About the luck factor in poker

Oct 6, 2009 5:07 PM
by George “The Engineer” Epstein |

Sometimes the poker gods smile on you – and you are ahead. Your stack of chips grow higher. You smile inwardly and feel a warm glow. Victory is sweet!

But, before long, the poker gods decide, "That’s enough." An opponent gets the nod over you; she rivers you over and over. You moan as your stack of chips shrink.

Next hand, you have an enormous 15 outs on the turn, but the river completely misses you. Close, but no chips!

Then you are dealt pocket aces. That’s a great starting hand – a favorite over each of your opponents. Again it happens: A persistent opponent, who called all the way with a small pair on the flop, makes two-pair on the river. You are second-best. That’s costly. You’re no longer ahead; you are losing!

This is what we mean by "variance."

Mathematically, variance is a measure of the distribution or swings in a parameter of interest. Translation: It is a statistical measure of the volatility or dispersion about an average value.

We need not be concerned with the calculations involved. Suffice it to recognize that these swings in the size of our chip stacks are inherent in any system where chance – or luck – is a factor.

As I tell my poker students at the Claude Pepper Sr. Center and West L.A. College, with skill we can influence luck but we can never control it. These swings are inevitable in the game of poker.

What Can You Do About it?

A fair question … first of all, accept the reality that ups and downs in your fortune at the poker table are inevitable. Variance is a fact of life!

Now realize that by building the size of your winning pots, you can gain better leverage over the periods when luck turns against you – as will happen to everyone who plays poker. With greater winnings, you have more opportunity to play your "A Game" without going on tilt – until luck turns back (hopefully sooner than later) to reward you, as inevitably it will if you can afford to last it out.

Money Management

Here’s another way to deal with variance. In my first poker book, The Greatest Book of Poker for Winners (see special offer elsewhere in SlotsToday), we introduce the concept of Money Management to make certain that you go home a winner once you are ahead.

Two methods are described – one that I use and one that my co-author Dr. Dan Abrams prefers. Basically both are similar: The idea is to set aside a portion of your winnings – your "playing money" for the rest of this session.

Now you can continue to play until you lose these particular chips. The remaining chips – those with which you started plus the rest of your winnings – that’s your "money in the bank," not to be touched unless absolutely necessary.

As you play, losing and winning, replenish your "playing money" and stack the rest of that pot into your "money in the bank." Eventually, when you lose all the chips in your "playing money" stacks, it’s time to leave. Go home a WINNER!

Caution: It takes self-control to get up and leave the game when you lose your "play money." Are you up to it?

Comments? Contact George "The Engineer" at [email protected].

You can try out your strategy by playing our free live online poker.