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Dealing with variance in poker

Checking your emotions at the poker table is one of the hardest lessons to learn.

More often than not, you will learn when it costs you dearly after making a stupid bluff because you were on tilt.

Often, an online poker player who is a bonus hunter is an even player (without gains or losses), who mastered the basics but who is struggling to be profitable consistently. There is nothing wrong with making money while chasing a bonus, but in the end, you must continue to improve your game to maximize your profit.

Often the only difference between a winning player and a losing player is a winning player knows how to lose! What does this mean exactly?

But what is variance?

First let's explain what is meant by variance.

Variance simply means the natural fluctuations between profits and losses that are unavoidable. There are swings of good and bad luck that every player has to cope with, no matter how good he is. Usually when talking of variance, players refer to their losses. For their profits, they call it a "good run".

How to deal with variance

Well, as glamorous as the life of a poker pro may seem, it is not always rosy, even for the best. Everyone suffers from "bad beats", reaching the lows of luck and variance, even the pros and the high stakes players. Many pros will tell you about the very large losses they suffered, some of them getting ruined, temporarily or permanently leaving the game.

Fortunately, by understanding variance, by losing and learning to control your emotions at the table, you will be able to learn about variance without first going through a complete ruin.

Many players on the circuit know how to play poker well. For example, take two players in low limit, Joe and John, who basically play the same way. They have both been playing for about two years and both know the basics of poker, they are able to make a small profit when they win their sessions. At the end of each month, Joe is able to withdraw a few dollars to buy a nice gift for his fiancée. On the other hand John cannot understand why he has no money on his account.

Only one of them is a victor in the long term! How does this happen?

Joe and John are able to win regular sessions, but John is struggling to control his emotions when he loses while Joe is disciplined and well trained in some emotional control techniques.

When Joe suffers a bad beat or a downswing, he understands that it is simply the variance, he knows he will get much more in return at a later time. Sometimes he can just take a break or walk a bit to cool off. He limits his losses and can go to bed without getting disturbed if he lost a few dollars. His self-discipline and control make him save good money.

On the other hand, when John catches a bad beat, he often goes "on tilt", gets angry, insulting his opponents and playing irresponsibly. When that happens, John loses even more, exacerbating the problem. He ends up with big losing sessions and a massive headache, not understanding why it is so unlucky and why it always happens to him.

Every dollar that you do not lose is worth exactly the same amount as every dollar that you earn. Whenever Joe and John lose, Joe wins money over to John. Joe knows he has an excellent "self-control" and that his ability to withstand losses is higher than that of his opponents. This gives him an advantage over them, and poker is a game of exploiting small advantages. Joe knows that his long-term ability to withstand losses increases his win ratio.

Tips to handle variance

As crazy as it may seem, by learning how to lose, you will win money. Learn to control your emotions for better profits. Here are some tips to help you improve your discipline, your self-control, your mood and your emotional state:

  • Remember that "bad beats" happen to everyone, it is how you manage them that makes the difference between winning players and losing players.
  • If you get frustrated, just take a break. Go walk a few minutes and recharge your batteries. It is better to return at the table with a clear mind than to let the situation deteriorate.
  • Do not waste time chatting. Do not berate your opponents or comment on their game. All it will do is scare away the bad players and add to your frustration.
  • If the chat of a player bothers you, just block him off.
  • Do not pay attention to short-term results like the results of one single session. Analyze your profitability over the long term monthly or annually, rather than for short periods like sessions, days or weeks.
  • If you have a problem with long sessions, then try to set a loss limit. Once you have lost a certain amount, quit the game for the day and try again another day.
  • Do not drink alcohol (at least not excessively) while playing.

Good luck at the online poker tables.




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