Live poker has variance just like any other form of poker.
The thing about live poker variance is that it’s much slower
and prolonged than what you’ll normally encounter in online
play. With online poker, a player can swing up or down 5-10 buy
ins in a single day. These types of swings are very uncommon in
live poker due to the much slower pace of the game. Depending on
the type of game that you play, your skill level, your style of
play, and what limit you play, your live poker variance can mean
small swings on a monthly basis or huge swings on a weekly
Live poker players tend to worry much more about their swings
than they really should, and this is a product of the environment.
When you are playing poker online, you don’t really have
the money in your hands. You don’t feel the losses as much
because everything is virtual. In live poker, however, a buy in
lost means you need to reach into your pocket for another $200,
$500 or $1,000+. These types of losses are very real and
will affect almost any player.
Variance at $1/$2 NLHE Games
In NLHE games you are always going to run into more variance
than what you’ll find in limit games, and for very obvious
The lowest stakes No Limit games will have the lowest
long term swings due to:
The overall skill levels of players
Weak or new to the live poker scene
Non serious players just playing for fun
Don’t expect to run into a whole lot of deep thinking players in these
games. As a result of all of this, you should not have many big
Normal Swing Range for $1/$2 NLHE
Most $1/$2 NLHE players will have normal swings in the range
of 1-3 buy ins. Though 5 buy in swings are definitely going to
happen from time to time, they aren’t all that common. It’s
unlikely that you’ll frequently lose more than this if you are
a sound winning player. If you are going on bigger swings than
this at $1/$2, you may want to re-think your live poker strategy
altogether. In the end, it gets no easier than this limit when
it comes to live poker.
Variance at $2/$5 and $5/$10 NLHE Games
These two limits were lumped together, though they most
definitely could be separated. The reality is that a very small
percentage of the live poker population makes $5/$10 their
regular game for a number of reasons.
There aren’t many casinos with a $5/$10 or higher No Limit Texas Hold’em
Casinos are loaded with $1/$2 tables and the sparse $2/$5 table
Only a couple casinos in these locations will have $5/$10 running at most times of the day
If you play in Atlantic City, Las Vegas, California, or Florida,
you’ll find some exceptions to this rule.
Normal Swing Range for $2/$5 & $5/$10 NLHE
In these games, swings of 1-5 buy ins are the norm. The live
poker variance will always increase as you play higher limit games
and games with tougher levels of opponents. Variance is going to
be diminished from the perspective of buy ins when you are
playing in deeper games. For example, a $1000 max game at $2/$5
will have less buy in variance than a $500 max $2/$5 game. This
is because many players will buy in short and for under the max
which will make it more unlikely that you will be in 2k+ pots.
Dealing with Live Poker Variance
One of the biggest adjustments and learning curves for new
live poker players is being able to adapt to the constant swings
of real money. You’ll likely be thinking about just how long
it is going to take for you to recoup those losses. Because live
poker is slow, you’ll be left with even more time to bemoan
your losses and to contemplate how just one faded flush card
would have turned your night around. In live poker it’s even
more important that you are able to let the losses roll off your
A lot of players will stress out over their losses when
playing live because everything feels so real. Some of the common
reactions to negative variance include frustrated play,
angry/aggressive play, or simply running to casino games to try
and get even. Looking at things in a one session vacuum at a
time is very easy to do in live poker, but it needs to be
The more that you realize that swings are going to
happen and that they are very normal, the more likely that you
are to be unaffected by them. If you play online, make sure to check out
our article covering online poker variance.
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