On the Wrong Side of Variance
May 11, 2009

ˈver-ē-ən(t)s (noun) The fact, quality, or state of being variable or variant.

Weve all heard this term before. Some consider it as the ups and downs of poker. Others think of it as Lady Luck leaving your side. Weve all experienced variance those times when were an overwhelming favorite to win a particular hand and were dealt that bad beat. Thats variance.

Over the long run we know that variance will work itself out. While we may not prevail in a specific hand when were the 80% favorite, we will win 80% of those hands over time. Poker is about making the correct decisions on each hand. Getting the best of it when our money goes into the pot is all we can hope for. The outcome is up to the cards, and, while we may be dealt a bad beat in the short term, well drag the lions share of the pots in the long term. Yet, on some days, it seems that were always on the wrong side of variance.

I headed over to my local Florida racino one Sunday only to experience variance at its worst. Lets look at some of the hands during a $1/$2 No Limit Holdem session, along with their odds, to see what I mean. Play is 9 handed with a $100 maximum buy-in.

Im in the big blind and after 4 limpers look down at Ac-Qs. I raise it to $12 and everyone tosses in the additional $10. The flop comes Qd-6h-2s. Nice flop for me, so I lead out for $20 and get one caller who is now all-in. He shows Ah-Qh. A look at the odds shows that well chop the pot all but 4.55% of the time. You already know the outcome of this hand by the title of this article. Yup, running hearts and I lose the pot. Its early in the day, so lets move on to another hand.

Im first to act and have 9c-9s. I dont want to see a flop with this hand, so I raise to $15. (Pre-flop raises in the $12-$15 range are common in this game.) The player on my left calls along with 3 others! Not what I wanted to see happen until I see the flop of As-9d-2c. A set! Now Im hoping someone has an ace in their hand. By the way, the odds of flopping a set is 11.8%. With about $45 in the pot I lead out for $30. The player on my left calls and everyone else mucks. The turn is a harmless 6h. I decide to slow down and check only to have the villain oblige me with a $45 bet. I now push for $100 total and the villain quickly calls me and tables his Ac-Ah. Ouch! Set over set. That happens .06% of the time. When the 9h fails to appear on the river I re-buy for another $100 and push onwards.

This time Im under-the-gun with Qs-Jd. I limp for $2 and several others come along. The flop is Qh-Jh-9h bringing good news with bad. I lead for $15, get raised to $60, and then I re-raise all-in for $125 total to get heads-up with the villain who calls, tabling Ks-Kc. Ok, maybe not the wisest round of betting on the flop as the villain could easily have had the heart flush or hands such as Ah-Qd. Im relieved to see no hearts, not even one! But what was he doing not raising pre-flop with kings? And what was he doing calling my $125 shove? Im a 58.8% favorite on the flop. The turn is a lovely Jc giving me the boat. Sweet! Im now a 95.45% favorite. Ill give you one guess (well, two if you want to guess the suit) as to what the dealer puts out on the river. The river Kd gives the villain a bigger boat a 2-outter. Time to reload again.

Okay, final hand. Several limpers when the button makes it $15 to go. Im in the big blind with 4s-3s and decide to take a flop. Two other players also make the call. The flop brings 2d-3c-4d. I lead out for $15 figuring everyone else has high cards and missed this flop. Its folded to the button who makes it $30. I re-raise to $90 and the button shoves costing me an additional $12. Our villain tables Ah-As for the over pair. Dj vu! Another slow play. Same percentages as the last hand. Im in good shape. The dealer gives us a 4h on the turn. Better shape! Wow, this is starting to feel uncomfortably familiar. Okay, now Ill only give you one guess as to what the river card is. No, its not the Ad. Half of you guessed wrong. If you guessed the Ac then you are correct. Congratulations. Another 95.45% favorite bites the dust. With that Im done for the day.

Time to take that long drive home knowing that, while I may have made the correct decisions and played well, I ended up on the wrong side of variance.