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Appreciating Variance and Dealing with Volatility


Appreciating Variance and Dealing with Volatility

by Jonathan “Faarcyde” Faarup

In 2010, I had been playing poker for five years. I thought I had seen everything, from my own experience and the experience of others. I went on a six-month breakeven/downswing streak that was the most brutal I ever had to endure. Everything that could happen did happen, and for the first three months I weathered it. As time wore on, I became more and more unstable with my reactions which likely led to an even more extreme stretch of losing.

Much of this was based on the fundamental fact that poker players perform better when feeding on success rather than failure and I was no exception. This seems to hold true in many other real-life examples – it’s easier to make a three-pointer when you have just made a three-pointer. It is easier to ask someone out on a date when the last person you asked said “yes.” Confidence is an underappreciated skill.

The downside is if you only have confidence when you are winning you lose a tremendous skill when losing. Being able to push through extended periods of “failure” with steadfast confidence will make it so those streaks are as short as possible.

Bad luck, variance or ...?

One thing I refuse to do now is use “bad luck” as a first line of defense. Blaming poor results on variance is not a good habit to hold. By using objective analysis (looking over hand histories, running calculations, talking to colleagues and friends, posting hands in the forum), we can determine if our play is on the up and up. If it turns out we are getting coolered, running into the top of peoples’ ranges and suffering from poor card distribution…great. If not, we can change our modus operandi and bridge the gaps necessary.

Get a group of poker players at any given time and it is a rule that the word “variance” will invariably enter into the conversation. It often seems as if the term possesses a negative connotation, a bad rap, something players would cast into the depths of the netherworlds if at all possible. Your author is not without guilt either. Often times, I have lamented how I wished every day was a small win. I don’t need the big wins that made my head big or the big losses that sent me into a spiraling depression, however temporary.

One of the things I have learned over the past few months is coming to grips with the fact luck will always be ever present. Once I learned to accept this notion, it became a lot easier to deal with. Why? Because getting upset at something I knew was going to happen is absurd and irrational. Imagine waking up and observing the sun has risen. It has happened every day since you were born. Do you ever get angry when the sun rises? So why is variance any different?

It stares us in the face every moment we play, yet we still throw mice, break keyboards, yell profanities and give sweeping proclamations that “This is it. I am never playing poker again.” Someone once said insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. If we want to play poker for a living or play it as a profitable hobby, we need to change the way we think.


That's not the entire article...

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Comments (12)

#1 elhh82, 06 Jan 12 11:47

"it’s easier to make a three-pointer when you have just made a three-pointer" I think this was disproved recently after analysis, not sure about the second example, never failed before at that.

#2 nekrikstas, 06 Jan 12 11:54

thanks a lot!

#3 Flashman1849, 06 Jan 12 12:11

Thanks for the excellent and enlightening article, faarcyde - and keep making videos!

#4 MonkeySam, 06 Jan 12 13:10

ty very much sir

#5 MathhNes, 06 Jan 12 13:17

Really good article, nice title also

#6 M1rCea, 06 Jan 12 13:34

Thanks Faar, nice one

#7 Tarhonya, 06 Jan 12 13:45

Great article, I will need to read it again every now and than.

#8 Tim64, 06 Jan 12 13:56

Thanks, Jonathan; useful as always.

#9 stinkie24, 06 Jan 12 16:54

thnx good article enjoyed reading it

#10 Mistyboyo, 06 Jan 12 18:11

Great view of exact problem we have to deal with even we want or do not want to see it.. Highly appreciated....!

#11 faarcyde, 07 Jan 12 16:55

Thx fellas

#12 LeNNy010, 12 May 15 19:43

+1 for the article, the mental game of poker is an underestimated skill indeed.