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Old Feb 17, 2007, 5:04am   #1
Notjitsu
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Default Variance

What exactly do people think it is? I ask this because it seems like its become the new buzzword/crutch for losing. People blaming variance for losing, regardless of whether or not it is even expected. And the session lengths are ridiculous! Its like if you flip a coin one time, variance would be the explanation why the result wasn't half heads and half tails.

Here's what my take was on it...and maybe I'm wrong.

We all have our expected earn in a game. (this includes when we are losing...I see a lot of "I make 5bb/100, except when I run bad" type remarks. Expected earn is the reality, not the rosy picture people like to paint for themselves when they "start keeping track when they are doing well until they stop doing well, and decide to stop keeping track.***") Anyhoo, variance is the expected variation from that earn over a significant period of time. Obviously, the shorter the time, the higher variance. But I wouldn't even consider talking variance under 20+ table hours, because anything less than that is like flipping the coin once.

And variance isn't about winning and losing, its about the seperation from the expect earn. So going from +8bb to +2bb in consecutive months is high variance. Going from +1 to -2 is much less.

And I say that because of this mindboggling statement I see from time to time. The idea people give up EV to cut down variance. THATS RETARDED!!!! If you can win 6bb, but give up 2 of it to have more consistent results, you already just took a hit to your Earn, except its a real hit instead of the unimportant one. So if you went from +3 to say +1, now you are only 2bb away from being a loser instead of 4bb.

Which brings me again to the session sizes. You can't be worrying about the day to day. Or if you only play 5 hours a week, you can't worry about two months to two months. You need to break up your poker segments into meaningful subsections. If you play 3 hours this week, and 7 hours the week after and continue like that...don't look at it as week to week, look it at as 20 hours of play to 20 hours of play.

And finally...Its not variance that makes you lose. Its that your expected earn is near or below 0. Deal with it. If you are losing frequently, its because you are floating near breakeven. People who are better than you don't dip below the breakeven mark nearly as often. And its not because they are anti-variance, its because they are working from a much higher expected earn.

****Ever notice that everyone always present their excellent stats with a less than significant sample size? I'm up 8bb/100 over my last 4000 hands!!! Thats perfectly fine...they are off to a good start. But wait....they've been playing for years, why the heehaw and hoohaw are they off to a 'start' now? There should be millions of hands in, but its always the same. I'm crushing the game for X/BB but its only been a few hands. And it will always be a few hands, because once they come crashing down, they will have to have to wait for another good streak to start a new crushing the game streak.


So much of this game is just about understanding what is going on. And it is frustrating to see people trying to trick themselves. Its hard enough trying to figure it out without purposely trying to confuse the issue for yourself.

I've rambled. I've been meaning to bitch about this for a while. And now I'm done. Down with variance!
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Old Feb 17, 2007, 8:06am   #2
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"In probability theory and statistics, the variance of a random variable (or somewhat more precisely, of a probability distribution) is a measure of its statistical dispersion, indicating how its possible values are spread around the expected value. Where the expected value shows the location of the distribution, the variance indicates the scale of the values. A more understandable measure is the square root of the variance, called the standard deviation. As its name implies it gives in a standard form an indication of the possible deviations from the mean."

(Source: Wikipedia)

I agree that it is an overused term, mainly seen in unjustified whines (i.e. "I'm down 6 buy-ins today, variance is a bitch!" "No it isn't, you suck.")
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Old Feb 17, 2007, 2:42pm   #3
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Originally Posted by Notjitsu View Post
Here's what my take was on it...and maybe I'm wrong.

Great post.

This is something I need to know and understand. I only have played about 50 hrs or so, not much to say about my game. I'm up in my game of choice, but still have no idea were i stand.

The part i like best is about cheating yourself. It's so easy to give yourself that little edge in your stats. In CYB, those green numbers look so nice.
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Old Feb 17, 2007, 3:08pm   #4
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I like variance. The existence of luck is what seperates poker from chess. It's the very reason that losing players continue to play this game. How much dead money floats around in the chess gambling scene? If there were any, it would quickly get owned and would run away immediately. Because of luck, the game of poker will always have a source of bad players. Everytime a bad player gets really lucky, that's money in your pocket. He will come back time and time again, repeatedly going broke trying the same moves that he lucked out with before.

With that being said, it's important to take responsibility for your own results. Using variance as an excuse for any type of long term losin streak is a weak attempt at passing the blame. That's not saying that you can't run bad for an extended amount of time. But during those bad runs, only part of the reason is variance. The other, and more prominent reason, is tilting.
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Old Feb 17, 2007, 10:23pm   #5
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Looked at my stats ... read your post ... looked at my stats again = I suck big time
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Old Feb 18, 2007, 3:41am   #6
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Originally Posted by Notjitsu View Post
And I say that because of this mindboggling statement I see from time to time. The idea people give up EV to cut down variance. THATS RETARDED!!!!
Technically, any time you cut down your EV you increase variance by definition - so you're damned right that's a retarded statement.

What they're really doing is protecting themselves from a big loss at the cost of a bigger win - that's not variance, that's a swing from one hand to another.




I can't even begin to tell you what I think about variance (aside from the fact that I'm its permanent b*tch apparently). But I'm going to try anyway.

Simply put, the basis of 'long run expectation' is millions and millions of trials which are meant to simulate the theoretical longrun; but (1) that's technically no guarantee they will, and (2) even if they do, what good is that to me? I don't have several million poker careers - forget thinking that you need millions of hands, unless you're playing most of the hands for the same $ you really shouldn't be using a long-run probabililty model for individual hands.

For instance, wtf does it mean to talk about long-run EV for someone who wins/loses a major tournament in a coinflip situation (or, a pot the size of which is unheard of in cash games of that level usually - like the million dollar pot won by Jennifer Harmon for example). Just parroting the demagogues and saying "well, (s)he'll win just as many of those hands as he loses in the long run" says nothing to his variance where it counts - what he really needs is a million repetitions of that one hand (or an equivalent) where (s)he wins/loses all that money over and over again, or better yet, millions of simulations of his/her career including that massive event.

What the hell, then, does this model even say about one's life in gambling? I should logically conclude it's essentially meaningless if you have even one big variation (a massive swing for a tournament or a massive swing for a hot/cold run in a cash game) to speak of a long-run which can, at the very best, account for distribution of figures around the 'propensity'.

But I don't act like that in my daily life - if you asked me to estimate what player X's chances are of winning the hand, I'm going to say what they would be according to a theoretical long-run model based, just like the calculator on this site. And I would think that anyone who didn't was just being illogical.

So I'm stuck being illogical either way.

Here's one example I'm going to borrow from a book I read (by Ian Hacking). A murderer holds a gun to your head and tells you that you have two choices: either he shoots you (to death) if you draw the ace of spades fro this well-shuffled, regulation deck of cards, or he shoots you (to death) if you *don't* pull the ace of spades.

Which choice do you take? Obviously, I'm going to choose living if I pull any of the other 51 cards, not living only if I pull the ace of spades. Funny thing is, if you choose the right rules, but draw wrong, you have no recourse - were you owed life? Did you deserve it somehow? On what basis can you make that claim? It's no more reasonable to say I deserve to live than I deserve to die, because (as far as I'm concerned) you shouldn't put any ethical value on the outcome of a random event, even if you "were right" to make one choice over another.

The way I see it, every time I've been at the deck for the past few months straight I've had my brains splattered on the far wall - not the first time either. Have to wonder how I have any brains left at all (I'm sure most people figure at this point that I don't ). And, of course, most people will, if the model holds true, occasionally go through times where they get shot in the head far more often than they "should".

But fewer and fewer s"hould" keep losing as the streak of losses increases. That sounds all well and good, and it is for the people on the good side of that 'fewer', but if you're on the outside, it's of no consolation is it?

And the best part of this example is that, if we follow it's true intentions, we only get one chance, and there is no long-run. What consolation is it, then, for the "unlucky" people who make the right choice and still die - are they any more deserving of death than the people who lived? The way most poker players talk, even if it's not clear to them, implies that indeed, the ones who lost the game deserved it. Why? They had only one 'career', same as the rest of us.

Oh well, I'm probably just crazy and I'm to blame for drawing the ace of spades time and time again - just like I was "due for it" when my opponent made quads on the river against me when I'm all-in with the higher set. Determinism is a poor enough doctrine when applied to history - God give me the strength to deal with people who use it in relation to probability.
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Oh, and obviously, TWLLM, we'd all rather you just ruled with an iron fist of nittiness and made all decisions without consultation, but that goes without saying, right?
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Old Feb 18, 2007, 4:54am   #7
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over the last 4 days i'v dropped 20 buy in's playing 1-1, chopped my bankroll in half and as stupid as this sounds, i dont think i've played that badly. the week before i made 10 buy ins. surely this is variance, just a fast example of it. I've lost 6/7 coinflips and missed a str8 flush draw on the flop 3 times in a row.

It happens.

granted i pan on walking into the sunday million tomorrow and winning but thats a different story.

Playing LAG i think affects it more but in the end varaince is pretty much just luck swings in my opinion
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Old Feb 18, 2007, 5:13am   #8
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over the last 4 days i'v dropped 20 buy in's playing 1-1, chopped my bankroll in half and as stupid as this sounds, i dont think i've played that badly. the week before i made 10 buy ins. surely this is variance, just a fast example of it. I've lost 6/7 coinflips and missed a str8 flush draw on the flop 3 times in a row.
Wow. 20 buyins in 4 days and that's your explaination? J/K.

At least with me there would have been 10 set over set losses and a few one-outers against when all-in, in addition to what you put down, all for good measure.

I don't know if I could lose 20 buyins in 4 days, my stop-loss tends to kick in around 3 buy-ins - its worth it to my sanity.
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Oh, and obviously, TWLLM, we'd all rather you just ruled with an iron fist of nittiness and made all decisions without consultation, but that goes without saying, right?
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Old Feb 18, 2007, 5:54am   #9
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Originally Posted by TWLLM View Post
Wow. 20 buyins in 4 days and that's your explaination? J/K.

At least with me there would have been 10 set over set losses and a few one-outers against when all-in, in addition to what you put down, all for good measure.

I don't know if I could lose 20 buyins in 4 days, my stop-loss tends to kick in around 3 buy-ins - its worth it to my sanity.
I was four tabling day before yesterday and was dealt AA, AKs, 44, JTs at the same time. I open folded the JT on the button simply because I didn't want to play four hands at once. I got all in preflop with the AA and lost to two pair, hit a set with the fours and lost to a straight for my stack, on the AK hand I was reraised preflop, called, hit top pair and flush draw on the flop and check raised, then pushed the turn when I made two pair when a K came up. The other guy had KK and my flush did not come.

I was so deep on these tables I lost over 160bb in about 60 seconds. Over six buy ins.

So I check the JT hand and I would have flopped a str8 if I had played the hand.

Then I sent my chips to a buddy and told him to play them as I would never ever play another hand so help me God (he was busto and too lazy to jump through hoops to redeposit and had been after me to sell him some more chips).

He takes MY chips and enters a tourney and of course, finishes 2nd.

I told him to transfer my chips back. I want another shot.

Poker is sick, and so are we who play it.

Variance, btw, in poker is probably less severe than variance in life if you think about it.
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Old Feb 18, 2007, 6:20am   #10
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That sucks Jimmy.

I'm sure we all know the feeling of losing 160 BBs in a quick time frame - I think I've lost that much in a hand before (if you meant big bets, for big blinds obviously I've lost more than that before - routine), and certainly between 2 tables at once.

PS - where's the flame about my post?! Either you're tired of reading my ramblings or you're starting to see what I'm saying... either way I'm surprized.
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Oh, and obviously, TWLLM, we'd all rather you just ruled with an iron fist of nittiness and made all decisions without consultation, but that goes without saying, right?
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