Is Poker More About Luck or Skill?
The majority of the general population would probably tell you that poker is more about luck than skill.
And we can’t really blame them, considering that poker tables are found alongside other games of chance like craps, blackjack, and slot machines. However, poker professionals disagree with this claim.
Ask any elite poker player about this, and you will always get the same answer — poker is 100% a game of skill in the long run. There is, however, a significant element of luck involved in the short term. Poker professionals mitigate the luck aspect by deploying the proper approach and strategy. They continuously make mathematically superior decisions, and therefore improve their win rate in the long run.
To prove this theory, we’ll talk about things like:
- How knowing math and statistics can help you win, no matter how unlucky you are.
- How you compete against other people, and the casino only provides the means for it.
- We’ll provide statistical evidence proving our point.
In this article, I will demonstrate why poker is a game of skill in the long term, but also discuss which role luck plays in the short run. Pay attention!
# Poker Is a Game of Maths and Odds
So how do you take advantage of the mistakes that bad players often make, and gain an edge over your opponents?
Well, it really isn’t all that complicated.
In a nutshell, if you want to win at poker, you must constantly apply the following rule:
Put less money in the pot when you are at a statistical disadvantage, and invest more money when you have a statistical advantage.
Bluffing is the second key aspect of winning at poker. Being able to read your opponent is essential because, that way, you can force them to fold a better hand and therefore earn more money.
Poker is a straightforward game on paper. Now, in theory, this probably sounds pretty easy. However, most poker players’ biggest problem is dealing with losses when the maths was in their favour.
For example, let’s say you’ve entered a poker tournament and waited patiently for the croupier to deal you a strong hand. You got an AA, put all your money in the middle before a flop and won against somebody else’s QQ.
As we can see, pocket aces are a significant favourite to win the hand. In fact, they have roughly 81% equity in this situation. However, don’t get fooled here — pocket queens are not exactly drawing dead. In fact, QQ still has an 18% chance to win this hand, which is almost 1 out of 5 times.
So, when the opponent wins the hand with QQ, a lot of people get frustrated with this and experience tilts. When so-called bad beats like this occur, a lot of people start thinking that poker is just a game of luck.
But from a rational, logical standpoint, you should be aware of the fact that the person holding QQ is not going to win in the long run. If they keep playing the same way with these cards, they will eventually go broke. You just can’t fight maths — it all comes down to that philosophy.
# You Play Poker Against Other People, not the House
This is probably the most persuasive argument why poker is a game of skill rather than luck. Unlike pretty much every casino game, your opponents are other people, not the casino itself.
You’ve probably heard the phrase “the House always wins”. There is a reason why all casinos make a profit and why they will do whatever they can to make you stay, depending on how much you are willing to wager.
It is because they know that, eventually, they will win.
Maybe a lesser-known fact is that Las Vegas casinos hire some of the top maths graduates in the country to make sure that the margins in their games indeed turn a hefty profit for them in the long run.
You might be the one who gets lucky most of the time or even hits a seven-figure jackpot. However, rest assured that out of millions of tourists who come to Las Vegas to gamble, the majority go home with less money than they came in with.
But in poker, the house only provides the means of playing the game. They don’t directly profit from the outcome of poker hands.
Sure, they make money by collecting cash game pots and rakes from tournament buy-ins. However, this is a fixed amount. The majority of the prize pool is split between poker players themselves.
So, since you are playing primarily against other people, most of which are amateurs who make a lot of mistakes, you stand a fair chance, provided that you’re an above-decent player.
# Chance vs Skill
The reasoning behind this debate is simple enough — if skill is the deciding factor in whether you win or lose in poker, then it’s a game of skill. To get to the bottom of the debate about the dominant element, we did a little digging. While wandering the Internet and looking for proofs, we found research that has recently been published in an esteemed journal PLOS one.
The researchers first created a database that consisted of nearly half a billion player-hand observations from a year’s worth of online games to investigate how consistent player performance had been. This evidence was quite insightful in determining the role of skill in successful play.
For example, the players who ranked in the best-performing 1% in the first six months of the year are 12 times more likely to repeat this success in the next six months. And, players who finished in the top 10% in the first half of the year were twice as likely to repeat this feat in the second half of the year. Meanwhile, players who performed poorly from the start usually continued to lose, and hardly ever turned into top performers.
What they were trying to say is that performance is predictable. If poker is a game of chance, then there wouldn’t be any correlation in players’ winnings across successive periods. So, that alone was solid proof that poker can’t be a game of chance.
# The Tipping Point
Since we weren’t sure that this would ultimately convince you that poker is a game of skill, we compared the performance of unskilled with the performance of experienced players. Unsurprisingly, skilled players performed better than their unskilled counterparts at least three-quarters of the time after 1,471 played hands.
In other words, poker becomes a game of skill after roughly 1,500 hands. To put this finding into perspective — playing 1,500 hands requires 19 to 25 hours of online poker, and less than that if you’re playing multiple tables at the same time.
Of course, this revelation will probably make a lot of devoted players around the world happy. They can bask in the satisfaction of knowing the game they love rewards genuine proficiency and that talent and skill always overpower blind luck in the long run.
While it’s true that a little bit of luck in poker can make a lot of difference between being successful and being plain bad at it. However, that doesn’t mean that we should rely on luck to win us the big bucks in poker.
Do you disagree with everything that we’ve just said? If so, feel free to express your opinion in the comment section.