No matter how well you play and no matter how much money you win, as a poker player, you’re always going to have to deal with variance.
Sometimes it will help you. Sometimes it will hurt you. No matter its effect on your bankroll, however, you have to understand it because it will help you understand the ups and downs of the game.
What is variance in poker?
In everyday life, you have good days and bad days. In poker, sometimes your good days and bad days are determined by luck as it relates to the statistics involved in how often your hand should win or lose.
Variance in poker is the upswings and downswings you experience based on math.
In some cases, you can be sure you are going to win the hand by making the nuts on the river. If you do not have the nuts or your opponent is not drawing dead, however, you can always lose.
Let’s assume you are dealt pocket aces. If you go all-in preflop and you get called, you are in a powerful position because your hand is supposed to win 85% of the time against a random hand.
In other words, if you run that situation 100 times, you are going to win, on average, 85 times. That does not mean you will win exactly 85 times. You might win 87 times. You might win 73 times. You might win 99 times.
The inexact nature of probable outcomes is variance.
On a different hand, let’s say you are dealt Jack-Ten and you are up against pocket aces. If the flop comes 9-8-2 you have an open-ended straight draw for eight outs – any queen and any 7.
A generic way to calculate your percentage of making your hand on the next card is to multiply the number of your outs by 2.2%. If there are two cards to come, you double it.
So, in this case, you have eight outs – or about 17.5%. If you miss your draw on the turn you still have eight outs for the river, so your odds are about 35% overall.
You might hit your card exactly 45 times out of 100, or you might hit it 14 times out of 100.
Just accept it
Variance is important to understand because there is nothing you can do about it.
If you get worked up about losing a few hands you’re supposed to win, you’re going to be too emotional to make sound decisions in future hands.
It doesn’t feel good to lose a hand when the odds say you’re 90% to win, but it happens. The sooner you accept that the sooner you will consistently be in a better mental state to deal with the bad beats when they come – because they will.
Now that you understand why they happen, you’ll be better off for it in the long run.