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Variance is a fact of life at the poker tables. According to Wiesenberg’s “Official Dictionary of Poker,” variance is “the swings in a positive or negative direction of cash flow” – the ups and downs of poker.

Much like “luck,” you have no control over variance; although, sometimes you can influence both by making wise decisions. For example, consider the player who makes top two-pair on the flop. He bets, forcing out an opponent holding a small pair.

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Lo and behold, the turn produces the card that would have given his opponent a set. Had he not forced out the opponent on the flop, he would have suffered “bad luck.” In that sense, our hero influenced luck, which, in turn, affected his variance.

Often though, luck and variance are just random chance. But there are ways you can influence the results in your favor.

Playing in a limit hold’em game at the Hustler Casino, I was well ahead before the first hour of play was over. I thought was going to be one of those nights when I go home a big winner. But then variance came into play and the poker gods began to frown on me.

Even my bluffs were being called. (I still won three out of five bluffs during the six-hour session.) Getting rivered by a two-outer didn’t exactly improve my morale. I considered changing tables; but it was a good game: loose with very little raising preflop, and lots of PokerPigeons (they came to play). Could I ask for anything more?

Slowly I lost back all my winnings, and then my original buy-in. Time for a break! After dinner, I bought a second buy-in, hoping to recover my losses and earn a small profit. And that’s when a remarkable hand came my way.

In the cut-off position, I was dealt 8 clubs, 9 clubs. With five opponents limping to see the flop, I joined the foray and called the blind. No raises. The flop came down. I could hardly believe my eyes. Staring up at me from the board were the most perfect cards I could ever hope for to go with my holecards: 5-6-7 rainbow.

I had flopped the nut straight! At that point, I “just knew” this pot was destined to be mine. In that case, the optimum strategy has to be to slow-play. Keep your opponents in the pot so they can contribute to building it.

An early-position player made the bet on the flop. I just called, along with several others. The pot was growing very nicely, thank you.

The turn was the 10 of diamonds. That simply added to my nut straight.

Again, the early-position started the betting round – with the bets double what they had been during the first two rounds of betting. After two calls, I decided it was time for me to raise. But then the Button reraised. Surprise! What could he hold?

My nut straight was still the best hand. He could have two-pair, even a set; maybe a smaller straight than mine; possibly a draw to a straight or flush. I was certain I held the best possible hand at that point

After several others called the double-raise, I raised again. The button and two others called. What a pot! It was easily the biggest since I had sat down at that table several hours earlier.

The river was a blank. They all checked to me. My bet was called only by the Button. After I showed my nut straight, the Button turned up his holecards; he had caught a set of fives on the flop.

I was lucky that the board never paired up; then his full-house would have slaughtered my big straight. In this case, I had no influence on my luck.

By slow-playing, I had helped to build the pot. Winning that monster pot, variance – abetted by good luck – had put me well ahead for the evening. Shortly after, I packed up my chips and cashed out a significant winner for the session.

“The Engineer,” a noted author and teacher in Greater Los Angeles, is a member of the Seniors Poker Hall of Fame. Contact George at [email protected].

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About the Author

George Epstein

A retired engineer, George Epstein is the author of “The Greatest Book of Poker for Winners!” and “Hold’em or Fold’em? – An Algorithm for Making the Key Decision.” He teaches poker courses and conducts a unique Poker Lab at the Claude Pepper Senior Center under the auspices of the City of Los Angeles Dept. of Recreation and Parks and at West Los Angeles College.

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