At the beginning of the year my focus was on online poker. I set a specific goal which was that by the end of the year I would be playing 12 tables or more of 25c/50c and beating the level. After a few months of grinding I was on my way. I was feeling confident and thanks to playing tens of thousands of hands of cash game poker. plus the fact that I was working full time and earning a decent salary, I decided to go back to playing live cash game poker. Initially the results were great and for the first time in my life I kept my own and started crushing the live games. I downloaded a great poker app for recording all my sessions and was so happy to see that I was winning 7/10 sessions and making some nice extra cash every month.
Fast forward 2 months and unfortunately the results haven’t continued on the same trajectory. After 24 sessions over the last few months I’ve won money in 54% of the games I’ve played and only made money in 2 out of the last 10. It is runs like this that test your resolve as a poker player and make you question both your ability and approach to the game. Last week I had another losing session, this time it was a combination of bad play on my end and very bad luck, but it wasn’t the fact that I lost money that upset me, it was how I lost the money.
There is an element of poker which can’t be denied and can’t be ignored and that is variance. People call it different things but variance is very simple to understand. There is the norm, which for example is getting dealt pocket aces once in every 220 hands, or flopping a set with a pocket pair in your hand 11.7% of the time, and then there is what happens in reality over a certain number of hands. The difference in the norm and what happens in reality is called variance. In the long run if you are playing with a regular deck of cards in a regular poker game, you will on average be dealt pocket aces every 220 hands. This is a fact and can be proven easily with mathematical software or by looking in a large database of an online poker player.
Now for interest sake lets say that you play poker with a bunch of friends once a week and on average you play for 5 hours and see 28 hands an hour. In my made up example, you will be dealt pocket aces once every 7.8 hours on average. Now imagine that you have two amazing sessions and within 56 hands you are dealt aces 4 times. This is really positive variance for you and will make you experience a much higher win rate than usual. Unfortunately this type of variance doesn’t last, remember, the stats needs to balance itself out, even though it will almost never be exact, in order for the stats to now balance themselves out, you could go over 6 sessions without being dealt pocket aces. Variance can be a bitch, especially in like poker where it takes much longer to balance things out.
My run of 10 sessions with only 2 wins made me realize this. I had been crushing the game and consider myself to have a decent edge over the average player in the game but a combination of run bad and lack of resolve on my part had resulted in a downswing that has lasted over a month and a half. During the last few sessions I have felt like a prisoner, chained to the outcome of the cards with nothing I could do, a feeling I hate even more than losing. The variance in poker is such that even a winning live cash game player can go many months breaking even or even losing money.
There are only two ways to beat variance. The first is playing through it. As long as you are a winning player and can control your losses, you will get through the bad spells and show a positive balance in the long run. The biggest problem with playing through the negative variance is that it can last a long time, hence my statement earlier that a winning player can go months without showing his true win rate. The second way to beat variance is having a massive edge over the competition. If you put Doyle Brunson in a poker game with a bunch of first timers, Doyle will almost always have a winning session, even if he is experiencing very negative variance. The reason for this is because Doyle has such a high skill level in poker that he is able to maximize his winnings and minimize his losses. In such a poker game, Doyle’s skill level will be the determining factor over his results, not variance.
Acknowledging these facts has humbled me because it has shown that I’m not as good as I believe. I still find myself making horrible calls and getting desperate when the negative variance comes knocking. I think I handle it better than most but it still eats at me. It really bothers me that at this moment I could go 3-6 months breaking even or losing money, simply because the cards are falling very much against me. I can’t push through it quickly because like the example I used, I’m only playing once a week and seeing around 28 hands an hour. For these reasons I have decided to take a break from live poker and concentrate on reaching the goal I set for myself at the start of the year.