One of the most important concepts to get your head around, which is probably just as important as any strategy you may learn or study is how to deal with variance. Make no mistake, in any tournament poker career you will have days or weeks that you are flying, where all your draws hit, you win all your races, and you just get dealt the right cards at the right time. At the same time, however, there will be days and weeks where nothing goes right, and the only thing you can be sure of is that you walk away with a dented ego and your tail between your legs.
I have seen it all too often where a new player will burst on to the scene, run ridiculously good for a short period of time, take on higher levels and be back to the bottom of the pile quicker than he can say “all-in”. The reason this happens is variance. Every poker player has been hit by the variance stick, and every poker player will be hit by it again. Poker is a game of averages and probabilities so the ledger must be squared, and we need to brace ourselves for the rollercoaster ride.
So when the poker Gods decide to unleash this variance curse on us, how do we cope so that we can actually learn something and come out the other side a better player? Whilst a lot of the time we downswing we just put it down to a run of bad luck, the first thing to do is take a step back and assess your game.
A common theme amongst successful players is that when they experience a period of success, complacency can sometimes set in (usually at higher levels to what the player was used to playing as he now has more money and can afford these games), and mistakes can creep into their game. This could come in the form of playing too many hands pre-flop, being a little trigger happy with the all-in move, or just using those high-risk, high-profit moves too much, and they just aren’t sticking like they were a few weeks ago. If you assess your game and find this to be the case, then you probably just need to go back to basic ABC poker for a few sessions and let things iron out. It is also a good idea to use effective bankroll management principles and drop down to smaller games.
The other problem I find when being on the wrong end of variance is your mood and attitude to the game. When you are constantly getting your chips in with the best hand only for your opponent to get lucky and eliminate you, it’s hard not to feel the whole world is against you. It harbours negative feelings towards the game and you lose your focus. This has a snowball effect as you start to make bad decisions and lose your edge over the game. It is sometimes a wise move to stop registering and even take a few days off to refresh, get the negativity out of your head and come back with a clear mind hungry for success at the top of your game.
There will also be times however that no matter what you do, no matter how well you’re playing, that you still just can’t get a break. Unfortunately this is just part of the game and as long as you can maintain the things you have control over – your focus and attitude – then it will eventually turn around and you will be sitting on top of the world again.
Respect variance, and come to terms with it. It is part of this great game that we play, and getting through it by being aware of it, and keeping positive that the wheel eventually turns in your favour, will help you go a long way in a successful long-term poker career.
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