Variance in Poker Tournaments


What differentiates poker from all other games is variance. It’s a game of luck and skill wherein the long-run best players will win, but short-term winning players will lose regularly to less talented players. If you think of any other strategy game, you’ll find out fast which player is a better one. In poker and especially in heads-up hyper-turbos, you can easily have over 100 tournaments of negative variance.

Variance in Heads Up Hyper Turbo Poker Tournaments

poker tournament's variance of one single day

As an example, above is a result graph from the last month when I played 121 heads up hyper turbo sit and go tournaments in one day. I played 1363 hands and I lost -$5500 (t-chips). I lost 11 buy-ins (150 Big Blinds) when my expected value (EV) was to win +6500$. In other words, I run -$12000 (24 buy-ins) under EV. For an inexperienced player, this would be devastating but for a heads-up hyper-turbo regular it is not uncommon.

Variance simulation

I run my session in a simulation with my average win-rate (13BB/100) and standard deviation (27BB/100). The simulation shows that my session was actually close to the lowest EV line and it represents the cruelty and reality of the variance of heads up hyper turbos. I was expected to win 175 big blinds (12 buy-ins) if we don’t take into account the standard deviation.

variance in poker tournaments
poker tournament variance in numbers

What should we learn about variance in poker

What should we learn from these graphs? The first point is bankroll management. You need +100 buy-ins to withstand the variance of heads-up hyper-turbo tournaments. The second point is tilt control. In fact, as you can see from my graph – even though I’m having negative variance and losing every single flip, my EV-graph still raises steadily. This would not have been the case a couple of years ago.

There are two reasons why I began to endure negative variance and bad beats. First is the number of hands I played. When you play enough and see all kinds of unfair bad beats, you get used to it and you don’t take it so personally anymore. But an even more important reason for my tilt control has been Jared Tendler’s book The Mental Game of Poker. I can’t recommend this book enough. It had a massive effect on my kind of aggressive player’s mindset and win rate.

Do you want to see the worst bad beat of my life! -> check out the Instagram post!

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