Learn, what variance and downswing in poker is, how to avoid variance, and, how to calculate expected variance.

What is variance and downswing in poker?

You are about to start a poker challenge or move up in stakes. You have proved your skills up till now. You are confident in your game. But little do you know, that your worst nightmare is about to unfold: A downswing of what seems to be never ending suck-outs and bad beats, that will tear your confidence apart, throw your mental game to the corner and drain your hard earned bankroll.

This graph in PokerTracker shows a 1.592 USD in all-in adjusted variance from expected and a 1.364 USD card distribution downswing at PokerStars NL100 fullring cashgame. A total downswing of 2.956 USD over 31.491 hands.

A downswing is one part variance and one part card distribution. Each can be bad. The variance is measured by your poker tracker as the difference from the expected result from the point, where you were all-in. The card distribution can be measured by some poker trackers as the difference from expected times, you should hit your made hands. There is not much you can do to affect these parts. They are both a result of the shuffled cards.

How to avoid variance and downswings in poker.

If you want to avoid variance and downswings in poker, there are some elements of poker, you can look into. In general, the better a player, you can become, the higher a win rate, you will have, which will keep you more clear of the effects of bad variance and downswings.

You can, first of all, specialize in a format, that has the least variance. Such a format would be fullring games, 7max to 10max, which are very common at casinos and online poker.

You can define a stop-loss limit, that, when reached, makes you leave the tables and stop your session. You might even want to end your challenge or your shot at a higher stake and only return, when you have restored the loss at the lower stake. The stop-loss limit should match the size of loss, that you know, affect your mental game and further play badly with severe loss to follow. This is known as tilt. A stop-loss limit is typically 1 buy-in for casual players and 2 buy-ins for professional players.

You can play games, that are less aggressive, which can give you more control in the hands. These games are often the lower stakes, that attracts casual and passive players.

You can develop your hand reading skills. This can give you better control in hands and higher win rate.

You can develop a better understanding of how well certain ranges hits flops. This can develop your value betting skills, make you better at finding strong folds and give you a higher win rate.

You can study fold equity and develop a profitable bluff framework for every street. This can make you able to play more hands, deny opponents their equity and give you a higher win rate.

You can analyze samples from your hand history database by running filters and develop lines for specific hand groups and actions, that are proven profitable. This can give you a higher win rate and higher confidence during play.

You can collect all your poker skills and construct a proven solid game plan, that can give you a significant advantage over your opponents and a higher win rate. You can use this plan to restart your challenge or use it at your next shot at moving up in stakes.

However, it is unlikely, if not impossible, that you will completely avoid the effects of bad variance and downswings at some points in your poker career. It is my experience, that bad variance and downswings of 15 buy-ins does appear every 700.000 hands.

You should, for that reason, follow a bankroll management plan, that can take some bad beats without affecting your mental game and your economics. Read more about bankroll management in Bankroll management plan for online cashgame poker.

Calculate expected poker variance.

You can learn more about how your win rate has an effect on your results and risk of ruin at Primedope Poker Variance Calculator. You will need the standard deviation, which can be obtained from your poker tracker.

This simulation of variance shows, that even though this player has a good win rate of 4 bb/100, there is a significant risk of experiencing bad variance with a magnitude of 30 buy-ins over 25.000 hands.

More about variance.

I recommend reading Bankroll management plan for online cashgame poker and How to build a profitable game plan for cashgame poker.