Embracing Luck and Variance

We’ve all been there. You’re approaching the bubble of a tournament. You’ve played well and battled hard. You’re dealt AA in the Big Blind and the super aggro chip leader jams from the Button. You snap it off and the Dollar signs start spinning in your eyes when you see they have J5o. The flop comes a beautiful A74. You start rubbing your hands together with glee. The turn is a 3. A slight twitch flickers in the corner of your eye. The river is a 6. You stand up and flip your desk over like it was nothing more than a Monopoly board at a family Christmas. “Why am I so unlucky!?”

Luck is an inevitable part of poker; there is no avoiding it. So why not learn to understand and embrace luck and the variance that it brings? One of the things that new or amateur poker players underestimate just how long you can be unlucky for. It often happens that players will bemoan their bad luck and declare themselves in a downswing because they haven’t cashed in 10 tournaments, when in fact this is perfectly normal in MTT’s. It’s not even uncommon in STT’s. It’s often said, “well you need to focus on the long game, variance will even out over time” What most people underestimate is just how long the long term can be. Take a generic 500 player MTT, paying 15% of the field and a good winning player with an average ROI of 30%. How many tournaments do you think you would need to play to guarantee making a profit? 10? 20? 50? 100? What if I told you the answer was close to 4,500? That’s right, even with a very strong 30% average ROI, it is possible to still be down after 4,400 tournaments. [Source: primedope.com tournament variance calculator]. Imagine how long it would take you to play 4,500 tournaments. If you played 10 tournaments a week, that would equate to more than 8 ½ years!

The important thing is to not wallow in these losses and focus on the negatives, because this will impact poorly on your game and therefore compound the losses. Focusing on the negatives can create a confirmation bias leading to a downward spiral of performance and results. Think about it; if you review your tournament histories looking for all the times you got unlucky, guess what you’re going to find? Yup, all those lousy bad beats and coolers.

Instead, why not try to focus on the positives and the times you got lucky? Getting lucky can often be more hidden than when you get unlucky. Partly because we tend to attribute good luck to us being skillful and partly because it doesn’t end up with us crashing out of the tournament as it often does when we get unlucky. So, what does getting lucky look like? Winning a flip, or cracking Aces with your Kings? What about all those times you hit the nut flush while your opponent had the K-high flush and you stacked them, or when you had top pair second kicker and the river brought a flushy/straighty card, causing the action to go check/check and saved you from losing another street of value to villains top pair top kicker. What about when you got it all in QQ against AK? Yes, Queens win more often than AK, but it doesn’t win 100% of the time, so when it does hold up, that’s lucky. Dare I say it, when you snap off villains J5o with your Aces and flop a set that’s lucky. And when that river card is a blank and those chips slide over to you as you pat yourself on the back and chuckle about how much of a donk your opponent is, you just got lucky.

Luck is everywhere in poker, all the time. Are you going to embrace it? Or are you going to blame it for your lack of progress?


Luck is the residue of desire.

When unlucky, go back and take a look at the hand again.

For example: #1145301822

My mindset was I made the final table and was content with that at the time.

The player on my right won plenty against me prior.

The trend was in his favor.

Luck was in his favor.

Being aware of a trend and embracing it to a point of folding AA late in a tournament?

Is that even possible here?

Being aware of trends can make you luckier than most at the table.

Also, you may see the bad beat coming from a mile away.


I’ve had my fair share of bad beats, but learning to embrace luck and focus on the long-term has really helped my game. I think it’s all about staying positive and not letting variance get you down

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I have learned to endure variance but I don’t embrace it. I’m probably in the half way of my life but I have been really lucky (excluding poker) maybe only handful of times.

Luck is a hard thing to find. But you know what they say… The best thing about it is that it can always change.

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Well said.

The thing that helped me was realizing that when your aces hold against J5o, you end up winning more chips than you’re entitled to. If you look at it that way, losing with aces isn’t unlucky, it’s just repaying a debt you have accrued from the times you win. This applies to every pot that goes to showdown too - at least some of the money went in without anyone having 100% equity - so there’s always some element of chance involved.

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Building resilience against bad beats is crucial in today’s competitive poker scene for several reasons.

As player skill levels rise due to access to advanced resources, poker games become more competitive and financially pressurizing. The emotional fallout from bad beats becomes more significant since each hand has greater impact on overall performance.

Successful players use bad beats as learning opportunities, examining their play to identify possible improvements or accepting the role of chance, thereby fostering skill advancement.

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when we talk about live poker , it is true . variance is a b***** . you have to deal with it with brm or any other way . but when we talk about online poker , then its a different story . R-ng gives bad beats 24/7 , then its not only poker theory or strategy or brm or variance/bad beats/downswing , its also greatly about R-ng , if it plays with your intelligence and betting aggressiveness or not . when some ‘‘players’’ say that whatever i witness in online poker is the same as in live poker and anything else is a rant , bs or stupid , that insults my intelligence , these guys immediately are inducted in my Black List for sure

I’m afraid I don’t agree. RNG’s have to be totally infallible (at least on regulated sites). Anything other than being completely random with be a breach of service as would open sites up to such a sh*t storm that it just simply wouldn’t be worth it. This infatuation in the poker community has been around almost as long as online poker and yet, despite all the cheating, collusion, super users and bots being detected, banned and money confiscated, there has never been a case of a rigged RNG.

Bots is a totally different matter. Sites have little to no incentive to banning bots as they’re able to play tens of thousands of hands a day, generating rake and profit. The only small incentive the sites have is that if they get overun with bots, the real players will leave because they have no chance of winning any more and the bots will leave because they’re only playing against other bots.

Right, and no-one is saying that live and online poker play the same, only that the cards that are dealt are the same. There are a bunch of reasons people will play differently online, and those compound when you’re talking about play money games. Having way more bad beats online is not surprising, and doesn’t require a rigged RNG.

Terrific Post