when it becomes a problem.

I think the idea of not even glancing at cashier for weeks at a time is unrealistic for most people which is why I didn't suggest it. I try not to post advice here that I know I won't be able to follow myself. I don't want to be one of those guys :D

Props to those who are truly able to almost never randomly check results. Obviously that takes discipline. That said, I think if you never have to check, it's a sign that you might be over-rolled for your games and could be shot taking at higher limits. To each his own though.

Dec. 22, 2019 | 6:54 p.m.

Comment | radiosick commented on Mobius Poker Blog

Eh, I would argue that each additional bb you add to your win rate is exponentially harder to attain. So you are actually a lot better if you go from 5 bb/100 to 7.5 bb/100. It's an interesting point though. I didn't think of it like that.

Dec. 21, 2019 | 1:21 a.m.

Comment | radiosick commented on Mobius Poker Blog

m8 - When and How To Check Results

Prerequisite reading: m7 - Selection Bias in Variance Calculations

In Phil Galfond's excellent article, Poker and Your Life, he writes about the skills that he thinks make a great poker player. I think most good poker blogs try to tackle this question at one point or another. Phil starts with a few hard skills: deductive logic, psychology, and math/statistics. I tend to agree with him on all these points. But then he goes on to list three additional soft skills:

There are also three minor categories, which are less about predicting poker aptitude and potential, and more about predicting how likely you are to reach and use that potential:

  • Competitive Drive (especially with oneself)

  • Humility and Self-Awareness

  • Self Control

Again, I agree that all of these qualities are very important, but I think he left the number one soft skill off the list. Maybe it just slipped his mind, or maybe it didn't occur to him because he's naturally such a beast at it. Whatever the case, here's my vote for the most important soft skill in poker: risk tolerance.

If you're going to play poker for a living, then you're going to swing like crazy--it's inevitable. If you want to become great at poker and sustain your level of skill, you have to have the stomach to deal with those swings without letting them drastically affect the quality of your play or your mental health. You have to be able to show up every day and play well, even when the shit hits the fan and you know that things can always get worse before they get better.

I believe risk tolerance is more or less an innate quality. It is probably genetic for the most part, but it also could be impacted by events in your childhood. I would rate myself pretty low on the risk-tolerance scale, which is actually the main reason why I write these articles. The only way I have been able to manage this weakness is by developing a better mathematical understanding of variance.

Variance is a gift and a curse. On one hand, if there was no variance in poker, then nobody would play it for fun and almost none of us would be able to make any money doing it¹. On the other hand, variance makes it so that you have basically zero control over whats going to happen at the tables on any given day.

For example, even a player with a respectable win rate of 5 bb/100 still has a 44% chance of losing over a sample of 1,000 hands (at a standard deviation of 115 bb/100). And the probability of a loss goes down at a stubbornly slow rate even over much larger samples. Below, I've plotted the normal distribution (also known as a bell curve) of this variance calculation:

The y axis is the probability density. The x axis is the winnings in buy ins (100 bb). Without getting too technical, we can say that the higher up on the bell curve you are, the more likely it is that the result of the 1,000 hand sample will equal the value in buy ins at that point on the X axis.

The mean of the distribution (the highest point on the curve which is marked with the green line) is 0.5 buy ins. This is the expected value of the sample, which is just the product of the volume and the win rate. (5 bb/100 * 1,000 hands = 50 bb, or 0.5 buy ins). The red shaded area is the area under the curve to the left of zero on the x axis. This accounts for about 44% of the total area under the curve and represents the probability of a loss over the sample.

As you can see, the expected value of 0.5 buy ins is hardly noticeable in the context of the range of possible outcomes. In fact, you can actually expect a result of at least ±4 buy ins approximately 20% of the time. And yet, despite the obvious contradictions, many players, including myself, are terribly results oriented. A winning day is a good day; a losing day is a bad day. On a big winning day, we congratulate ourselves for making the right decisions; on a big losing day, we blame ourselves for making mistakes. We're only human, and unfortunately this is how our monkey brains work.

I've been a full-time poker player for about a year now. Initially I thought that as I played more hands and gained experience, I would get better at managing my results orientation. Actually, I don't think I have gotten any better at all. In fact, I may have actually gotten worse. To be completely honest, although thought I would have less fucks to give with a quarter million hands and a year of winning under my belt, sometimes it feels like I have a shorter fuse than when I started. It's not so much the higher stakes the has made coping with downswings more challenging, but that my identity has gotten wrapped up in being a winning poker player. Of course losing money still bothers me, but at this point it's more of a hit to my ego than to my bank account².

A quarter million hands is barely anything in the grand scheme of things, but it's the trajectory that bothers me. I should be getting better at handling the swings, not worse, right? For that reason, I'm making an effort to change the way I look at my results. Rather than check results haphazardly whenever I feel like it, I want to take a smarter, more disciplined approach. So I've made it my goal for 2020 to follow the guidelines below.

Guide For Checking Results

To manage results orientation, it's extremely important to check your results after a predetermined number of hands. This is crucial to avoid selection bias in your interpretation of the results. The number of hands you choose is totally up to you, but it shouldn't be lower than 10k hands for an online player. I think most online players would probably agree it should be somewhere in the range of 10-50k hands.

Now, I'm not saying you absolutely cannot check your results before that time comes. You and I both know we're going to do it, no matter what I say in this blog post. (In fact, it's actually essential to closely keep track of your losses if you're taking shots at higher stakes.) What I am saying is that if you check your results prematurely, you should do so with an understanding that you are merely indulging your curiosity. There's a big difference between glancing at your results at the end of the day, and seriously evaluating those results, giving them a kind of legitimacy and causing yourself to worry about them. When you check your results after a few thousand hands, the data you are looking at is meaningless, and you should make an effort not to draw conclusions from it or let it influence your strategy or sense of self worth³.

For example, let's say you choose to check your results every 30,000 hands. Your current volume goal is to play 7,500 hands per week, so you'll check results every four weeks. You can mark it on your calendar, "Results Day." When Results Day comes, you'll be able to put your results into perspective with variance calculations. The variance calculations give you an estimate for your probability of a loss. They will also give you confidence intervals to establish some upper and lower thresholds for how large of a range of outcomes you can realistically expect to see over the sample.

Essentially, all you want to do is compare your results to the variance calculations and see if the outcome lies within a couple standard deviations of your expected value (that would be a 95% confidence interval). If it is--and it will be the vast majority of the time--that's great. Keep playing, keep working hard on your game, and come back to check again in another 30,000 hands. If you actually are experiencing a two-standard deviation downswing or worse, then go ahead, freak out. Take some time off, talk to someone, go to therapy, maybe drink heavily. Whatever it takes to say, "Well, that was fucked up, but I'm ready to get back to playing."

Whatever you do, it's essential at the end of the review to reset the part of your brain that subjectively interprets the results and attempts to create a narrative about how you've been running. You have to let go, because the next 30,000 hand sample has nothing to do with the previous one, or the one before that. Things can always get worse, no matter how bad they have gone; and things can always get better no matter how well they have gone. You're not due for anything in particular to happen. Your expected value is the mostly likely outcome, but nothing is deserved.

The key point I am trying to get across is this: whether your results are positive, break even, or negative, they probably mean much less than you think they do, even over relatively large samples. Almost always, the correct course of action is simply to keep doing what you have been doing and play more hands. But an obvious follow up question that I need to address is, "How long do I have to lose or break even before I actually decide to change my game plan in some way?"

Unfortunately, I can't give you an answer to this question. It can always "just be variance," no matter how bad your results are. All you can say is, the more money you lose, or the longer you break even, the smaller the odds become that it's just variance relative to the odds that you have overestimated your win rate in the variance calculations. In the end, it doesn't really matter, because as soon as you start to doubt whether you are truly a winner in your games, you're already dead in the water. Once you start to expect to lose, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy because you will actually play worse. Dropping down in stakes or moving to a different site temporarily can help you refresh your mindset and rebuild confidence, and it also diversifies your game selection to protect your bankroll from ruin in the case that you are actually -EV in your games.

If you like this strategy and want to use it to check your results, I've included a summary of variance calculations over a variety of sample sizes below to help you visualize variance in the short and medium term. I used a win rate of 7.5 bb/100 and a standard deviation of 115 bb/100 for these calculations. If your win rate and/or standard deviation is significantly different from the ones I have used, feel free to make your own versions.

Variance Calculation Inputs

Variance Calculation Results (Table)

Variance Calculation Results (Graphs)


  1. By the way, if you think you're super sick poker player and you don't need fish at your table to make money, read this article. If fish didn't exist, there would probably be less than 100 people making any real money playing poker.

  2. Jungleman discusses ego and tilt in poker in his interview with Elliot Roe on the Mindset Advantage Podcast.

  3. If you have a problem with checking your results way too much, as in multiple times per day, then you can make it more difficult to check results by hiding stats in your tracking software. I've even heard of some players using custom scripts to hide the cashier in the poker client. But unless you're really hardcore, you're probably going to take a peek from time to time. And that's not really a bad thing as long as you are able to manage your expectations.

  4. An interesting side note: a win rate increase from 5 bb/100 to 7.5 bb/100 is a 50% increase in expected value. However, over a sample of 1,000 hands, the probability of booking a win for a 5 bb/100 winner is 56%, and for a 7.5 bb/100 winner it is just 58%. That's only a 4% relative increase in the probability of winning. This is why you can work very hard and get a lot better at poker, but it's extremely difficult to actually see the edge that you have gained from a day-to-day perspective.


  1. Primedope Variance Calculator

  2. Normal Distribution Applet/Calculator

Dec. 20, 2019 | 10:42 p.m.

Comment | radiosick commented on #GalfondChallenge

Phil Galfond I wouldn't want to see you get crushed :), but it would be really cool to hear you elaborate more specifically on how you think these guys would outplay you. Most people can't tell the difference between, say, the top 10 players in the world and the top 50 at a given game unless we actually see two players battle it out and see the results. Even then, we probably wouldn't understand how/when the better player edged out.

Dec. 20, 2019 | 4:08 p.m.

Hi Ben,

Looking back, if you could change one logistical factor to how you approached your career to improve your results, what would it be? By "logistical" I mean things like the games or formats you played, or your general approach toward things like networking, study, volume, stakes, etc.

Dec. 16, 2019 | 5:24 p.m.

Comment | radiosick commented on Mobius Poker Blog

I usually just look at Pio solves at equilibrium or I do rough equity calculations with outputs from my database research.

Dec. 7, 2019 | 4:58 a.m.

Comment | radiosick commented on Mobius Poker Blog

I've yet to experience a downswing where I didn't spew at least 5-10BIs. ethanrox

Hmmm, are you sure about this? I would question what methods you use to quantify the EV of your mistakes. I touched on this briefly in an old post:

A lot of players don't realize how hard it is to punt even 10 big blinds in a single hand. If you're on a 20 buy-in downswing, that means you would have needed to make 200 of those mistakes if there was no variance in the sample. Spoiler alert: you didn't play that badly, you just got unlucky.

I only mention this because a lot of players, myself included, make this mistake. We make a bad play and get stacked, and we feel like we punted our entire stack. But usually even an egregious error only loses a small fraction of the total chips invested in EV.

Dec. 6, 2019 | 10:30 p.m.

Comment | radiosick commented on Mobius Poker Blog

m7 - Selection Bias in Variance Calculations

I am a huge fan of the PrimeDope variance calculator. In fact, one of my favorite pastimes is to go on a huge downswing, plug the downswing into the calculator, and then figure out exactly how unlucky I am.

For a while, this was a very educational hobby (and also an expensive one). But eventually, I got the genius idea that something may be wrong with the way I was doing these calculations.

The main reason I became suspicious was some of the answers I got just seemed ridiculous. Extremely improbable events, according to the calculator, were happening way too often in my experience, and in the experience of other players in my network.

For example, I have seen multiple players go on downswings of 50-60 buy ins (with graphs to prove it). These were very good players with high win rates. According to the calculator, here is the probability of a 7 bb/100 winner going on a 50 buy in downswing in 50,000 hands...


  • Win rate: 7 bb/100

  • Standard deviation: 100 bb/100

  • Observed win rate: -10 bb/100

  • Number of hands to simulate: 50,000


Table 1

According to the calculator, the probability of running at or above the observed win rate (-10.00 bb/100) over 50000 hands with a true win rate of 7.00 bb/100 is 99.9928%.

100% - 99.9928% = 0.0072% or roughly 1 in 14,000

In other words, there is only a 1 in 14,000 chance of going on a downswing worse than this over 50,000 hands if your true win rate is 7 bb/100. I personally have never gone on a downswing nearly this big (I also haven't played very much), but like I said, I have seen it happen to multiple players.

Now, of course the variance calculation isn't a perfect model. One of the key assumptions you make when you do a calculation like this is that a player's win rate is constant. We know that can't be true, because the player's opponents change all the time. Also, in the real world, people tilt. People play worse when they are down tons of money, which makes extreme downswings more likely to occur.

But even if these calculations are in only in the ballpark... 1 in 14,000? Come on. That can't be right—can it?

As it turns out, the calculations are correct. The problem is the way I that I was looking at them.

The odds of this particular downswing really are 1 in 14,000, but only if you play exactly one 50,000 hand sample. Obviously the players I talked to have played way more than 50,000 hands in their lifetimes. Therefore, they are much more likely to go on a huge downswing like this one simply because they have had so many more opportunities to do so.

Introducing Selection Bias

Imagine I told you that I was flipping a coin the other day, and I flipped tails ten times in a row.

"Wow, ten times?" you ask. "The probability of that is about 1 in 1,000."

"I know!" I respond, "It was so crazy."

The next question you should ask me is, "How many times did you flip the coin that day?"

"Oh... about four or five hundred," I respond.

Well, that makes it a little less spectacular doesn't it? The odds of seeing ten tails in a row are much higher than 1 in 1,000 if you flip the coin five hundred times. It's interesting, sure, but it's not 1-in-1,000 interesting.

The way I initially presented the coin flip story is an example of a selection bias. This is a mistake that poker players (including me) make all the time when they do variance calculations.

The point is that extremely improbable events are much more likely to occur when you give them many chances to happen. Poker players play hundreds of thousands of hands per year. Each hand can, more or less, be looked at as the start of a new sample. So instead of asking, "What are the odds of going on a downswing of x buy ins over y hands?" a better question to ask is, "What are the odds of going on a downswing of x buy ins at any period over all of the hands I have played in my career?"

Primedope gives some additional statistics on downswing variance, but unfortunately they can't be used to answer this question. So I asked a friend who is a lot more capable than I am to run some simulations. All credit for the variance calculations below goes to Holonomy. (Thanks for your help!)

Downswing Simulations

Here's how the simulations worked: 10,000 theoretical poker players were simulated, each with the same win rate and standard deviation. Each played the same number of hands. The largest downswing each player endured over his entire sample was recorded. The simulation was repeated with four different win rates. Here are the results for a 3 million hand sample size, i.e. 10,000 players playing 3 million hands each. (We chose 3 million hands because we thought it was a reasonable estimate for how many hands a professional poker player might play in a career.)

Table 2

  • Average Maximum Downswing. On average, this is the worst downswing you should expect to see in a sample of this size.

  • 90% Confidence Interval. You can be 90% confident that the maximum downswing will not exceed this value.

  • 95% Confidence Interval. You can be 95% confident that the maximum downswing will not exceed this value.

For example, the average maximum downswing for the 5 bb/100 players was 7,000 bb, or 70 buy ins. This means that some of the players experienced a larger downswing than this, and some of the players experienced a smaller downswing, but the worst downswing they experienced on average was 70 buy ins.

The average maximum downswing for the 10 bb/100 players was only 4,300 bb, or 43 buy ins. That makes sense, because a player with a higher win rate should experience less severe downswings on average.

But again, remember that these are just the average results. The 90% and 95% confidence intervals show that the less probable downswings can be a lot worse. For example, at a 95% confidence interval (i.e. two standard deviations from the mean), a 10 bb/100 winner can be expected to go on a maximum downswing of up to 66 buy ins.

Here are the results of the simulations for three other sample sizes: 1 million, 250k, and 50k hands, respectively:

Table 3

Table 4

Table 5

I think it's useful to present the simulations with several different sample sizes because it makes it easier to intuitively understand how frequently these downswings should occur.

For example, let's say you are a 7.5 bb/100 winner over your entire career, and you go on a 30 buy in downswing. If you look at the results for the 250k hand sample size, you can see that the average maximum downswing for a 7.5 bb/100 winner is 31 buy ins. That means your downswing is the worst you would expect on average over a period of 250k hands. So if you play about 20k hands per month, then you should expect a downswing this big to occur about once per year on average.

Of course, you might not experience a downswing that's this bad, but you also could have a downswing that's much worse. At a 95% confidence interval, the maximum downswing for this sample size is 59 buy ins. A downswing this large is unlikely, but certainly not impossible.

In general, poker players massively underestimate variance. Most of the 5 bb/100 winners I talk to don't "expect" to go on a 40 buy in downswing, but they actually will experience a downswing about this large on average every 250k hands they play. For high volume players, that could mean they have to go through something like this once every four months, more or less. If this terrifies you, then you're probably not properly rolled for the games you play.

That being said, I'm not going to end this article with some arbitrary bankroll management guidelines. You have to decide for yourself how much risk you're willing to take on. My goal is just to give you a better understanding of not just what is possible, but what should actually be expected. If you're going to make poker into your career, then get ready for a bumpy ride.

Holonomy's Notes

For those interested in exactly what was done For each simulation the player's 100 hand returns were modelled as N iid normally distributed variables with a mean of X and a stdev of 115, where N = total_hands / 100. The returns were then summed and then for each value at time t, the difference between the value at time t and the minimum value of all values after time t was computed. We then take the maximum of this. The simulation was run 10000 times and the statistical properties described were computed. This does have the assumption that you are only looking at your results every 100 hands as there is a discretisation effect here.

Dec. 4, 2019 | 3:53 p.m.

Comment | radiosick commented on Mobius Poker Blog


I'm not really up on the coaching scene at all. All I can recommend is my brother Nick's website:, which has a CFP program.

Oct. 30, 2019 | 7:50 a.m.

Hi Ben,

Thanks for your videos. The ATo hand was the most interesting hand to me. Given that the hand is a pretty clear call in theory, I thought it would have been a little more useful to try to nodelock IP's river strategy a bit and see if there are some bluffs in the range that we don't think he would be always be finding (missed offsuit gutters with a heart, for example), and see what it takes for ATo to become a punt in practice.

Based on my database research I do not think the pool is bluffing enough in this spot. Wide 3bet range in BB vs SB definitely helps, as well as our removal, but SPR hurts a lot. I would be kinda shocked if we had more than 33% equity to call here, even vs. a strong reg like karl.

Seems to me like a good spot to make an exploitative fold, especially since it would be basically impossible for our opponent to counter exploit us. But then you would probably get trolled by commenters, so IDK :D

Oct. 18, 2019 | 7:44 p.m.

Comment | radiosick commented on Mobius Poker Blog

Random Poker Thought

Some musings about the Mike Postle case...

  1. The poker world is obsessed with this story because it gives us something to rally around. Sure, it's interesting that he cheated, but I think the bigger draw is the sense of community that has been created around the investigation.

  2. My biggest confusion point about the case is if someone is godmoding at a table, it is literally impossible for anyone else at that table to win. That means every regular on that stream had to be not just losing, but losing badly. How did they not communicate? I'm assuming it was harder to detect than I would expect for a few reasons:
    -Live poker players don't have tracking software to easily spot patterns in their losing sessions. They might also not be as diligent about tracking their results as more serious online pros, though I am sure at least some of these players take the game very seriously.
    -The turnover rate among pros was too high for anyone to stick around long enough to catch on. I haven't watched the stream so I have no idea how many long-time regs were in the game.
    -They probably only played like 10% of their hands on stream, meaning they could still make the money back off stream. Still, it would be really hard to recover those losses.
    -You just don't expect something like this is going to happen to you.
    I can get on board with all that, but still. A year and a half? You would think someone would be like, "Hey, I can't ever win here." And someone else would be like, "You know, now that you mention it, I never win here either." And if you asked around a little more, you would find that actually no one was winning--except Mike Postle.
    Maybe I'm just more paranoid than the average person, especially after seeing some of my friends get cheated on the Chinese poker apps. Over the last couple months when I was breaking even on Bovada, I was asking everyone I knew how their results were on the site. If even one other person is winning, the probability of a security breach basically vanishes. But if everyone is losing, you should be suspicious that you are in a fraudulent system.

  3. It's a good thing that, presumably, most people who are shady enough to cheat are also greedy/stupid enough to cheat blatantly. But I do wonder how many guys have had access to an unfair advantage like this and been able to keep it under the radar, occasionally dumping some money back and winning at a more "human" rate of 10-30 bb/100. This, to me, is the scariest thing to imagine.

Oct. 13, 2019 | 1:56 a.m.

Comment | radiosick commented on Mobius Poker Blog

Do you download the cards up hhs after 24hrs to review? Do you think there is benefit in knowing you made the correct fold or bluffed the hand you were targeting to bluff after the fact?

Yes. This is extremely important IMO, because sometimes people show up with stuff that you never thought range them for.

I import the downloaded hand histories with hole cards exposed into a separate database in HEM2.

Oct. 6, 2019 | 6:44 p.m.

Comment | radiosick commented on Mobius Poker Blog

I rarely use Pio. When I do, it's just to look at basic concepts on the flop, because simple stuff like that is all I think I can actually remember and apply. I go explo / hand vs. range on the turn and river.

Oct. 6, 2019 | 12:50 a.m.

Comment | radiosick commented on Mobius Poker Blog

I don't have much of a routine. I usually play at night because I am in the US. I typically grind shortly after dinner for about 4 hours. I do that 5 days per week. That ends up being between 20-25k hands per month. Study happens in the morning or on days off.

Oct. 5, 2019 | 7:50 p.m.

Comment | radiosick commented on Mobius Poker Blog


I always waited until I had 30 bis at the next limit before taking a shot. That means I had at least 60 bis at my current limit before moving up. Usually I was even a bit more conservative than that, waiting until I had about 75 bis at the current limit. My bankroll and my life roll were the same, so I think you have to be more conservative in this case.

I think I usually gave myself a stop loss of ~10 bis at the new limit. I always wanted to have at least 50 bis to play with at lower stakes in the event that I had to drop back down.

My shots at 500nl, 1000nl, and 2000nl all went pretty smoothly and I started winning right off the bat. I guess I just ran well. 500nl was pretty much a perfectly smooth ride. At both 1000nl and 2000nl I had 20 bi downswings around 10k hands in where I lost about a third of my roll each time. Keep in mind this is with a very high win rate and with the fairly conservative BRM I outlined above. IDK if I just had a really swingy sample or what, but I've been even more conservative since my last downswing because I just don't want to feel that way again for a while if I can help it. (These swings happened only ~2 months apart). At 1000nl I just played through it and went on big a heater straight after. But after the most recent swing at 2000nl I just opted to move back down to 1000nl temporarily until I regain some momentum.

I just played 4 tables of the new limit from the start. Personally I have never had too much trouble with this. I find higher stakes make me 100% focused and I think I probably play better with the added pressure, assuming I'm winning or at least breaking even. I always tried to play my first few sessions at the new limit on a weekend when games were the softest. I think game selection is really important where you're first trying to stick the landing at a new limit.

I don't have much other advice other than err on the side of being overly conservative. Of course you can't be a total nit about moving up, because if you never move up, you'll never make any money. But as long as you have a plan in place, you'll get there. I guess you just have to know yourself and your limitations. I tend to be a pretty careful person and don't have much of a stomach for huge swings, so I'll probably be even more conservative from here on out because at this point I am interested in optimizing for happiness, low stress levels, and financial security.

Oct. 4, 2019 | 11:26 p.m.

Comment | radiosick commented on Mobius Poker Blog

Yes. I just didn't know H2N was an option for Ignition. I use a very basic HUD when I play, so it doesn't really matter for me.

Oct. 3, 2019 | 8:31 p.m.

Comment | radiosick commented on Mobius Poker Blog

BTW if you're unable to identify the "trigger" for this habit, in other words what is the subconscious belief that is causing you to engage in it, hypnotherapy is very good for that.

Oct. 2, 2019 | 7:37 p.m.

Comment | radiosick commented on Mobius Poker Blog

I think you'll probably find better games at regular tables. I also think 1-2 tabling zoom is perfectly fine if you're beating those games with a high win rate (~5 bb/100 or more), but most people aren't doing that and would be better off finding better games, even if it means playing way less hands.

I know people say you should try to play better players to improve, but I'm giving advice for the average person to make the most money. A lot of guys who recommend reverse table selection say that after they became one of the best in the world, so there's a survivorship bias there.

Oct. 2, 2019 | 7:14 p.m.

Comment | radiosick commented on Mobius Poker Blog

What stands out to me is you say you want to stop this behavior more than anything, and yet you keep doing it.

That means you think (maybe subconsciously) the behavior is benefiting you in some way, otherwise you really would stop doing it, or you would pay the guy to write the script to block PT4 or whatever.

Instead you're telling yourself you can't stop, and you're writing to me for advice. Well, here's my advice: just stop doing it. Write down the amount of time you are going to avoid checking results and post it on your screen. Hold yourself accountable.

If it makes you feel any better, I have this problem too. I've had periods where I checked results much less frequently, but it's just so easy to pull up PT4 and have it tell you exactly how much you're up/down during a session. At minimum I check my cashier balance after a session to see what I won or lost, but I usually check PT4 multiple times throughout a session. I guess I just don't see it as affecting my performance as much as you do, so I haven't made a real effort to break the habit. Though I agree, it can't be a good habit to get into.

Oct. 2, 2019 | 7:09 p.m.

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