An ‘ugly’ word for poker fans, VARIANCE is something that we can’t avoid yet nevertheless needs to be factored in to how we approach the game, especially in terms of bankroll management.

Probability theory describes the possible deviations from the expected normal distribution of a random value as its variance – in other words, to what extent a value can deviate in the short term from the expected long-term result.

Translated to poker, which contains a random element over which we have no influence or control, variance describes the possible short-term deviation from expected long-term value. For example, in Texas Hold’em, a flush draw on the Flop has roughly a 36% chance of making a flush by the River, but this is over time and indeed that ‘expected’ 36% could take many many instances to manifest itself. Meanwhile, it’s by no means unusual to find ourselves in this drawing scenario four or five times yet failing to hit once. That’s how players tend to experience the frustration of variance.

The best hands and the best players are not immune to variance

Let’s take going all-in with pocket aces in a Cash Game as an example. This is the best we can hope to be dealt in Texas Hold’em and, in an all-in match-up versus a random hand we have a roughly 85% chance of holding on to our significant pre-flop lead. This equates to winning at least 8 out of 10 times in this situation. Instead, we win only three of the all-ins, which in practical terms leaves us five buy-ins worse off than expected.

Variance is an unfortunate fact of life for poker players, but while we can’t escape it when bad luck strikes, we can at least be prepared and plan accordingly, and do our best to take it in our stride when it rears its ugly head.

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· Published 24.08.2018 · last updated 26.01.2022

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