Working Through the Variance

February 19, 2019

 

Though poker is, at its heart, a game of skill, there’s plenty that’s still outside our control. Call it chance, luck, fortune, or whatever you want; either way, as poker players, we need to find a productive way to deal with variance.

 

If you get all your chips into the pot when you’re well ahead and then lose to the pot because your opponent hits their lucky card, how does that make you feel? Do you lament your loss, thinking that you deserved to win? Or, even worse, do you find yourself wishing that you hadn’t made the play?

 

In this situation, the best players will be more than happy to give all their chips to the person who drew out on them. They know that, because of variance, they will sometimes lose in these situations. At the same time, however, they know that they will win in this situation far more often than not, and so they accept the occasional loss as the toll of winning more often.

 

An Attitude Adjustment

 

This attitude adjustment goes against a lot of our human nature. We usually react to situations based on what happens, and we analyze our decisions based on their consequences. However, because of variance, this simply doesn’t work in poker. Simply put, the results of our actions are a poor indicator of how well we played.

 

Instead, we always need to abstract the situation into EV considerations. Basically, if we repeat the situation a million times, would we win or lose chips?

 

This is one of the most fundamental understandings that you need if you want to be a winning poker player. Even an overall winner doesn’t always win—in fact, you need to lose to win. It’s a paradox, for sure, but getting your head around this counterintuitive logic will put you in a place where you can make level-headed decisions based on the things that are most important.

 

Keep Your Head Up and Keep Grinding

 

What this all comes down to is keeping your cool and continuing to play. Because expected value translated to actual value when given enough iterations according to the rules of probability, the best thing that you can do is to just keep grinding. Don’t tilt off or give up because you got on the bad side of the variance. Plus, don’t lie—you’ve gotten lucky too.

 

Ultimately, if you can put in the volume, variance washes out of poker. In the moment, variance plays a huge role; it determines who wins the pot. But, when you take a macroscopic view of the game, you can come to realize that we should take variance into little consideration when making decisions.

 

That is, except against your one friend who’s just super lucky!

 

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