Poker and luck, a tricky marriage

As an experienced poker player, you’ve delivered or received plenty of bad beats. You’ve probably also won multiple coin flips in a row, or seen your AQ win over AK. Luck is everywhere in poker.

While it’s quite possible for an experienced player to win in the long run, it’s important to start thinking about how you can increase your luck in the short run. In this article, we’ll discuss some examples of poker luck, how variance plays a big role in the game, and ways to get Lady Fortune on your side.

How to get luck on your side at poker

Renowned poker pro Phil Hellmuth once said, “If luck wasn’t involved, I’d always win.” With fourteen WSOP bracelets in his pocket, he can well defend this statement. But there have also been plenty of poker tournaments in which he lost, due to luck of course.

The odds in poker are one of the reasons why people keep playing. If a bad poker player simply cannot win hands, then in no time at all that person will throw in the towel, and decide never to play poker again. But how can you get so lucky that you can beat even experienced players like Phil Hellmuth Jr.

You encounter poker luck in the following situations:

  • Getting a 4-outer on the river to complete your hand.
  • Getting a runner-runner street to then win the hand.
  • Winning multiple coin flips in a tournament to make a deep run.
  • Flopping a flush with small suited connectors like 7 and 8.

The biggest aspect of getting lucky in poker depends on getting a number of good hands in a row. Sometimes being lucky is sometimes better than being the most skilled player at the table. But we are even more ways you can get lucky at poker than just getting cards.

It is possible that you will be put into a tournament at an easy poker table. Playing against less experienced players helps build a stack in the beginning of a poker tournament so that you can eventually make a deep run.

Sometimes it’s the cards the opponents get that make the difference. For example, you flop a set, while your opponent manages to flop two pair. In this case, the opponent is in a bad situation, but pays you off completely with his two pair on the flop.

Getting the maximum value out of this type of situation is extremely important. Opponents pay more if they have a reasonable hand. So the whole situation depends on what cards you have yourself and what cards the opponents have been dealt, not to mention the game play (fourth and fifth cards), the turn and river mentioned.

Looking at all these situations, luck can play a big role in losing or winning a lot of money in the short term. Thanks to luck, inexperienced poker players can win a lot of money after a short run, while experienced players can lose huge amounts. Eventually, they do straighten out that loss in the long run.

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Poker luck – variance

The thing about luck in poker is that you don’t know when it’s going to be for you or against you. There will be a day when you win every hand where the odds were close. There will be many days when you manage to win a tournament through good luck after having very few chips left. Other times you feel bad again because of the fact that you lose every hand, even your pocket aces.

However, the truth is that there is no force that helps or works against you in these situations. Instead, it has to do with variance, the difference of the statistical results that deviate from how a game should average out. In poker, variance determines how far the short-term results deviate from the average odds.

Here you have an example of a hand:

You have QJ-suited from hearts and a flop comes with 38A, of which the 3 and the 8 are hearts. The odds of getting a flush on the fourth card, are currently 19.60%. This means that you win roughly 1 out of 5 hands. If you win 3 out of 5, then variance is working in your favor. If you lose 10 times in a row, then variance is working massively against you.

Understanding variance alone can make you a better poker player. This will ensure that you don’t just think that everything is about what cards are dealt. It will also encourage you to learn more about the odds in poker, and how to use them to your own advantage.

There’s nothing to be done about short term variance

The most important thing you need to know about luck in poker is that there is nothing you can do about the results, aside from playing your hands well and assessing your opponents correctly. Unfortunately, running luck (sometimes) negatively impacts the short term.

Here you have an example of a hand:

You have a set, and the opponent almost has a street on the turn, and can make a street from 1 side. They see two of their own cards and four cards on the table. This means they have no idea where the other 46 cards are. Only four cards completes their hand. The probability of winning for the opponent is 8.7%. They hit the street after all and overcome the short term luck.

The hand above is a good example of a bad beat. They are situations where you consider quitting poker. They are moments where you ask yourself why you are always unlucky. The important thing to know is that in a similar situation, you would win 91 times out of 100.

The same as with blackjack, making the right decisions is the key in the difference between winning or losing. A successful poker player knows that the odds were with him in the event that he loses with a set against a street on the river. Eventually this straightens itself out if you keep making the right choices.

How do you make sure that luck (variance) works in your favor?

As you can see, even in cases where you are way ahead, as in the above example, you can still lose. But the key to success is to take steps to improve your chances of winning, and ultimately your luck as well. There are a number of ways how you can increase your chances of doing so.

Finding soft poker games

When you start playing against poker players of a similar level, it’s purely about luck who wins the session. It gets worse if you keep playing against a better player, because then you need luck on your side to win.

Chances are that there are better and worse players at your table. But the goal is to find tables where you are consistently better than the majority of players. By playing in soft games, it increases the odds because of the advantage you have over the opponents.

And when you keep playing in hands where you have better odds, you see that the short term luck also improves. More importantly, you improve the long-term odds of winning money at poker.

But how do you find these cash games & tournaments?

It is easier said than done to find cash game tables or poker tournaments where you are better than the rest at the table. When poker was in its infancy, you could get ahead pretty quickly. Today is different, players are more experienced due to the speed of play that online poker has made possible.

But you can still make use of some tips from us:

  • See if the online poker sites have tables for beginners.
  • Look for poker sites that prohibit the use of external software.
  • Play at smaller poker sites and/or networks because there are fewer professionals.
  • Play poker with friends who are also inexperienced (learn the game first).

Improve your poker skills

If you stop improving your skills at poker, you will have to depend on luck most of the times. This is why it is crucial to spend some time improving your poker game.

Having more skills helps you win more money, especially if luck is on your side. It also keeps you from blowing up your entire bankroll during a session when it seems you can’t win a single pot.

Of course, sometimes it seems like poker is entirely about luck. Below, we’ve outlined some situations where you can influence the odds at poker, and not have to cling to luck.

  • Obtain maximum value from hands when you have the best hand.
  • Laying down hands when you are defeated on the last card.
  • Planning bluffs and semi-bluffs well (bluffing when you still have a chance of a nice combination, but currently have nothing).
  • Raising the stakes after an opponent has already raised if you feel the player is playing a weak card and/or bluffing.
  • Stealing blinds and small pots under the right conditions.
  • Learning pot odds so you can make the right calls on hands where you are on a draw.
  • Scaring away limpers by making a big raise before the flop (usually in good position).
  • Understanding variance and limiting your tilt periods.
  • Avoiding limping hands when you know they are raising.

Of course, recognizing these types of situations help you where needed, and is only a small part of the poker game. The biggest aspect relates to spending enough time on the right channels to improve your poker skills.

What are the right channels?

Poker strategies have been discussed and published in many ways. It was common for beginning players to read a book or magazine. Then came the training videos through poker forums & YouTube.

Now it is quite a craze to watch poker professionals via live streams on Twitch. A large number of professional poker players stream their full poker sessions via Twitch. The great thing about this streaming site is that the streamers themselves make money from ads on their channel. Therefore, you don’t have to pay money to become a member or get help. Out of gratitude, you can still become a subscriber or choose to make a donation.

Of course, reading a good poker book like ‘Harrington on Hold’em Vol. 1′ by Dan Harrington or ‘Every Hand Revealed’ by Gus Hansen, are very interesting reads. These players have a great deal of experience, and nothing lacks talent when it comes to poker. Gus Hansen is known for putting down huge bluffs at the right moments, while Dan Harrington plays it more by the book, aka A-B-C Poker.

Cash game compared to poker tournaments

Cash games and tournaments are very different. Your luck can go high and low in both poker forms. But it is important to know that tournaments have more variance than cash games. The reason why this is so is because of the fact that blinds go up, forcing players into more action.

This creates situations where players are more likely to make mistakes because they don’t have the luxury of waiting for more hands, or simply don’t have enough discipline. Cash games, on the other hand, allow you to redeem chips each time. This means you can take it easy and wait for better situations with a more positive expected value.

Poker tournaments are the form of poker where luck plays the most part in the game. You need to win multiple coin flips to win a tournament. If you win, it can quickly increase your bankroll. We recommend you to keep working on your poker strategy to always put yourself in the best position and have luck on the right side.


The great thing about the casino game of poker is that it has players of all levels. And you don’t have to be a good poker player to like the game. One reason is because you can have luck on your side, and win, no matter how bad you are. Of course, like most poker players, you don’t want to wait for luck to come along. Being experienced at poker doesn’t mean you’ll win 70% or 80% of the time. But it does assure you that you have a better chance of winning in both the short and long term.

Again, visit a poker stream and watch how the poker pros do it. What you can also do is keep an eye on our website for more poker tips and comprehensive game guides on how to become a better poker player.