Battling Variance

Battling Variance

Monday, 5 October 2009

For the past few years I’ve been very focused on staying fit in order to improve my concentration levels and enhance my willingness to win. One of the most important things in poker is what people sometimes refer to as the “winning spirit”, but what it comes down to is whether you feel capable of winning.

If you can’t visualise yourself winning, then you probably won’t. This may sound wishy washy, but it’s hugely important. Players stuck in a losing streak will actually visualise themselves losing and will play differently because of that. They don’t notice that they’re playing differently, but they are, and it’s very important for your game to prevent yourself from going down that road.

It’s vital to remember that you’re doing the right thing even when you’re losing. This is a difficult concept for the mind to grasp because our brain is telling us well, that didn’t work, it must be wrong. So we’re affected on a subconscious level. If you do the right thing five times and lose each time because of the luck and variance involved in this game, your brain will tell you not to do it any more because it has learnt that this play results in losing money, which equals pain.

Almost everybody, during their poker career, will question their play and style the moment they start to fail. What is vital is that, every single time something goes wrong, you really question yourself; you have to analyse what just happened and be realistic. Was it really your fault or did you make a good play and get unlucky? Sometimes in poker you need to divorce yourself from the result. Sometimes the result is irrelevant.

Some players torture themselves when they know they did the right thing but got unlucky; it eats them up inside, but you should do the opposite: if you’re sure you made the right play and still lost, you should celebrate that fact. It’s a very, very difficult thing to do, but the fact that bad players can get unlucky is precisely what keeps the game rolling along. It’s what makes the game profitable in the long run. You have to focus on this and ignore everything else, and in order to keep that focus you need to keep your mind in good shape and the best way to do that, in my opinion, is to keep your body in good shape.

For the beginning player, who has nothing to relate to – his judgement can be severely tainted by the variance in the game. Maybe he made a good play five times in a row and lost five times. This can skew the learning process and that’s why it’s so important for beginning players to not only play as much as possible, but also to study statistics and strategy books. If he makes that play five times and loses but reads 15 times that it’s a good thing to do, and therefore perseveres, then things will start going right.

My final pearl of wisdom is to simply get lucky. The luck factor in tournament poker is huge. In a room full of people who are all playing good poker, it usually comes down to a few key hands. You have to win your coin flips. Maybe a good player has a 10% chance of going deep in any big tournament. Imagine a ten-sided die – throw that die ten times, you may not hit the number ten at all, but then again you may hit it five times out of ten. You need to focus on playing optimum poker. Give yourself the opportunity to get lucky. You might go ten tournaments or more without cashing, but don’t be influenced by the losing streak, because when the luck kicks in you have to be ready for it.

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