Anyone who has ever shoved all-in on pocket Aces pre-flop, and lost to an 8-high straight that came in on the river, has experienced the reality of variance as it applies to the statistical nature of poker. No matter how carefully the outs have been counting, the odds calculated, and the rules of poker statistics followed, we are eternally destined to occasionally lose with a great hand, as well as fold a terrible hand that would have won the pot if we had stayed in to play it. This inevitable mathematical consequence is what we call “variance”.
Variance in poker is the result of the information we don’t know in the course of the hand. Variance could also be equated with luck. We can’t know how many of our outs our opponents are holding, or how far down the deck that Ace of diamonds that would give us the nut flush is. Three of your outs could have been ‘burned’ in the course of dealing to the board.
When examining a line graph of big bets won and lost over the course of a significant number of hands, it is not uncommon to find it is riddled with sharp peaks and valleys which represent the natural variance in poker. As long as the upswings and downswings ultimately result in a gradually increasing rise in overall profits, things are going well.
A certain measure of variance in poker is unavoidable. Even when you do everything right, the natural uncertainty that goes hand-in-hand with poker will inevitably cause your win rate to fluctuate – sometimes wildly – and there is simply no way to change that. No one wins at poker 100% of the time. What we can do is evaluate hand histories in order to correct mistakes that lead to avoidable losses, which will reduce the amount of variance we experience. But we cannot completely rid ourselves of variance.
It is natural for us to examine and re-examine the huge pots we have lost for clues as to how we might win next time we are faced with that exact situation. However, poker players generally tend to play at the peak of their abilities when the pot reaches a sizable amount. Many players overlook the value of small pots, and, therefore, are less alert when the stakes are relatively low. By taking the time to review the smaller pots that you have lost, you may be able to identify leaks in your game that can be easily corrected.
Part of what makes poker so popular is the element of chance combined with the opportunity to apply a great deal of poker strategy. No matter how much a player has studied the various approaches to each poker form, every hand played is still a gamble. Variance in poker is perfectly natural. The key to earning the maximum profit possible is to make good decisions in every hand, no matter how much – or how little – is at stake.