Poker Luck vs Skill – Is Poker Luck or Skill

Poker Luck vs Skill

Is poker a game of luck or is it a game of skill? This is a debate that has been running pretty much constantly for the last decade or more. The reason why it remains so relevant today is that if the law recognises poker as a skill game, then it becomes exempt from most gambling law – specifically, any gambling law that prohibits online play.

But politics aside, let’s take a look at what the debate is really about. And it comes down to what poker is really about. Is poker luck or skill?

In a game of Texas Hold’em (the most popular variant of poker played today), you are dealt two “hole” cards, which are hidden from everyone’s sight. After a round of betting, the dealer deals the “flop” – three cards, face up. After a second round of betting, the dealer will deal the fourth card – the “turn”.

The River

The “river” is the final card to hit the felt, and after one more round of betting, the players show their cards. The person with the strongest hand wins the money. Viewed from this perspective, luck in poker is the most important factor, because it’s always about who has the best cards.

But as anyone who has ever actually player poker can tell you, it almost never goes down this way. In fact, the only time it ever does go down like that is when you have a clueless newbie at the table, in which case you can be sure that a bunch of sharks are about to get very rich.

Not All Luck

In reality, poker luck has nothing to do with it. It’s true that a certain amount of poker luck comes into play in the sense that getting dealt a fantastic hand (called “the nuts” amongst poker players) is a huge boon. But simply having good cards is by no means a guarantee of a win at a real poker table. Nor, for that matter, is having terrible cards certain doom. It all comes down to how you play them.

For example, there is a huge amount of strategy involved in the opening betting round. Suppose you have a table of 9 players. The dealer deals 2 cards each, and the blinds post. It’s up to the first player to act.

Now, if they fold, obviously they had nothing. If they just call, it could mean they’re hoping to see a cheap flop. But if they raise up, does it mean that they’ve got something great? Or does it mean they’re trying to make as many people fold as possible in the hopes of limiting the competition by the time the flop comes down? Clearly, skill is an element here.

Harvard Study on Poker Luck

A recent study by Harvard University tracked the player hand statistics of thousands of online poker players over a three year period. Analysis of this data revealed that over 70% of poker hands are concluded by someone folding, not by a showdown.

If poker luck were as big of a factor as the lawmakers would have you believe, you would expect 100% of hands to be resolved by showdown, with the strongest hand winning. But in reality, people folded out because they believed they were beaten – not because they necessarily were.

And this is the primary reason why poker is a game of skill: because the successful players are those who can consistently mislead their opponents into thinking they have better hands than they actually do.