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  • September 30, 2020

Poker Variance & Downswings

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Even though poker is a game of skill, it is still a game with a random element in it. You will undoubtedly continue to experience variance in poker throughout your career.
Sometimes you may be having a lucky streak and your winnings are higher than your expected value, and sometimes your winnings will be below the line because you are having bad luck or running bad. This is simply due to the variance in poker.
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But poker is not chess and there are a huge number of variables to take into consideration before you blame Lady Luck for your misfortune. For example:

  • Are you playing opponents that are highly skilled? If so, you will expect your win rate to drop because of the increased difficulty of the game. This can make a streak of bad luck very costly.
  • Did you increase the level at which you normally play? If you have just jumped from $.5/$1 NLHE to $1/$2 NLHE, then you are going to see wild variances in your poker earnings because of the jump in the money involved and the skill level of the players.
  • Are you on tilt? If so you are probably throwing money down the drain as a result of bad decisions. It doesn’t matter what cards you are holding or how good your luck is, when you play on tilt you always lose.

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You need to play a lot of hands before you can get a clear view of your poker playing skill and allow the odds and percentages time to even out. How many hands? Well most poker players would tell you at least 100,000 and preferably more. Some experienced players will say they would not judge another player’s success without seeing their stats after a million hands. The first chapter in Charley Swayne’s book Advanced Degree in Hold’em suggests playing 250,000 hands before you even begin to play for cash just to get a “little” experience under your belt. While most people will never play that many hands on the free money tables, it is definitely a good idea to start at the lowest levels before moving up.
The more you play, the more the law of averages will even out and you will be able to determine with greater accuracy how much you are winning because of your skill and how much you are winning because you went through a lucky patch.
We will always use our win rates as our poker measuring stick, but you should not let yourself get disheartened when your prayers to the poker gods go unanswered. Remember, downswings and variance happen, poker is a long journey and you should spend a little time enjoying the scenery along the way.
Keep your game focused and solid, pick up the small pots when you can and ensure you are always making the best decisions possible.
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