Variance and Enigmas

Edward Elgar was one of the greatest English classical composers ever to have lived. At the end of the 19th century we wrote the “Enigma Variations” – fourteen suites of music, each based around the personality of a friend. Although the “variations” are obvious, the “enigma” in the title was a puzzle that Elgar took to the grave.

When playing poker, there is an element of the game known as “variance”. It has nothing to do with playing in different styles of the game – although by using alternating personas you become less predictable and far harder to read. Variance is the acceptance that, at some points you will go on a losing streak and, on others, a winning one. How you handle variance can be the difference between being a winning poker player and a losing one.

How successful you are at playing poker should be gauged in years rather than hours, days and weeks, and if you have been playing poker for years you can probably look back over the period of time that you have been involved in the game and acknowledge that the day you disassociated emotion from your poker playing was when your game started to improve.

Sure, it is a great feeling when a well constructed plan comes together and you scoop and massive pot, and also a real downer when you get beaten by successive hands at showdown that should have never seen flop. We have all witnessed Phil Hellmuth and Mike Matusow lose it at the tables, but players such as these are the enigmas that prove the rule.

The key to controlling variance is to maintain good bankroll management. Whether you are a ring game grinder or a multi table poker tournament multi-tabler, by keeping within your limits and adjusting the level at which you play – according to whether you are going through a good or a bad patch – the variance in the game will not affect your long term profitability.

Bankroll management was once regarded as an advanced or “boring” principal of the game – simply because it did not tell you what you should do with your cards. However, with so many players now getting involved with online poker, the sense of bankroll management is regularly elevated to the “poker basics” area of many web sites.

Correct bankroll management will certainly allow to enjoy the ups and cope with the downs of the game, but the enigma of how to be a permanently winning poker player – remains a puzzle!