Poker Variance – The Winner’s Enemy?

poker variance

Poker Variance

When it comes to anything that involves chance, there are swings in fortune you can’t legislate for. Naturally, the smaller the percentage of luck, the less likely you will see pendulum like swings in fortune. But, even in sports like football, chance can have a big say. Whilst poker is largely a game of skill, there is an element of luck that cannot be ignored. This is particularly true when focusing on the short term. On any given day, a weaker player can catch great cards or bad beat or cooler their stronger opponents. In this article, I will explain what poker variance is, how it affects players and how to deal with it.

What is Variance in Poker?

Variance is the difference between what you expect to occur and what actually happens. These can be summarised as swings or ups and downs involved in poker. Poker hand analysis software can highlight the variance easily with graphs.

What influences Poker Variance?

Variance impacts everyone. Like the rain, it falls on everyone and does not discriminate. However, there are factors that can play a part in variance.

Style of Play

Playing a LAG poker style is likely to incur more swings and greater variance than playing a tighter game. This is because of the inherent risk of playing more hands and less than premium hands.

Tournament Type

The more entrants, the greater luck involved. This is especially true when blind increments are quicker too. Think about it, SNGs with 9 people are far less swingy than playing the Sunday Million with thousands of entrants.


An obvious one here but worth making the point. No limit is more volatile and swingier than limit games. With the option to bet larger in relation to stack sizes, variance goes up.

The Negative Impacts of Variance in Poker

Variance takes it’s toll on lots of players. From micro to mid stakes, many can’t handle it and negatively impacts them:


Many players suffer bad luck then proceed to go on tilt and lose even more, thus making it worse. This is a big problem for players at low stakes. They have the potential to be great players but tilt off buy-ins at the first sign of bad luck.

Moving Between Stakes

There’s a lot of players that have no clue on bankroll management. They continuously move between stakes due to variance and take hits to their confidence. If you exercise a cautious approach and have plenty of buy-ins, you should be able to handle variance. I suggest setting up a poker spreadsheet to keep on top of you results and monitor performance.

Changing Your Game

Some people go the other way when variance hits. They question their game and strategy. Instead of tilting, they go into a shell, bluff less, value bet wrong and play too nitty. This is just as bad as tilting as it has longer lasting consequences. You may lose less from playing conservatively but remember, money you fail to pick up through accurate value betting and bluffing is the same as money lost.

How to Overcome Variance

People deal with negativity in different ways. I always say it’s best to think of the long term. If you are doing this and not focusing on the most recent session, you will be better for it. Professionals accept that not every session will be a winning one. This is the burden that pro’s bear for playing a game with chance involved. If you can’t handle it, forget about playing professionally.  

Overcoming variance can be achieved by playing a happy song after a tough session to help your mood. Or, saying to yourself you will get the same fortune. My suggestion to think of the long run is ideal for consistent winners.

Variance isn’t All Bad

We’ve focused on the negative aspect until now, but remember, variance isn’t just the bad swings. Simple probability maths dictate you should receive your positive swings too. This means you will run good and win more than you ought to aswell. This is a comforting thought, particularly if you’re on a downswing or usually win. As stated earlier, poker variance doesn’t have favourites per se. The sun shines on all, just as the run falls on all.

It’s important to recognise when variance has been on your side. If your software is showing that you actually should be losing or breaking even, you need to work on your game. Good players cannot be results orientated in the short-term and variance can’t always bail you out. That’s why continuing to work at your game is important. I recommend regular hand history reviews to our students, so they can have impartial feedback on how they are playing.

Final Thoughts

Remember, poker variance is what keeps the weak players coming back. Occasionally, they win and that hope of winning again is what keeps them in the game. This is an incredibly important point and worth remembering if you moan about the luck in poker. You don’t want to only play against strong players, do you? Winning money is your goal and to do that, you need to take it from inferior players. They won’t want to play if they never win and the game was 100% skill based.

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Narciso Baldo is the Director and Head Coach of Texas Hold'em Questions. He has been playing poker for over 16 years. After spending many years as a professional, he now runs UK poker training site Texas Hold'em Questions. Narciso regularly writes poker articles sharing tips, strategy, news and experience with gambling enthusiasts. Narciso also writes for reputable gambling portal Casino City Times, (bio here). Contact: