Practical Tips for Poker Players: How to Reduce the Impact of Variance

The element of chance in poker is a double-edged sword. Without it, the game wouldn’t be even half as exciting. Chance and randomness make every game different, making it impossible to be 100% sure of what will happen next. Without it, every game would feel the same, and poker would become monotonous and dull.ย 

Though chance is necessary for poker’s popularity, it can feel bad to be the victim. Bad beats and downswings are the most upsetting parts of playing poker and are inevitable consequences of chance. If you’re getting frustrated by them, don’t worry, that’s natural. This poker guide will help you by giving tips on reducing the effect of variance on your gameplay. 

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Cash games, not tournaments

One of the best things about poker is the many ways you can play. Different formats have their strengths and weaknesses, so choosing the best way to enjoy the game is often a skill in and of itself. 

The two biggest poker game formats are cash games and tournaments. Cash games are the format most home games and casinos use. Players are seated at the table, paying a buy-in amount within a set range. That buy-in becomes their starting stack. All chips are one-to-one with real money, and players can leave between hands to exchange their chips for money or buy in again after going broke.

Tournaments are the format preferred by competitive poker events like the World Series of Poker (WSOP). They’re designed around the threat of elimination. Each player pays a set buy-in, so everyone has the same starting stack size. As the tournament progresses, the blinds increase. Once players lose all their chips, they’re out of the tournament entirely. Payment is given based on how far you made it into the tournament; the winner receives the largest share of the prize pool, which comprises all the players’ buy-ins.ย 

Both cash games and tournaments have pros and cons, but the one part we’ll focus on here is variance. Tournaments have an insane amount of variants, sometimes being likened to lotteries since skill will only get you so far. You can play at the top of your game, but the all-or-nothing nature of tournaments means one bad beat or unlucky draw can mean the end of your tournament journey. The uneven nature of tournament payouts makes this even worse; oftentimes, only the top 15% get any meaningful reward, with most tournament entrants receiving nothing.

This is why choosing cash games is the first step to reducing the impact of variance. They have constant blinds; you can buy back in if you go broke. They lend themselves well to long-term profit, so cash games are the mode of choice for experienced poker grinders. This makes the competition level of cash games much higher than in tournaments, so you should keep that in mind. 

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Manage your bankroll properly

Proper bankroll management is a key part of your poker career, even if it doesn’t involve playing the game. You need to manage your funds well, starting with using disposable income. Disposable income is money you don’t need for other things, money you can afford to lose. 

By exclusively using disposable income when playing poker, you ensure that whatever happens during the game won’t affect your real life. It might feel bad getting a bad beat, but it’ll feel a million times worse when you know that loss will have real-world consequences. 

Another way to manage your bankroll is by changing your stakes. While moving down in stakes instead of up may feel embarrassing, sometimes, that’s exactly what you need. Playing at lower stakes means you can play without the pressure of maintaining your bankroll, allowing you to rebuild your bankroll in a stress-free environment. 

Don’t let bad luck mess with your head

The biggest effect bad beats and downswings have on your game is often mental. It just feels terrible experiencing them, and this can lead to you playing on “tilt.” That is when your emotions take over and control your play, which is almost always wrong. Poker requires careful strategy, and tilt completely ignores this.

Playing while angry after a loss makes you far less likely to make optimal decisions. This can become a loop, where you get mad after losing, which makes you tilt, play badly, then lose again. Take a break if you ever feel the game getting to you, especially right after a loss to pure chance.

Try conservative gameplay

Another way to reduce the impact of variance is playing tight and sticking to only premium hands. A huge part of the variance in poker comes from drawing hands, which are hands that have the potential to improve if you get specific cards on the turn or river. While drawing hands revolve around taking a risk based on chance, using them is necessary since they’re the only way to beat strong pre-flop hands like pocket aces. 

Still, some players overvalue draws and try to play them every chance. If you feel like you’re experiencing a lot of missed draws and losing because of them, you should look back at your gameplay. You may be playing too many draws, especially 

ones with poor odds. Sticking to strong pre-flop hands and folding away the rest can be a great way to minimize losses and the effect of variance, but you shouldn’t become too predictable. Throw in a bluff now and then to keep your opponents on their toes. 

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Put these tips into practice today!

Those were just some of the many ways you can reduce the impact of variance in your games. Remember that chance is a natural part of playing poker, and try not to get too upset when your luck is bad. There’s always another day, and the best poker players know your strategy wins out in the end, not luck.