Poker is a Game of Incomplete Information – So How do you Deal with Variance?

Top poker players have to deal with the luck element involved in the deal

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Ask the world’s best poker players whether poker is a game of skill and they will all agree. Phil Ivey and Vivian Saliba aren’t considered among the world’s best players because they are extremely lucky. They have worked hard to master the game and make sure they have the best chance of winning every time. But this doesn’t mean to say that there isn’t some luck involved. When two professional players take a hand down to an all-in coin flip situation, chance can determine who wins. There is also a luck factor in how the cards are dealt. Jamie Gold’s World Series of Poker win in 2006 is often attributed to the fact he “ran like a god” – he went on to get eliminated in the first day of the following tournament.

The best poker players make it to the final tables time and time again because they understand variance – the fact that there are upswings and downswings within a game. There are many ways to deal with this, and it’s the players who can handle the negative runs well who keep winning the big prizes. Here we discuss the importance of having a well-rounded skill set in poker and look at ways to adopt a measured approach to the game.

Good Poker Players have a Well-Rounded Skill Set

The best way to get to a good level of poker is to play the game for years and get used to all its intricacies. But to get to the highest level where the professionals are, players need to develop a well-rounded skill set that draws on a number of other abilities. Many of the world’s best players don’t just stick to playing Texas Hold’em, they will also dabble in other poker variants like Pot Limit Omaha and 7 Card Stud. This is because these games require tweaks in strategy which can often open up new ideas about how to play the game.

There are also other games to play which are miles apart from poker but can help players practice their tactical thinking. Daniel Negreanu and Bertrand Grospellier, also known as ElkY, are known to be big fans of the fantasy card game Hearthstone. The game from Blizzard Entertainment has become one of the most popular eSports in recent years and this is partly down to the fact that it has a lot of similarities with games like poker. There is some luck involved due to the fact that a random number generator is used to draw the cards, but players need to use skill and strategy to get the better of their opponents. Understanding and preparing for variance with the RNG in Hearthstone is an attribute which good players can bring to the poker table.

A good understanding of mathematics and probabilities is one of the most important attributes of a modern poker player, and perhaps the biggest counter to variance. Players need to be able to quickly calculate their odds of winning a hand and then bet accordingly. Calculating probability helps players to realize when they are experiencing negative variance, and tells them they should adapt their technique.

What is Variance and How do you Deal with Uncertainty in Poker?

Variance is important in poker.

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Poker is a game of skill. Players can train and refine their skillsets in order to give themselves the best possible chance of winning, but there are also a number of elements of luck involved with the game. Because hands are dealt randomly, there is obviously the chance factor which can result in players getting dealt good or bad hands. Variance describes this and refers to the upswings and downswings which can occur in a poker game. Positive variance is when a player is getting dealt strong hands, and negative variance is when a player keeps getting dealt weaker hands. Negative variance can often lead to tilt, and this is when bad decision-making frequently entails. The best poker players need to understand variance and have ways of dealing with it within their game plan.

According to expert poker player Jared Tendler who wrote this poker strategy guide for 888poker, not knowing when a losing streak will end is what really kills you in poker. When going through a bad run of negative variance and even when tilt starts to set in, he explains that the most important thing to do is stick to your normal game plan. This can be applied in any form of poker, be it Texas Hold’em or Omaha. Players develop their strategy prior to any swings in variance, and they need to remember to stick to it. Tilt can affect decision making, but knowing that after a while your luck will change for the better can be enough to help you get through the downswings.

Phil Helmuth is a professional poker player who often goes on tilt and gets irate about his downswings in luck. His frustration is normally due to the fact that other players around him aren’t playing optimum strategy but get lucky due to the turn of the cards. Sometimes, he is right – but that is another element of variance that players need to be aware of. Along with the variance in cards dealt, there is variance in the way that people around the table play. Expert players try to get a read on their opponents and try to work out how they will act in certain situations.

How to Adopt a Measured Approach in Poker

The best way to develop a measured approach in poker is to play for many years and build up a good understanding of how variance works. Good players are aware that there are upswings and downswings in the game, but expert players are able to anticipate these instinctively. This skill will help players deal with crucial situations within the game, such as bad beats and coin flips. An example of this could be to do with how a player bets during a spell of negative variance. It would be unwise to stake large amounts in those periods. It’s better to instead bet small amounts until the tides shift.

Variance can lead players to have a complete misconception of their skill level, and some weaker players can start to think they are stronger because they have previously been lucky and won hands against good opponents. When they eventually have a downswing, they may feel that everything has gone against them and lose the will to carry on playing. Players who understand variance, though, know that their level of skill and the luck of the cards are two completely separate things. This helps them persevere through the rough patches.

Poker is an unpredictable game and even the best players in the world go through bad patches where they don’t win anything. It’s learning how to accept the inevitability of unlucky streaks and dealing with them which separates the experts from the amateurs.