It’s a question asked many times and the occasional game for the beginner with a rudimentary understanding of the game would almost lead him or her to believe that winning was entirely down to luck – so the hand they were dealt would determine whether they would win or not. The complete randomness of the cards being dealt can only lead the novice to believe that the game is all down to ‘lady luck’ herself.
But, unfortunately, it’s not a simple as that. Thefact that there are players who have become fabulously wealthy playing poker suggests that no one can be that lucky that often; how many consecutive sixes can you roll? What needs to be understood is that to win repeatedly at poker, a player needs to take the tiny advantages that the professionals seek to exploit over a series of games. The comparison with chess is a good one – the beginner might get lucky against a Grand Master for a couple of moves, but after that, he would have no chance in a wholegame. In chess, you can see all the parts of the game from the start – whereas,in poker, you only see your cards that have been dealt. It’s how you manage the cards you do know that counts.
A lot has been written about the psychology of the game,and we have all seen the Hollywood films where the winner is usually the player with the biggest nerve who, having seen the competitor over a series of games, can hold out with a hand that ordinarily he might fold. There was a great quote from Chris Moneymaker – ‘The beautiful thing about poker is that everybody thinks they can play’. Always remember that there are always more unskilled players than skilled ones. Every table, every game is likely to be more than half full of them. There is a reason why casinos make so much money. The casinos know that these players think they are going to be lucky. Skilled players know that while luck might see a player through a few games, over the course of a series of games, the momentum will always shift to the better player. Unskilled players don’t play the percentages,and they don’t know the science. They’ll keep calling the wrong hands when the odds are against them, and they’ll eventually get found out.
But the biggest argument for the skill element of the game has been written about in a recent study which showed that over many millions (456 million!) observed online hands played, the better players win more often. So the best 1% of players in the first half of the year were twelve times as likely to repeat their outperformance in the second half of the same year. Clearly, they knew something that the other, less skilled players,didn’t.
There are two great quotes from observers and players that sum up this question of luck versus skill. Phil Hellmuth, who is an eleven times World Series of Poker (WSOP) winner once said, ‘If it weren’t for luck, I’d win every time‘. Thereby suggesting that as a top player he is only beaten by lesser players when they were lucky. Likewise, David Slansky, the poker writer and commentator said the following, which reinforces Hellmuth’s comment. He said that the top poker players are ‘at war with luck. They use their skills to minimize luck as much as possible.’
This game of luck versus skill can be played out over a casino table or online. The online game has advanced massivelyin recent times as an experience for the players and, for some, the reality of having to face an opponent when they can see the ‘whites of your eyes’ has made it all the more attractive to play. Some people like to be public when they win,andothersdon’t. But the plays are the same,and the skilful players will still win in the end.But it is worth mentioning that, at the end of a tournament or series of games, it is seeminglythe poker player with the most luck that wins; but the skilful players make their own luck by only making plays when they know they should.
Another game with the split of skill and luck but which the better players invariably win is Scrabble. Once again, the new player could blindly pick a seven letter word which spells itself out in his letter holders with every hand, and then they would win the game at a canter. The chances of this, clearly are very low but it explains the skill/luck element. Everything being equal over a couple of games, the practised player with the greater word power will always win through.
The argument probably won’t ever go away, despite the evidence of the more skilful players winning more often than,the less skilful ones. There have been many studies,and papers written on the subject and even governments can’t agree; when it comes to taxation, many are still undecided on the luck versus skill argument. In the United Kingdom, for example, poker winnings are not taxed as they are deemed to be the proceeds of skill. And it is this which makes the game so intriguing – Football (of the Soccer type) is a global sport because of the unpredictability of the game when compared to other teams games – once again, the most talented team ‘usually’ wins; but not always.
If you’re new to the game of poker, then you might have to rely on a slice of luck to make your winnings at the beginning,but as you progress and learn the ins-and-outs of the game, you’ll get to learn when to hold and when to stack. Winning more often comes with experience and losing becomes an acceptable part of the game. You earn your luck, not the hands you’re dealt; you learn when to play and when not to.