Variance can be cruel, or uplifting, negative or positive. One thing’s for sure - it’s here to stay. Even the best players in the world are subject to it.
As Richard Swift put it in the awesome song of the same name,
“But I wish sometimes that Lady Luck, she would find some time to spend with me”.
We can relate, Rich!
What is Variance?
Variance is the term given to the uncertain short-term outcomes for which poker is well known, but it can of course apply to the swings in fortune you will see in any game where luck plays a role.
The good thing about luck, of course, is that it is borrowed, not owned.
In the long run everyone will roll an equal number of sixes, if we sit around rolling dice. The long run can be very long indeed (arguably millions of hands depending on the game format in question), but in the longest of long runs, luck will be distributed entirely evenly across all players, leaving only skill to determine who is ahead.
This is the case with any game where the skill element is significant enough to play a major role, which there is no doubt that it is in poker, well established as a +EV skill game (positive equity value), meaning that it is beatable by dint of skill if you are sufficiently better than your opponents (and if you are not playing <10bbs deep and/or with insanely high rake).
Does Variance Matter?
If you have infinite (or just very large) bankroll and the patience of a Buddha, variance doesn’t really matter, as you can simply endure (or even enjoy!) the potentially seismic swings and treat it as the thrills of the rollercoaster. For all of us mere mortals, variance tends to matter, or at least feel that it matters, a good bit.
It can be pretty rough to play through a big downswing, and it can also certainly cause you to second-guess your play, perhaps in spots where there is no need to do so. It’s certainly true that most experienced downswings tend to be a combination of variance and human errors, which will of course compound any impact which variance has on your play. Telling one from the other can be pretty tricky.
On the flip side, positive variance is also a thing, though fewer people tend to realise they are experiencing it. If you find yourself on the positive side of variance, especially near the start of your poker journey, you may simply feel that you are God’s gift to the game, long before your poker skills are really honed. This may give you a feeling of complacency which can limit your ability to grow as a player, or cause quite a shock when you hit your first downswing.
The tools are now available to measure variance really quite accurately, at least in terms of understanding how much of it exists in different types of poker games. This very fine tool from PokerDope is the best one online for doing exactly that, and you can program the settings of this calculator to measure how likely you are to have certain outcomes at a certain skill level in a certain MTT or SNG. There’s also a similar calculator for cash.
To save you some trouble, we can provide some good rules of thumb for you right here in this article. If you’re playing cash poker and you are confident that you have a skill edge on the field, you likely need at least 30-40 buy-ins to avoid much risk of ruin (going busto) especially if you are multi-tabling or playing zoom format. For a SNG grind that goes up to at least 75-100 buy-ins, which is also a good minimum for micro stakes MTTs. If you move up to the midstakes or higher for MTTs, you really should be sitting down to play with at least a few hundred buy-ins available. For all formats this should be measured against your average buy-in.
If you choose to control the amount of variance which you encounter, instead of simply “embracing the ride” as remarked above, we’d be in agreement that this is generally wise, and a good way of having a lower stress existence and enjoying the game to the max.
Should you go this route, there are a number of ways in which you can control the amount of variance in your poker grind right from the off, and a lot of it comes down to game selection.
As noted above, choosing cash as your main grind is one way to go, as you certainly need the fewest buy-ins in your bankroll to weather the variance. This is simply due to the fact that chips are chips in cash poker, and you can sit and stand up as you please. MTT players on the other hand might run great at the start of a tourney and terrible at the end, or vice versa, and this is one reason there is a lot of variance in the MTT grind.
If you do play cash, you can further reduce the impact of variance by buying in with 100bbs rather than 200bbs, or by sitting out when you reach 150 or 200 big blinds, and sitting a new table with 100, especially if you have more skill edge with 100 big blind stacks. Bear in mind this will also cap your potential value gained in each pot.
Another way to crush variance is simply to table select well and to sit spots where you have a large skill edge, as the impact of variance will be less the more profitable you are in a game. Long-handed tables also have less variance (and sometimes less value) than short-handed.
If we’re talking SNGs or MTTs, the smaller the field size, the less impact variance will tend to have. It is really not possible to measure your skill level according to your financial results in MTTs for example until you have a game sample of many thousands of games played, simply due to the size of the potential swings. So the gold standard for a low variance MTT grind is soft field, small field size, good structure. If you want to reduce it still further, knockouts and progressives reduce variance since you can win money before the bubble, though again your potential ROI (return on investment) will also be more capped in these games.
Making Peace with Variance
However much you opt to control the impact of variance on your play, it is important to realise that it’s a baked-in part of the game of poker, and that this is a good thing. Frankly, the fun players wouldn’t keep coming back to the game if they had no chance to win in the short-term. This is especially true of the MTT world, where beginners (with a bankroll!) can rub shoulders with the best in the world, something which you can say for very few sports or competitive endeavours on this Earth.
Variance keeps the poker world turning, and without it we would literally just have a bunch of battle-hardened regulars out-grimming one another at the felt all day long and playing for razor thin edges. Every game would be the Hot $215 on Pokerstars, essentially.
The good news is that it is possible for you to make peace with variance and not to sweat its impact on your game, past taking sensible steps to limit this as noted above. Beyond that it is important to find equanimity, and to accept that we are going to frequently face outcomes we don’t want in a poker game, there is literally no way to avoid that. Don’t go folding those Jacks just because you might have tough spots with them, it’s all part of the ride.
Some simple steps to achieving a zero-tilt mentality with regard to variance are to remind yourself, if you’re an MTT player, that you will frequently finish 11th, or 9th, or 24th when you make that deep run. If you’re a cash player, you’ll have downswing days, don’t sweat it and don’t chase those losses. Suffering over variance has compounded many a poker player’s losses as they go on tilt after a casual player hits a 2-outer against them in a 400bb pot and they get steamed and start to punt, throwing bad money after good (to reverse the old saying).
If you’d like to read more PokerDeals guidance on mindset, check out our PokerDeals Mindset 101 post here.
Breathe, remember it’s better than working down the mines, and remember how lucky we are able to sit and play this beautiful game. In the long run you’ll deal out exactly as many bad beats as you’ll receive. You can’t avoid that, but you can certainly avoid stressing out over it. Enjoy the game. If it’s no longer fun, it’s time to hit the beach, the mountain trails, or just sit down with a friend or lover and get some real life EV time.
Poker Tells Recap - What Have We Learnt?
We've come to the end of our Poker Tells Series, and we've covered a lot in these six parts. So much so, we thought it was worth it to recap the key points we've learnt throughout this series in a way that's easy to digest. If you've skipped to the end of this series and want to find out what you've missed out on, you're in the right place! However, to get the best experience, we recommend going back and reading from the beginning - that way, you won't miss out on any valuable information. Without further ado, let's recap the important points we've learnt in our Poker Tells Series. Pay Attention! The biggest thing you should take away from our Poker Tells Series is how much you need to be paying attention at the tables. Not only do you need to be paying attention to spot any of these tells in the first place, but you also need to pay attention all the way to showdowns to see what these tells mean. So many of the tells we've covered can have different meanings for different players, so if you're not paying attention to what it means for your specific opponent, you're going to use the tell incorrectly and end up making a worse decision. Consider Everything When people think of poker tells, they maybe think of one or two classic tells that you'll see in Hollywood movies, but people give off tells with all parts of their body. Whether they're touching their nose while bluffing in a big pot or tapping their foot to the beat while they value bet with the nuts, your opponents are giving off tells from head to toe. If you only look for the well-known tells, you're going to be missing out on a lot of key information. Make sure you're constantly scanning your opponents for any of the tells listed in this series if you want to give yourself the best chance of picking something up. Treat Every Opponent Differently It's easy to assume that because a certain tell means your opponent is weak or strong, the same applies to everyone you come across who has the same tell. In reality, that's not the case. A number of tells have different meanings for different opponents. For example, if your opponent's neck is pulsing, it could mean that they're excited about holding a strong hand, or they could be nervous about pulling off a huge bluff. If you assume that each tell means the same thing for everyone, you'll end up making a lot of bad decisions at the table. Make Logical Adjustments If you spot a tell from one of your opponents, it's important that you use it to make logical adjustments to your strategy. This means that you should work out what the tell means from your opponent, then make changes to your strategy that counter that. For example, if your opponent has a tell that displays strength, you should counter that by folding more of your range and playing more passively. On the other hand, if your opponent has a tell that displays weakness, you should play more aggressively and call a wider range than you otherwise would. Make Small Adjustments At First When you first spot a tell, it's tempting to make massively exploitative plays to try and own your opponent. However, a smart poker player will start by making small adjustments to their ranges at first until they know their tell is rock solid. Making huge adjustments without being certain in your read is going to cost you significantly in the long run, so play it safe to start with and only make minor adjustments to your calling/folding/raising ranges when you spot a tell. Summary To be successful at using poker tells to enhance your game, you need to be attentive, perceptive, and strategical. You should be plugged into what everyone's doing at the table, every action they're making, and what they look like when they're doing it. Once you spot a pattern in their physicality, you can gain information on whether or not it means they're strong or weak. After working out what a tell means, you can use that information to inform your strategy and make adjustments to exploit your opponents. After reading through the Poker Tells Series, you should have the tools to do just that - so go out there are start owning your opponents!
A Beginner’s Guide To Poker Prop Bets
If you've played with action players at your local casino or watched one of the old episodes of High Stakes Poker, you'll have heard people talk about prop bets. But what exactly are prop bets? Are they worth your time, or should you ignore them and focus on the poker? We'll answer all of that and more in this beginner's guide to poker prop bets. What is a Prop? A "prop” or a "proposition bet” is a side bet made between players at the table, sometimes about what will happen during the hand, but sometimes about "extracurricular activities”. Most of the prop bets you'll hear at the table relate to the poker, whether it's a bounty for winning with a certain hand or players betting on what the flop, turn, or river will be. However, poker is famously a game of egos, and when those egos clash, it can lead to some extraordinary bets made away from the felt. We'll cover some of the more famous ones in another piece, including weight loss bets with Ted Forrest and Mike Matusow, golf bets with Erick Lindgren and Phil Ivey, and backflip bets with Huck Seed. For now, let's learn to walk before we run and focus on the poker-related ones. Props For the Whole Table There are two kinds of prop bets you can make whilst playing poker - ones that involve the whole table and ones between you and a friend. The ones for the whole table require everyone's participation to be worthwhile, as if some people refuse to join in, it puts them at an advantage over the other players. You also need permission from the card room, as some casinos won't allow prop bets such as these to be played at the tables due to licensing concerns. The majority of these games require the table to pay a bounty to a player who accomplishes a difficult task or require a player to pay a bounty if they fail to accomplish a task. The exact task set by the table will vary depending on the prop bet, and these bets can lead to some interesting dynamics at the table. Let's take a look at the most popular prop bets for the whole table. The 7-2 Game Arguably the most well-known prop bet in poker is the 7-2 game. 72 is known as the worst hand in poker, so to make the game more interesting, you can decide to award a bounty to anyone who manages to win a hand with 72. The size of the bounty will vary depending on the game, but it's often anywhere between 5-20bb, based on the amount of pain you want to inflict. This game is the most popular due to its simplicity - all you have to do is win a hand with 72, and you'll get paid by the other players if you do. It doesn't matter if you win at showdown or with a bluff; as long as the chips are getting pushed towards you at the end of the hand, you can claim your bounty. It also creates interesting dynamics at the table, as you don't know if someone is value betting with a very strong hand or bluffing with 72. Even if the bounty is relatively small, players will try to win a hand with 72 just for the ability to rub it in the faces of their opponents when they manage to get a bluff through. Some players have even expanded on this game to include hands like 83 and 94, but it's hard to beat the classic 72 game. The Button Game We all know the button is the most profitable position at the poker table, and you can expect to win lots of hands playing from it, but what if you were punished for not winning a hand from the button? That's the basis of the button game - a game where players must pay a bounty for not winning a hand on the button. The mechanics of the button game are simple; the table agrees upon a set amount that must be paid by the player who fails to win on the button - usually between 1-5bb. That bounty then goes onto the button when it is passed to the next player. If that player wins the hand, they win the bounty, but if they fail to win the hand, they must add their own bounty to be passed to the next player, and so on. After a couple of hands, there's can be a significant bounty up for grabs just for winning a hand on the button. The Standup Game Usually, being the last one standing is a good thing - but not in the standup game. If you're the last person standing in this game, you owe every other player at the table a bounty, which can quickly get expensive! To play this game, everyone must agree on a bounty to be paid by the last person standing, usually somewhere between 2-10bb. When the game starts, everyone must stand up. Once you win a pot, you're allowed to sit back down. It doesn't matter how you win the pot; as long as the chips are pushed your way, you can sit down. However, you must win the pot outright - chopped pots don't count. The last person standing must pay out the agreed bounty to every player at the table. This game can create a lot of tension, especially when there are only two or three players left standing. Props For You and a Friend If you can't get everyone at the table involved in your prop bets or just want to gamble with your friend, you can play some 2-3 player prop bets. These are side bets on the outcome of certain elements of the hand but do not impact the way the game is played. Let's take a look at some of the most popular prop bets. The Red/Black Game While some may call it degenerate behaviour to bet on what colour the flop will be, it's actually a lot of fun! This game is popular due to its simplicity, but you can make it as complicated as you'd like. The base game is a simple bet on whether the flop will be mostly red or mostly black. You pick a colour with your friend, who picks the opposite colour, and you agree on an amount to pay the winner. If your colour comes in, you win, but if it doesn't, you lose - it's that easy. However, you can make it more complicated by adding clauses or extending the bet to the turn and river. For example, you can win double if the flop comes down all red or all black, you can win 4x if all of a particular suit comes out, you can win 8x if the flop, turn, and river all your colour - the possibilities are endless! The Suit Game A variation on the red/black game is the suit game. This game takes it one step further, as it's now not enough for the right colour to come on the flop; the right suit needs to appear for you to win. The exact rules of the game can be deliberated between you and your opponent, but the most common way to play it is for a player to pick either one or two suits, and both players agree to pay the other a set amount depending on how many cards of that suit appear on the flop. For example, if you pick hearts and I pick diamonds, I'll agree to pay you $5 for every heart on the flop, and you'll agree to pay me $5 for every diamond on the flop. So, for a flop of AhKdQh, I owe you $10, but you owe me $5, so you end up with a $5 profit. You can make this game more interesting by adding bonuses for the flop having all three of a particular suit, or by doubling the stakes if the previous round was a push. The Pick a Card/3 Cards Game If suits and colours are too boring, you can play the Pick a Card prop game or the more commonly played 3 Cards game. In this prop bet, you and your opponent pick one or three cards to be your "props.” If your card appears on the flop, you win the bet, and if your opponent's cards come out, you lose the bet. This game is commonly played with three cards, as it's a statistical likelihood that at least one of your three cards will hit the flop, which makes the game a lot more interesting and leads to more bets being won or lost. Again, just like the other prop bets, this game can be as complicated as you'd like. Those of you who watched those early seasons of High Stakes Poker/Poker After Dark will remember this game, as it's the one that Doyle, Ivey, Negraneu, and others were playing during those games. Some examples of the variations they added include things like doubling the amount if your card appears in the middle of the flop, getting a bonus if your suit is on the flop, and doubling the amount you win if you had a winner in the previous round. Why Do People Play Props? The simple answer is because people like to gamble! Many players who sit down at the poker table aren't thinking of GTO ranges and proper postflop strategy ; they're there to have a good time and gamble their money - and prop bets are a good way to do that. Plus, live poker can be very slow, and if you're card dead, it's easy to lose interest. Playing small prop bets such as these is a fun way to keep yourself engaged with what's going on during the hand, even when you're getting bored. However, make sure you don't get too involved in the props and forget to play your hand properly! Should I Play Props? The answer to whether or not you should play props depends on what your goal is when you sit down at the poker table. If the goal is to have as much fun as possible and you find prop bets fun, then by all means, gamble it up with the rest of the table. But, if your goal is to be as profitable as possible, then it's best to give the card-based props like the red/black game a miss. That being said, some of the table-wide prop bets are worth participating in to gain favour with the rest of the players at the table. After all, no one wants to be the nit who wouldn't play the 7-2 game just because they don't want to gamble. Plus, if you're one of the better players at the table, you should be able to adjust to the new dynamic better than your opponents, giving you a bigger edge. Even if you're against these games, it's worth it to join in just so you continue to get action later on in the night - just because you're playing the 7-2 game doesn't mean you actually have to play 72 when you're dealt it. You're well within your rights to just fold it and take the goodwill from the rest of the table. Summary Prop bets are fun side bets that you can make while playing poker. These bets can be about the outcome of certain cards appearing on the board, or they can be bounties awarded to or taken from players based on whether or not they complete a certain task. They can add an interesting dynamic to the game, promote more action from the players, and can even increase the edge of the players who are better able to adjust to the new dynamic.
What Does Your Favourite Poker Hand Say About You?
We all have a favourite poker hand, whether we want to admit it or not, and what that hand is can say a lot about a person. That's why we've decided to take a closer look at people's most common favourite hands and what it says about them. Pocket Aces You're a grinder whose only focus is on making the most money possible. If someone asks you what hand you'd want to play for the rest of your life, there's only one answer - aces. They make the most money and, therefore, are your favourite hand. You're probably not much fun at parties and spend your time at home running sims on your state-of-the-art PC. Sure, you're better at poker than us, but are you truly happy? Think on that the next time you're raking in a pot from us gamblers. Pocket Kings While not quite on the same level as aces, you're someone who likes a strong hand but likes to live with an element of risk . Sure, you're likely to have the best hand, but there are still those pesky aces out there that can beat you, and it's that risk that you can't get enough of. Either that, or you're from Texas and have a thing for cowboys - could be either one. Pocket Queens The hunnies. The dames. The ladies. Whatever name you have for them, you just can't get enough of them. There's something about them that keeps you coming back for more , even when you said you'd quit after running into cowboys and bullets one too many times. You're the kind of player who wears their heart on their sleeve and isn't afraid to show their loyalty to their favourite hand at the table. You don't care what people say; women aren't the rake; they're queens, and you give them the respect they deserve. Pocket Jacks A wise man once said, "There are 10 different ways to play jacks, and all of them are wrong.” Despite this, pocket jacks are still your favourite hand to play. Maybe you're someone who likes a challenge, maybe you've finally figured out how to play them, or maybe you're just a masochist who loves seeing a big pair get cracked. Whichever one it is, we recommend picking a new favourite - for your sanity's sake. Ace King Suited You're a sculptor of chips, a painter of bluffs, a true artist at the table - at least that's what you have to be if a drawing hand is your favourite. You see all these people who love pairs and think, "Where's the challenge?” I want to miss the flop at least ⅔ of the time and really fight for my pots. You love hero-calling AK as it's the "nut no pair” and are willing to risk your whole stack with it at any time. Still, at least it's suited . Ace King Off-Suit Which brings us to AKo. Seriously, your favourite hand is AK, but you don't like it suited? What's wrong with you? Do you hate equity? We get it, it's hard to work out whether or not you have a flush, and you don't want to deal with the pressure while everyone's looking at you, but seriously, it's worth it. Either that, or someone pranked you by saying AKo can make two flushes and is better than AKs, and if that's the case, where are you next playing so I can come? Seven Deuce You've read the poker books telling you to play the good hands and thrown them out for being too bossy. No one tells you what to do , you'll play your own goddamn money the way you goddamn please, and that includes punting off with 72o just to rub it in the faces of the grinders. Nothing beats the sense of satisfaction of throwing this hand in the face of some kid in a hoodie, telling them, "That's how you play poker, kid.” Not even the several trips to the ATM over the course of a night can dampen that feeling, no matter how many sniggers you hear from the table. Ten Deuce Ahhh, finally, someone of culture. "If it's good enough for ol' Texas Dolly, it's good enough for me,” you say. This is a hand that won back-to-back WSOP Main Events, there has to be something to it, right? Right? You're a player who takes superstition very seriously . You never win the first pot of the night, you touch wood for good luck, and you always play your favourite hand. One of these days, it will pay off for you; I can feel it! Nine Six of Hearts You're the comedian of the table, but there's also a romantic side to you . Sure, everyone laughs when you turn over "the sex hand,” but they don't understand that to you, it's more than sex; it's about love. You love the 96 of hearts, almost as much as you love shoving the nuts in the face of that attractive player that just sat down in seat six. Almost, but not quite. Pocket Deuces Deuces never lose…es; that's the saying, right? Well, that's what you've heard, and that's what you're sticking to. Hey, if it rhymes, it has to be true - even if it doesn't completely rhyme. You're someone who likes an underdog , who likes to cheer for the person who's got the lowest chance of winning. It's a good job too, considering your choice of favourite hand - you can always cheer yourself on to pull off a shock win, no matter how unlikely! Can't see your favourite hand? Let us know what it is on Facebook and Instagram and we'll follow up with a part 2!
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