Is Poker a Game of Skill or Luck?

Is Poker a Game of Skill or Luck?

Ever since poker has been played, a debate has been raging among players – is poker a game of skill or luck, and can you actually be a guaranteed winner at poker based on your skill alone?

Despite thousands of players proving the point over the years, many recreational players and millions of people watching the game on TV still believe that poker is mostly a game of luck with a few moments where skill comes into play. 

The truth, of course, is quite the opposite, as poker is 100% a game of skill in the long run, and the best players in any particular game always come out on top in the end. 

However, since the debate has still not been settled among the general masses, let’s take a deeper look into why poker is a game of skill and not luck and why the debate should be put to bed once and for all. 

Poker Is Not a Casino Game

One of the biggest reasons poker is often mistaken for a game of luck is the fact it is mainly played at the casinos. 

Poker Is Not a Casino Game

Casinos also spread games like blackjack, roulette, and baccarat, and all of these games are definitely games of pure chance that can’t be beaten in the long run, regardless of any strategy you use. 

But, if you have ever been to a live casino that spreads poker, you have probably noticed that all of these games are spread on a single big floor (called the pit), while poker games are offered in a separate poker room. 

The reason for this is that the casinos also know poker is much different from these other games and because the way casinos make money from poker is completely different. 

While casinos profit from players in the pit by maintaining a house edge in every game they offer, thus winning the percentage of all bets made in the pit, they cannot make a profit from poker this way because players don’t play poker against the house. 

Instead, players play poker amongst each other while the casino charges a set percentage of each pot or tournament buyin, called the rake

For that reason, the casino doesn’t really care who wins or loses and the game is not “rigged” in anyone’s favor like roulette or baccarat are. 

With all players given the exact same chance in every hand, it only makes sense that players who understand the game better would be winners, and that’s even more true in poker, which is a very complex game that includes a lot more variables than simple casino games. 

Elements of Luck in Poker

Millions of people in the world believe poker to be a game of luck similar to pit games, and the reason they believe that is quite simple: they have seen it with their own eyes!

Watching a single hand of poker, they saw a big-name player like Phil Ivey lose a coin toss against a completely anonymous player with no significant poker results to speak of and concluded that anyone can win at poker if they are lucky enough. 

This logic actually holds true for the most part, as anyone can win a single hand of poker with a little luck and even a whole poker tournament with elementary poker understanding and some luck on their side. 

However, winning a poker hand or a poker tournament does not make you a winner, just as winning a hand of blackjack does not mean you can beat the game in the long run. 

Players like Phil Ivey, on the other hand, have played millions of hands of poker and have managed to break a sizable profit over that period, demonstrating that the way they play wins in the long run. 

In any given poker hand, variables may change in ways that will make the best player in the world lose and a complete novice win, but that does not mean that poker is a game of skill. 

Instead, poker is a game of odds, percentages, frequencies, and math in general, and the seemingly random events that happen at the table are not random at all. 

A Game of Odds and Percentages

What distinguishes winning poker players from the rest of the herd is that they are not really trying to win a particular hand of poker. 

In fact, I would go so far as to say that a good poker played should not care if they win or lose any particular hand, as long as they played it in a strategically sound way. 

Anyone who has played poker for a living has been on the receiving end of a “bad beat” thousands of times and has grown accustomed to such “unlucky” events over the years. 

The skill in poker is all about making the right bets and the right calls at the right time when the odds are favorable, and the likelihood of winning is sufficient to justify putting chips in the pot. 

What the best poker players do over and over again is put their chips in as 55%, 60%, 70%, or 90% favorites and allow the remaining cards to roll off any way they will. 

In the long run, the mathematical advantage their plays give them always ends up making them winners, and the only question is how much they will win, which depends on just how poorly their opponents are playing. 

Simply imagine getting paid even money on a bet where you are actually a 55% favorite and repeating this bet thousands of times, and you will get to the bottom of how poker players make their money. 

It’s worth noting that taking this bet on a one-time basis wouldn’t guarantee anything, as you would still have a 45% chance to lose your money, but over hundreds and thousands of repetitions, you are guaranteed to make a significant profit. 

The Cream Rises to the Top

If you have been around poker long enough, you have surely noticed that there is a group of players who seem to make it very close to the finish line more often than everyone else, and these are the big winners in poker. 

The truth is that only a very small percentage of all poker players are winners in the game, and that’s because only a small percentage of players actually take the time to study the game properly. 

If you think you know all there is to know about poker after reading one book, or you believe you figured it all out on your own by devising some unbeatable strategy, you are simply wrong. 

The game of poker is way too complicated to beat off the top of your head, and it takes studying, dedication, and repetition to achieve the results that the very best players out there have achieved. 

Yet, there are thousands of players out there who have managed to beat the game on one level or another and who have won after thousands of repetitions, completely negating the impact of luck. 

If you want to join them and prove poker is a game of skill yourself, I suggest you start studying today, forget about the notion of getting lucky, and focus heavily on actually playing a fundamentally good poker strategy over and over again. 

Importance of Volume

Perhaps the key reason so many people believe poker is mostly luck and not skill is because they are very focused on short-term results, both their own and those of other players. 

The truth is that short-term results don’t matter too much at all and that short-term in poker can be a lot longer than you imagine. 

If you play live poker once a week with your friends, the variance of poker could skew your results in either direction for months, if not years, considering how few poker hands you are actually playing. 

Importance of Volume

Online poker players typically work through their variance a bit faster, but those playing on a recreational basis still usually don’t get enough repetitions in to even out the “luck” and get to their true expected value. 

In fact, most poker players out there only play poker once in a while, and their results are so heavily impacted by variance that there is no telling if they are long-term winners or losers in their games. 

If you want to find out how you do in a particular poker format and against a particular player pool, you should play tens of thousands of hands of cash games or hundreds of tournaments before you look at your results and look for some meaning in them. 

If you don’t believe me, you can check the math on these and familiarize yourself with how statistics and standard deviations work, and you will realize just why repetition is so important in poker. 

Before you jump to any conclusions and claim luck is the key factor in poker, simply look at the volume played by the player you are trying to use as your example and many of questions you have will answer themselves. 

Poker Is 100% a Game of Skill

Despite what anyone might tell you, poker is a game of skill through and through, and the short term impact of luck has nearly no impact on the long term results of any given player. 

Playing against players with a comparably weaker strategy, the better poker player will always win in the long run, but may easily win on any given day and even across extended periods of time. 

At the end of the day, there will always be clear winners and losers in the game of poker, and players who play a better strategy will always come out ahead. 

So, if you were contemplating becoming a serious about poker but were discouraged by the impact of luck, remember that if you study the game hard enough and become good enough, no amount of bad luck will stop you from winning in the long run. 

We offer plenty of materials that can help take you to a whole new level as a poker player, so use them to study, improve your game, and ignore the impact of luck and any short term variance you may be experiencing altogether.

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