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How Should You Balance Your Win Rate Against The Standard Deviation?

There's no right or wrong here. Some people are comfortable with a high level of risk and have the bankroll to accommodate the extreme fluctuations inherent in wild games. Others are not. In fact, you'll frequently hear players bemoaning the fact that they're at a table with all live ones. "I wish there were two or three good, tight players at the table," they'll say, "because they bring stability to the games. With them there, my good hands tend to hold up more often."

From a statistical perspective, this comment is nothing more than a cry for a smaller standard deviation, and a willingness to accept the slightly smaller win rate that accompanies it. Even without a knowledge of statistics, these players have learned that when you operate on the edge, or when you're in a jam-up games with a lot of maniacs, the price you pay for an increased win rate is more extreme fluctuations.

What does this mean to you as a player? Do you live on the edge, or seek whatever safety net might be available? As long as you can afford to play the games you're in, this becomes a matter of personal choice. Only you can decide how much uncertainty you're comfortable with. If you elect to push every advantage, no matter how small, expect significantly higher fluctuations than you'd experience if you were willing to trade off that win rate for a bit more stability. If you elect to maximize your win rate, then you'll need a larger bankroll to play the games.

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