Poker Variance Lesson – Poker Fundamentals Course – Texas Holdem Poker Strategy 2015

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Introduction to Poker Variance
By Alton Hardin

Many people involved in poker will have heard the term variance as it is thrown around a lot but many people do not always understand what it actually is. As we all know poker is a game of statistical distribution; every hand we play is at the mercy of probability and what all poker players aim to do is to make decisions that put that probability in their favor. But of course it is always possible for you to make a good decision and lose or a bad decision and win. It is also possible for these things to happen over and over again over a period of time. This is variance.

Variance Defined
Therefore, poker variance is essentially the upswings and downswings in poker, in other words, negative and positive variance. More definitely, it is the difference between individual results in the short term and the average set of results we expect to see in the long term.

Negative & Positive Variance
Most people when talking about variance are talking about negative variance, when they have been losing hands they shouldn’t be over long period, but there is also such a thing as positive variance. Positive variance is what people talk about when they say a player is on a “heater”. It is where they are maybe getting dealt more premium hands than they should be or they are hitting more draws than they should etc and as a result this has a positive effect on their win rate over that period.

Experiencing Variance
Even the best players in the world experience variance of both the positive and negative kind. Good players can expect to potentially lose 10 buy-ins or more in cash game variance downswings. It is not unheard of for people to go on downswings in excess of 20 to 30 buy-ins in the case of extremely bad variance. This is normal and should be expected as we play larger sample sizes.

These stretches of variance can vary in length and we never know how long they will last. Sometimes they happen over a small sample size of only 1,000 or 2,0000 hands and then you go back to winning like you were and at other times you can be losing pots consistently for 10k hands or more and feel as if it will never end. It is not unheard of for players to have break-even samples sizes of 100k hands due to negative variance.

What Causes Variance?
Luck causes variance, nothing else.

Dealing with Variance
If you do find yourself in the midst of negative variance it’s hard to stop yourself from getting frustrated that everyone is sucking out on you, or maybe you start to doubt that you are a winning player. You have to try to keep a level head and reduce variance as much as possible. Don’t shove those marginal flush draws or take a flip as often as you would normally. This will reduce your variance and hopefully help you keep a level head until you pull out of it.

Embrace Variance
More importantly, we can minimize our tilt by embracing variance. We must embrace variance as an essential aspect of the game and understand that luck may happen in the short-term causing either positive or negative variance, but in the long-run variance (luck) will be minimized and the affect of cooler, suck out sessions will be minimized. Furthermore, the same goes for our lucky heater sessions. In the long run our true win rate will be realized. This is why in the long-term skill always beats out luck.

Do Not Be Results Oriented
We must also not be results oriented, as short-term session-by-session results are a factor of variance. If we embrace variance, we know that fish will suck out on us for bad beats and we will also go on heater session of our own where we cannot lose. So rather than focusing on results, we should be focusing on +EV long-term plays knowing we are making the best profitable play that will average out to winning situations in the long run.

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