Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Understand Variance and Conquer It

Some of you may have heard me whining and moaning about a downswing that I recently experienced during the first week of October. After having a red hot September, where I received 7+ hours of formal coaching, I felt I was unstoppable. I had profited more than 120 buy-ins and comfortably moved up from $6+.50 6max SNGs to $12 6max SNGs. Note: For those that don't know me, I have grinded higher stakes in full ring SNGs in the past with good success, but recently fell in love with 6 max SNGs. So I decided to begin my quest and work my way up the ladder. Here is a picture of my graph for September 2010.

So here I am trucking along playing my optimal amount of tables [5], using my preferable tracking software [HEM], reviewing my ICM/bubble spots after each session [SNGWiz] when suddenly I started running pretty cold. It's not that I wasn't seeing good cards or making inexploitable shoves [plays where I stand to win from my opponents regardless of whether they knew what my cards were], but rather I just kept losing. Was I getting it in bad more frequently? No not really. There were obviously times where I got it in bad, but I couldn't consider it a leak; just a cooler or standard stack-off with a strong hand in a scenario where I'm not folding based on my assessment of the villain. So other than losing a lot while getting it good or bad, what could my 25+ buy-in downswing in 4 days be attributed to? Was I pushing small edges? Was I shoving too light? Was I folding too strong? Still nothing that I could come up with other than the fact that my "inexploitable shoves/plays" were costing me lots of money. So for the first time, I was experiencing a period of time where the amount of money you expect to win [EV] and the actual amount won were quite far apart. By definition you can never earn more than you expect to win, since you will get sucked out on from time to time.

However, where SNGs and cash games differ is the chip equity (ICM) model. In a cash game setting, every chip is worth the denomination written on the chip. In a SNG every chip gained is worth less and less and every chip lost is worth more and more based on the simple concept that if you win all of the chips, you do not win all of the money in the prize pool. This holds true until all players have reached the money in which chips are then fixed in value. So if I were to learn that you, as a cash game player, were expected to win $500 and you only won $300 for a given period of time, I could easily say, "Well we both know that you're running bad, but you're getting it in good so keep it up."

It isn't that easy to quantify such statements in a SNG. You see if I lose my buy-in in a 6 max SNG than I'm down 1 buy-in. But had I not lost that buy-in in whatever fashion that I busted out with, the chances of winning 3.5 buy-ins [1st place] or 2.5 buy-ins [2nd place] sky-rocket. So as you can tell this downswing of around 25 buy-ins was terribly misleading. If you were to arbitrarily use my overall in the money % average [40%] and assume that my position finished for all of these assumed lost buy-ins was normalized, meaning I finished first 21% of the time and finished 2nd 19%, than you'd see that my effective downswing was a category 5 at 43 buy-ins. If anyone is interested in seeing my calculations, feel free to let me know in the comments and I'll amend this article to include them.

Here is a picture so you can see the disparity between what I should have won [red line] and what I actually won [green line].

Keep in mind that this doesn't factor in my adjustment to 43 buy-ins, but resembles a pretty gross looking tea-cup regardless. For those of you that are familiar with technical analysis of stock markets you may know that this type of trend [cup and handle] frequently occurs before a stock is ready to take off. Let's hope this is a sign for my results to come. Stakers where are you?

The past 10 days was a period of time that we've all experienced where we say to ourselves "why is this happening to me?" Variance can do some awful things to our confidence and play. It can make you lose value in spots where you would normally bet, it can cause you to give free cards when you would otherwise charge opponents for draws or it may make you so disgusted by your results that you will simply lose that fire that you once had. Variance can cause you to re-evaluate everything that you know to be true and make it seem like everyone else has it all figured out. It can even make you begin to question the professional advice that you've heavily invested time and money in. During this reverse wind fall, I realized that several things were happening to me:

1) I was winning less than expected with +ev hands [hands with showdown value and correct reads]
2) I was winning less than expected with +ev plays [proper exploitation of the bubble and stack sizes]
3) I was losing motivation to play

1) & 2) above will gravitate back to the mean and in the end I will earn the positive equity which comes from each. It will just require a lot of trials and tribulations that the mind will have to endure prior to doing so. 3) on the other hand will not. That is the only element that I have control over and I [we] must be able to take emotion out of the equation and not attempt to escape variance. It took me about 100 SNGs and nearly 8 hours of play to reverse the damage that my bankroll endured during the the week leading up to 10/10/10. However, having been through such an experience I think that I'm better prepared to handle the inevitable "next time". After all am I going to quit just because I went on bad downswing? Never.


  1. Sucks, sorry to hear it.

    Did the downswing come around the time when you moved up in stakes or had you already been playing for a while at those stakes.

    For some reason whenever I move up in stakes I hit a downswing.

    I'm not sure if it's mental or because I need time to adjust to the new regs.

    Might just be you were running very hot last month and this is just the other side balancing it out.

    What helps me gain my composure is to zoom the graph out to see how small the downswing is in relation to the total graph.

  2. It's a fine thing watching serious, in depth poker analysis at work. Good stuff!

  3. @ MR - The downswing didn't come when I initally moved up stakes. I know exactly how that can go [similar to the cashout doomswitch], which is why I will not move up stakes in SNGs until I have a 100 buy-in bankroll at the current stake. To your point I was running hot in September and I agree that a downswing or break-even stretch was in store for me. I think you're absolutely right, that whenever you're running bad or have lost enough money to affect you mentally, you need to put it all in to perspective and not let it discount your long-term successes or discourage your future goals.

    @HoP - Thanks for your encouragement!

  4. Thanks, I needed this read. I might put this up there w/ the admiral's guide to SnG's.


Blog Archive