How to Lower Your Poker Variance

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Chips are pictured at a card game table at the "Paris Elysees Club" Lionel Bonaventure / AFP

To bettors, poker variance is the difference between the statistical for the expected outcome from the result, and the actual result. 

It can also be a cruel mistress to gamblers. How so? Imagine losing twenty coin-flips in succession when it’s a 50/50 shot. In poker, cruel runs like that can happen, equally, they happen in our favor, so try and remember that. 

Below, we’ll break down in-depth what variance in poker is, how to master it, and how to incorporate some poker tips to become a shark player!

What Is Variance in Poker? 

Variance in Poker is the difference between how much you earn, from the amount you are expected to earn (+EV). 

Expected Value or +EV 

Expected Value is a term used in betting to describe betting at a particular price in the knowledge that the price is significantly better than the actual outcome chance. 

The bigger the difference between the two, the bigger the variance, and the smaller variance is when the gap becomes closer. Strangely enough, this means your short-term results mean nothing and will be not indicative of your long-term results or graph. 

For example, game formats dictate variance because there is more variance in tournaments than cash games and similarly more variance at a 6-max table rather than a full ring game. 

How to Master Poker Variance 

Firstly, accept it and expect it. Poker variance is what makes poker a great game and profitable long-term. Without it, the lesser players would be quickly overrun and leave the game. 

For example, if you played a professional tennis player in one set of tennis you would stand no chance but in a short game of heads-up poker, it’s entirely plausible you could beat the best in the world as a one-off if you had an extreme run of fortune. 

The beauty of poker is that on any given day, anyone can play while anyone can win but in the long-term, those with superior patience and skills profit. 

Expect a few setbacks, embrace them, and be prepared for them. 

Playing Poker to Achieve Long-Term Success

Check Your Bankroll 

To succeed at poker long-term, you need a bankroll that can absorb the swings in fortune. Be sure to check in on bankroll management options online as there is plenty to check and become familiar with. 

To aid your mindset, never play games you can barely afford because you would become conscious of your bankroll when making decisions. This could mean you deviate from the optimum play at the time. 

Here are my rules:  

  • Have x50 of your buy-ins available. 
  • If you’re an accomplished poker player, for $10 No-Limit cash and Tournament buy-ins, I suggest at least $500.  
  • If you’re a rookie, be happy playing at $5 No limit cash and poker tournament entries until you prove to yourselves that you’re good enough to profit. 

What Downswings Can I Expect? 

In cash games, expect a 10 buy-in downswing even if you’re an accomplished player. If you’re a tournament player, as mentioned above, variance takes longer to even out, so expect downswings of as many as 25 buy-ins in the worst-case scenario. 

Have a big bankroll to save you from becoming over-anxious about variance and this will allow you to focus on playing poker to the best of your abilities.  

Tips on Becoming a Poker Shark

  • It is important to take regular breaks from competing in online poker.   
  • If you are winning it is easy to become over-confident and lose your edge. 
  • If you’re on a losing streak, this will enable you to break away from any anxious feelings and examine your play with an open mind. 
  • Observe and learn. Sit at a poker table to view gamblers playing the game that you know you’ve developed a good read on. Observing others’ games allows you to see their strengths and any weaknesses at play. 

Final Thoughts  

Study poker as much as possible but remember for all the studies that you do, there will be days when variance is a cruel mistress. You need to tackle variance head-on with a bankroll to absorb the swings in fortune. 

Never focus on results short-term, good or bad. Instead, take responsibility for your cards on any given day, because the way you play them is the only thing you can control.