Low Variance Games – Are They Required?

In a strategy video for Full Tilt Poker posted recently, poker pro Phil Gordon argues that mixing in some low variance games is crucial for your bankroll growth and development as a player. Is this sound advice?

High and Low Variance Games

First, I’ll recap a little bit of what we mean when we use these terms. A game is high or low variance based on the size of the swings your bankroll is likely to encounter over the course of regular play. His prime examples for high variance are No Limit Holdem and Pot Limit Omaha. We all know that No Limit Holdem can be a cruel mistress, as taking a couple of bad beats can set you back several buy-ins. Serious Pot Limit Omaha players don’t bat an eye when they lose 5-6 buy-ins in one session as a result of unkind cards.

On the other hand, low variance games include Limit Holdem and Omaha Hi-Lo. You can’t ever lose your whole stack in one hand with these limit games, and you will experience much smaller swings overall.

Low Variance – Necessary Starting Point?

Gordon says that you must start with these lower variance games because they will let you to watch your bankroll slowly creep up while you continue to develop your poker skills. Players shouldn’t jump into No Limit Holdem cash games or tournaments without first playing low variance games and building up both their cash roll and experience.

The Verdict – Not Always Required

While this advice about developing your skills without putting your whole roll is great, it’s not the always case that you must play limit games before you can tackle No Limit. Here at Bankroll Management.org we advocate a disciplined approach. As you can read in our poker bankroll management articles, you should never play a No Limit game without having 20 buy-ins for that level. This means that you wouldn’t play 25 NL with less than $500. As long as you have the discipline to avoid tilting and move down if you lose a few buy-ins, then there isn’t anything wrong with playing No Limit right off the bat.

Some players play poker because they love the psychological element of No Limit that they see on TV, as well as the ability to bet their whole stack at any time and protect good hands with big raises. Pot Limit Omaha is also one of the most exciting and dramatic forms of poker. This just isn’t the same in Limit games, which are more about pushing smaller edges over and over again. Many players aren’t cut out for this more mechanical style, and making them play Limit Holdem and Limit Omaha Hi Lo can actually make them restless and bored, leading to less than optimal play.

All in all, if you are a learning player who wants to become an overall masterful poker player, then starting out with low variance games is definitely the way to go. If, however, you are only interested in No Limit and Pot Limit, go right ahead as long as you follow our bankroll rules and don’t let your emotions get the better of you if luck doesn’t go your way.

Speak Your Mind