Luck in Poker is Nothing More Than a Distraction

By Robbie Strazynski
April 09, 2012

Do you remember your last poker session where everything went wrong? That night where your big pairs got broken over and over and your opponents hit every draw… The hours of frustration as your chip stack got lower and lower and your tilt got stronger and stronger… Every poker player at one time or another has experienced a session where nothing seems to go right. Sometimes these sessions can have drastic effects on certain players and may even result in a winning player quitting the game altogether.

Yesterday I had such a session but, other than a few curses under my breath (even the most experienced players get a bit tilted) I wasn’t fazed. I hope that after reading this post you, too, will look at luck in poker in a new light.

My Winning Numbers

The reason I didn’t let this horrendous session affect me is because I believe in two fundamental aspects in regard to my poker play. The first is that I am a winning player in the games I play and have a sufficient sample size to prove this statistically (see graph at the right). The second is that every now and then my results on the virtual felt will deviate from the expected in a negative direction. Sometimes this deviation can be extreme. Once a poker player can accept this reality, dealing with downward swings and tilt becomes much easier.

I play primarily online at PokerStars, where I play hundreds of MTSNGs (Multi-table sit & goes) a month. In order to help me during my sets I use a tracking software called Holdem Manager. The software tracks every hand and provides me with detailed reports on my play from a purely statistical standpoint. Having access to this information allows the serious player to identify if he or she is experiencing a run-bad induced downswing or simply playing purely.
The information below is an in depth statistical analysis of my session yesterday. You can clearly see the multiple deviations from the statistical norm and how this compounded affect resulted in me losing money in the set.

Statistical Table

The numbers above clearly show that when I was all-in pre-flop, a common situation in shallow-stacked tournament poker, I ran almost 200% below expectation. The flopped set % was also very low which made it tougher to double up early on, thus resulting in fewer deep runs. If you now compare the actual results shown above and the graph below, you will see how little impact this set had on my bottom line. If I let the horrendous run bad I experienced in this set affect my thoughts or emotions towards poker, it could result in me putting in less volume, making negative adjustments to my winning strategy or even quitting the game altogether.

It is important to remember not to get too fixated on the statistics, especially if your sample size is small, as this in itself can cripple a player as they sit all day looking at numbers and not putting in volume. I recommend spending more time on the stats if you are a newcomer to the game who is trying to improve so that they can identify their strengths, weaknesses and if they are just running bad or actual profitable poker players.

I hope this post shared some new insights into how to approach the game we all love by breaking it down into a game governed by mathematical and statistical laws and accepting the fact that any one session is irrelevant in the grand scheme of things in comparison to the end result.  If you have any questions or comments then please leave them in the comments section below or contact me directly via twitter.

This is a guest post by Justin Butlion, an entrepreneur, poker player and web developer. He blogs at The Great Grind and can be found playing on PokerStars under the nickname hawkeye77787.



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Written By.

Robbie Strazynski

Robbie founded in 2009. A veteran member of the poker media corps, in addition to writing and video presenting, Robbie has hosted multiple poker podcasts over the years, including Top Pair, the Red Chip Poker Podcast, The Orbit, and the CardsChat Podcast. In 2019, Robbie translated the autobiography of Poker Hall of Famer Eli […]


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