As much as ‘variance’ is almost a dirty word in poker, it’s nevertheless something that we need to think about – and not just when it happens! Indeed, it’s quite a foolhardy idea to plod on in the hope that the poker gods will look kindly on us, allowing unrealistic, wishful thinking to let us believe we’ll always defy the odds by avoiding bad luck. We’d be living in dreamland to ignore the possibility of variance in a game that can remind us in the most cruel fashion of the realities of the laws of probability.
Not only should we avoid thinking about it, we should invest time contemplating when it’s most likely to rear its ugly head. Some people cope better than others with bad luck. Or, perhaps more accurately in the context of this article, some people cope worse than others. All the more reason to be aware of the dynamics of this or that format in order to at least mentally prepare ourselves for the inevitable, and identify when we might face more potential banana skins than usual.
The following is a list of tournament types compiled according to which format we’re more likely to experience variance. Inexperienced players in particular re prone to playing tournaments without properly considering the specific dynamics from one type to the next, which in turn makes coming to terms with (perceived) bad luck more difficult when it happens.
As the name suggests, the Freezeout format is a one chance only competition in which we pay our buy-in and then receive a starting stack that we need to make the most of because, when we lose all our chips, that’s it – there are no second chances. Consequently, given the fact that players are conscious of this somewhat fundamental feature, with no additional ‘bullets’ available should the first (and in this case, only) shot at success lead to losing their entire stack, players tend to approach the game not necessarily conservatively, but certainly with a noticeable dose of caution. Without the safety net of extra ‘lives’ to fall back on, the risk of going all-in with non-premium hands in a Freezeout is an unnecessary one. Indeed some might avoid gambling with anything but aces. The structure in Freezeouts tend to see larger stacks and longer Blind periods so that players get more for their money.
It follows, then, that while there’s no accounting for what can happen, Variance is nevertheless less likely to pop up as often in a Freezeout tournament compared to those that follow.
(Note that, for the sake of simplicity, the following tournament type are assumed to also be Rebuys)
Bounty tournaments have a portion (often 50%) of the prize pool put aside so that each player has a nominal bounty that is won by whoever knocks them out. This could be a fixed amount, such as $10 for every player we eliminate, or take the form of so-called ‘progressive’ bounties, whereby if we eliminate a player with a $10 bounty we receive $5 cash and the other $5 is added to our own bounty.
Whatever the set-up, the correct strategy in Bounty tournaments is to follow the old adage that we can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs, and be prepared to take the occasional risk due to the additional equity. This means hunting down bounties with hands that we might not usually be so aggressive with, calling an all-in bet due to the potential extra reward when we might otherwise fold, and so on.
Consequently, we can expect to experience some Variance if we play Knockout tournaments.
Whereas a Freezeout tournament might have Blind levels up to, say, 12 minutes per increase, and Rebuys typically a fraction less, the Turbo format is a different animal. This tournament type is so named because the idea behind Turbos is to step up the pace compared with the more traditional Freezeouts, for instance and, as a consequence, there’s an air of urgency that adds some spice to proceedings. If the Blinds are increasing every five minutes we’re going to find ourselves having to be more proactive just in order to maintain an even pace and keep our heads above water. Being too selective about the strength of the hands we’re prepared to fight with tends not to be a practical, sustainable strategy, so chances are there will be times when our stack is on the line. Remember, too, that these formats are invariably Rebuys, so it’s quite normal to see multiple players being all-in, with some having short(ish) stacks and feeling vulnerable, for example, and others happy to gamble in an attempt to build a big stack. There are many reasons and circumstances that lead to players risking all their chips, which is why if we favour Turbo tournaments we need to take the consequences of Variance in our stride.
With structures that might see the Blinds increase as frequently as every couple of minutes (or even every minute…), as well as starting stacks sufficiently short to further induce wild play, Hyper-Turbo tournaments are essentially all-in fests. We shouldn’t be surprised to see our Aces lose to random holdings in multi-way all-in pre-flop lotteries. Weak play might be rewarded more in such a format, but that’s the nature of the game, and we must accept it when sitting down to play. That isn’t to say Hypers are nothing more than gambling frenzies – there are still the usual prizes to play for, and plenty of opportunities to exploit wild play. But returning to the saying about needing to break eggs to make an omelette, the levels of Variance in this case might mean having to break quite a lot of eggs…