Effects of variance

by ~ July 22nd, 2008. Filed under: General poker strategy, Philosophy and approach.

Poker is a game that combines skill with chance. A good player is not always going to beat a table of worse players. In the long run, the very long run, a good player will win out over his poorer table partners, but the elements of chance will make the results fluctuate in the shorter term.

But that same short term fluctuation helps to keep the poorer players playing. That short term fluctuation, combined with selective memory, and combined with personal ego, desire for risk/reward, and the entertainment value/fun of playing poker in and of itself keeps the fish at the poker tables.

Photo by seiser

But for the decent, and especially for the beginning or otherwise insecure, under-confident or inexperienced player, variance bites. Literally, bites at the seat of your pants. You just start to feel that you are developing a decent game, that you know enough of what’s going on and how to play so that you should be beating these games and then suddenly you hit a downswing. It starts with one bad session, and then another, and another. You try to take breaks, you try to review your hand history, you send your hand history to someone else to review, you try to make slight adjustments in your game but sometimes that makes things worse.


Some of the elements of variance:

  • Your cards
    • chance of AA: 220 to 1
    • chance of AA/KK: 110 to 1
    • chance of AA/KK/QQ/JJ/AKs: 46 to 1
  • Cards of other players
    • chance of AA against your KK, 9 player table: 23 to 1
  • Cards on the board
  • Style/skill of other players
    • the styles and skill levels of your opponents will always vary unless you play a Friday night game against the same people all the time. Even then, how they play may vary depending on their mood, energy level, attention level, amount they’ve had to drink, ect. Which leads to,
  • Your own mood/energy level/attention level
    • you can try to control this, by making sure that you minimize distractions and never playing when you’re tired or frustrated but there will always be some fluctuation. Previous hands will often affect your play later in a session as well.

Take just these 6 elements, multiply them by each other, and you get a huge range and myriad of results. If you didn’t, poker wouldn’t be nearly as fun and entertaining as it is.

That knowledge doesn’t help much though when it seems like every time you get KK/QQ/JJ, an Ace comes on the flop. Or the reverse happens with your AK/AQ and the flops seem to come low. Or when you do hit, everyone folds to your bet and you win a minimum.

You start to wonder, to self-doubt.

  • maybe there’s no point to raising preflop.
  • maybe everyone folds because I’m too transparent and I have to be trickier, slowplay, trap.
  • maybe I’m too weak and everyone is taking advantage of me and bluffing me out of every pot.
  • look at that guy, raised from early with middle suited connectors, hit the flop and got paid big. I need to raise all my suited connectors too.

and on and on.

More experienced players know that you have to have subtle adjustments in your game. You need some flexibility, some fluidity, some mixing it up, but then that becomes difficult to manage and control. The more latitude you give yourself to make plays and mix up your style the more possibilities you give yourself to go off the rails, especially if your base game is not ingrained deeply enough.

More on the topic, anon.

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2 Responses to Effects of variance

  1. Arno

    Nice article. Here is an interesting article that talks about poker and taxes and the IRS.

  2. PokerAnon

    Heh, thanks, I hadn’t thought much about poker in connection with taxes.

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