tl;dr = nit it up.I've always scoffed at anyone who wanted to reduce variance in their game. "Wimps," I said. "Sissies," I called them. After all, if you're playing a winning game shouldn't you take any edge no matter how small every time it's offered provided you're properly bankrolled?I couldn't find one good reason to not take a small positive edge (or sometimes at best an estimated small positive edge). If you said you didn't take a certain edge because of bankroll, I'd respond, "Don't play if you're not properly bankrolled and can't handle the risk; show some discipline and play within your means." If you said you'd pass up on a small edge now for a bigger edge later, I'd say, "Later may never come; fish go bust and claim online poker is rigged practically every second of every day." "Get while the gettin's good," I'd say.And honestly, I still feel this way regarding these two reasons that people use in order to justify not taking every edge. But enough experience has finally taught me there is one well-justified reason to pass up on small edges in order to reduce variance and that is this: if doing so will keep you on your A-game longer.
For example:If I just 3-bet a guy and got 4-bet and am thinking of jamming with king high (because he opened from a steal position, has a high 4-bet percentage, and a low call 5-bet percentage) I have to ask myself what my mental state will be like after I win or lose after jamming in this spot, and what my mental state will be like if I just let it go. In my own experience I've found that I'll feel pretty good if I jam and take down the pot, but not as good as an "on top of the world" high. "The amount I won was only about 20-25bb," I'll realize, and continue playing my game. But if I get called and lose 100bb I know my mental state will drop pretty low. "That was stupid," I'll chide myself, "I didn't need to do that." If I jam and win, that means I will have sucked out... and while it feels good to win 100bb, I still feel pretty sheepish and terrible getting my money in bad. Finally, if I just give it up and fold I find that my mental state is pretty close to where it was when it first started and not too far below the high I get from winning 20-25bb. So I lose a 3-bet, no big deal. I can handle it. I move on. And my A-game continues.This is how grinders I know play longer sessions. They forgo variance so they can cruise along on their A-game for extended periods of time.
I'm great at quitting the moment I notice the slightest tinge of tilt. It's something I've practiced by reading Tommy Angelo and others and it's something I'm proud of. But because I've insisted on playing a high variance game and taking every edge I can see, I've had to quit after 10 minutes of 12-tabling. My high variance game has kept me from playing long sessions sometimes because I'll lose a small edge (for some reason the smallest edges are in the biggest pots) and feel my mental state drop and then I'll (rightly) quit playing.But if I consider that I could forgo a small edge and therefore keep my mental state up more often and play longer, I realize that I can make more money
by passing up these small edges in big pots.You can look at 'reducing variance to keep you on your A-game longer' in a bigger picture sense as well: in terms of how you approach your poker career, not just each session.I've gone near half a million hands break-even. Although I've made a tidy profit playing online poker professionally now for 2 years, this is what a winning high variance game looks like: steep ascents up and loooooong break-even stretches. It got so bad that I had to take 2 months off from the game recently. Two months! Two months' salary lost... just to maintain my sanity. I tried to remember the 200 buy-in score I took in one month, but all I kept feeling was the crushing weight of four months of nothing. Combined with the 2 months off I took, I went 6 months as a professional poker player not making a penny in profit.My high-variance game led to long stretches of break-even which eventually led to burn-out.
Wanting to get back in the game lately, I looked at the stats on some other winning professionals. A lot of guys I respected had a 10 to 15 buy-in difference from their best day to their worst day. I had a 30 buy-in difference. Their graphs were slow, steady inclines from lower left to upper right. Mine was steep climb up, plateau for a while, steep climb up, plateau for a while.I've chatted with a few of these guys. We agree on so much, except they would always say, "I'd wait for a better spot," or "You don't need to push such a small edge there." And I could never understand why. It was a hard lesson to learn, but I learned it.If poker can be summed up into two things as Haseeb "INTERNETPOKERS"Qureshi writes
, then by my count...The two things about poker are:
- Your A-game is the eager and willful exploitation of the leaks in your opponent's game once you spot them.
- You should take steps to ensure you are on your A-game as long as possible.