Dealing with Poker Variance
No matter how good of a player you are, you won’t be winning all the time. Variance is a standard part of the game of poker, and all players go on good and bad runs. While there are certain activities you can take to reduce the variance or lessen its effects on your bankroll and mental state, there is no way to avoid it completely.
You might be a winning player, and over a large sample of hands, you’ll realize your expected win rate. However, due to poker variance, you can go on a relatively long losing stretch, which can influence your mind frame.
On top of that, you have to know that variance can be especially brutal in multi-table tournaments, where it can take hundreds if not thousands of MTTs to realize your real ROI.
I ran a variance calculation so that you could see how it looks. Assuming you have a 30% ROI in the tournaments you play (which is an excellent result for anything but the lowest limits), you still have a 15% chance of losing money after playing 1000 tournaments.
So if your bankroll isn’t big enough to support the swings or you’ve been taking shots at higher stakes, it can be tough to continue playing your a-game and keeping the concentration.
Therefore, having sufficient bankroll for the games that you play is one of the most important things every professional poker player should od.
While you may hate poker variance (which seems to be a very popular opinion), it is the only reason why poker is still profitable. It is because of the variance that even a weak, losing player can have big winning sessions and walk away with a huge tournament hit.
It gives the appearance that everyone has an equal chance of winning, and keeps recreational players in the games. So next time, when you be swearing after the bad beat, think about it, calm down, and continue to play your best poker.
Be Aware of Variance & Take it Head On
So, if you play poker, the variance will happen – there are no two ways about it. So, you should be fully aware that there will be losing stretches in your career and prepare for them.
It means managing your bankroll in a way that pretty much ensures that you never go bust no matter what happens. Eventually, things will even out, and you’ll get back to your actual win rate.
The problem is, these rough periods can have a bad effect on your overall mental state and have you start questioning your decisions too much. The best way to deal with this problem is to take it heads on by:
- Analyzing your sessions with an open mind & looking for mistakes you might be making
- Working of the table to improve your strategy and analyze your opponents
- Looking for weaker games or even dropping down in stakes for a little while to get your confidence back
Keeping Your Mental Game and Emotions in Check
With long-term variance in poker and short-term bad beats, annoying opponents, and everything else you’ll encounter while playing, it can be extremely difficult to leave emotions. But, as hard as it may be, it is the only way to succeed in poker.
The moment you let your emotions dictate any of your decisions at the table is the moment you need to stop and walk away.
As Elliot Roe explains in his A-Game masterclass, every time you make a sub-optimal decision for whatever reason, it means you are tilting. So, you not necessarily need to be breaking things or spewing money to be officially recognized as tilting.
One of the more significant difficulties here is recognizing when emotions start influencing your decisions. When you’re in the heat of the session and suffer a terrible beat or get bluffed in a huge pot, you’ll instinctively tell yourself you’re fine, and that you’re still playing your best game.
But, your decisions might be far from optimal, and you can struggle to notice that you are playing in a way, you would never do in a normal situation.
Simply stopping for a second and forcing yourself to think on the next hand before you make any decision might help you a lot. Evaluate your next play and give yourself an honest answer to the question: is this something I’d normally do?
If you recognize a decision is bad and still go with it, this is the red flag.
You need to stop playing and walk away. Continuing in that state of mind won’t bring anything good as you’ll go into a slot machine mode, chasing after one big hand to recoup your losses. Stop and take a break.
The problem with tilt and emotions is that it is a vicious spiral where one wrong decision leads to another, then to another, and before you know it, you’re hugely stuck for the night and can’t even figure out at what point things started to fall apart.
If this happens, go back in your head and think through what was the trigger and how it changed the way you play. Obviously, you will not be able to get back the money you lost, but you can identify what is causing the tilt and avoid it in your next session.