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Natural Swings In Poker Are Bigger Than You Think

Many players new to online poker games see articles on ‘variance’, ‘bankroll management’ and ‘downswings’ and assume that these issues do not really concern them. While improving the way you approach poker hands and situations is important – the natural swings inherent in the game of poker is something every new player should take the time to understand. Once you understand the big role that chance plays in the short-term, you will be better able to focus on the best decisions for profit over the long-run, and your poker bankroll can only benefit!

This article will look at a short run of 100 poker sessions for 2 players, first for cash games and then for 1-table Sit N Go Tournaments. We will show you how the outcome of 1 ‘coin-flip’ and 1 ‘cold-deck’ situation makes a huge difference to the profits of each player, before briefly explaining how bankroll management can be used to manage these swings. We will use realistic but rounded numbers for each example to keep the math as straight forward as possible.

Cash Games:

After 100 sessions of $50 buy-in No-Limit Holdem, our players have earned a steady 5 blinds per 100 hand session… giving each of them an overall profit of $250, this is not high – but remember we are talking about beginners learning the game here! 

Now for one of the players we reverse the outcome of a coin-flip situation, say a flush-draw + over cards vs a pair all-in on the flop. With some dead money in the pot our player originally scooped a pot of $110 here, only in this example the draws missed and that same pot went to the other player.

Add to this a reversal of a KK vs AA situation, first time our player had the aces and won, in this example our player had the Kings and lost – a $50 minus instead of a plus being another $100 off of total winnings.

After reversing just 2 hands from 100 sessions of 100 hands each, one of our players only made $40 over the entire time. These players may be equally skilled, equally disciplined and playing the same kind of opponents – but the outcome of just 2 hands can have an extremely large effect.

Sit N Goes

Here we will reverse the outcome of 1 bubble hand for one player, and then add a ‘cold-deck’ situation on top. For a baseline let us assume 100 Sit N Go Tournaments at $10 buy-in with a 15% ROI giving profit of $150.

In our bubble coin flip (say, Ace-King vs QQ) our player loses instead of wins, getting nothing instead of going on as a huge chip lead to win the $50 first prize. Next we bring in the AA vs KK situation – again reversing the favorable outcome and missing out on that 1st prize. Two simple hands going in a different direction to the originals have wiped $100 of our player’s profits away. Make these wins for a different player – on top of their already recorded profit – and it is plain to see how a new player could perceive a 25% return as ‘easy’.

Variance, Swings And Your Poker Bankroll

Acknowledging that the swings in poker are not only an inherent part of the game, but have a very large effect over the short-term, can be useful for new players learning the game. Firstly, it should be clear that playing with only a small proportion of your bankroll per game can help protect you from big swings of fortune. Bankroll management applies to every player who wishes to be profitable over the long term.

In addition to the money management, the examples above illustrate that making the right decisions will lead to profit over time – regardless of the outcome of individual hands or sessions. When you review your hands the right question to ask is ‘will this make me money over time?’ if the answer is yes then the outcome this time is actually irrelevant.


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