Variance in Poker: Understanding It and Negating It

If you're a poker player and you don't know about variance, then you don't know what it is to be a poker player.

"Worksheets" (CC BY 2.0) by  ingeniarius' 

Now, if we were to say the word "luck", then you'd know what we're talking about. As we all know, luck comes in two main forms - good and bad - and all poker players will experience both at the table many times in their career.

However, what if we told you that what you're actually experiencing is variance. The strict mathematical definition of variance goes something like this:

"Variance is a measure of how the data distributes itself about the mean or expected value."

To put it another way: variance is the movements away from an expected outcome. For example, if you moved all-in with pocket aces and found yourself against a pair of deuces, the statistics state that you will win the majority of the time. However, because the expected value of this situation isn't 100% in favor of the aces, it means there will always be some variance in the expected outcome i.e. sometimes aces will lose.

Your Aces Won't Always Win (But That's OK)

"Ace" (CC BY-SA 2.0) by  Noam A. 

Now, for those that know their poker math, the number of times aces will lose in this spot is around 18% of the time. However, it's important to understand that you don't know when this 18% of the time will strike. Because poker math and variance is based on an infinite number of trials, you can never say something like "if I move all-in with aces against deuces 10 times I'll win eight hands".

While this might be true in the long run, it's also possible that you could lose all 10 hands. However, if you were to keep making the same move over and over again you would eventually find that you're making a profit and winning around 82% of time.

This, in a nutshell, is variance in poker and the reason why some players think bad moves are correct and good moves are wrong. Just because you lose 10 hands in a row with aces versus deuces, it doesn't make it a bad move. In fact, you should make this move as much as possible because it's +EV. The reason we're talking about this is because a failure to understand the concept of poker can harm your win rate in two ways.

You Need to Understand Variance

"Torsten, math teacher" (CC BY 2.0) by  blondinrikard 

Firstly it will encourage you to make the wrong moves because you are failing to appreciate how the game actually works. Secondly, it will prevent you from taking advantage of the help that's out there. You'll probably know that poker bonuses are a great way to get some extra cash, but the main reason you should be seeking out the best deals is to help negate the negative effects of variance (variance can also be positive).

Using the services of an online bonus site like is the best way to get some added value before you ante-up as well as getting deals that help you to overcome those times when variance is against you. Much like shopping for a new auto insurance deal with a site like or the best mobile plan using, collates, reviews and categorizes the latest poker bonuses.

So, for example, if you're a new to the industry you'll find a guide to the types of bonuses on the market. Once you're aware of your options you can sort through the latest deals and find the one that suits your style of play. If you're a tournament player it might be a bonus offering free MTT tickets. If you're a cash grinder it might be a cash back deal.

Boosting Your EV is a Balancing Act

"Balance" (CC BY-SA 2.0) by  andy.brandon50 

Using a site like this to sort through the latest offers allows you to boost your overall EV as it allows you to claim a bonus that works for you and will, therefore, negate any bad luck (i.e. negative variance) you encounter.

Poker is a delicate balancing act between making the right moves and finding a way to limit your losses when variance isn't flowing your way. Only by understanding the nature of variance and how you can overcome its negative effects can you continue making the right moves and move your bankroll in the right direction.

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