Luck vs. Skill in Poker

By Donovan Doust
4-22-06

I’m going to attempt, boldly, to settle a debate that began before poker tables had felt on them. Sign up now and receive an exclusive Full Tilt Poker Bonus Code. How much of poker is skill, and how much of it is luck. It seems like everyone has there own opinion on the subject. I’ve heard people say, ignorantly, that poker is all luck. “It’s all in the cards”. I’ve also heard people, just as ignorantly, argue that luck has nothing to do with poker, “It’s a skill game.” So what’s the answer? Is poker 90% luck and 10% skill? Is it 90% skill and 10% luck? I’m afraid it just isn’t that simple.

To ask how much of poker is skill and how much is luck is like asking how much of a book is creativity and how much is paper. Or to ask how much of a human being is body and how much is mind. Am I 90% body and 10% mind? No, maybe I’m 90% mind and 10% body. The reality is that it’s an unfair question to begin with and one that has no logical answer. The same is true of the “luck vs. skill” debate. It would be impossible to quantify the attributes luck and skill and then compare them on a scale. The truth is that poker is nearly 100% luck in the very short term and approaches 100% skill in the very long term. Luck is the predominate force in any single hand, and has a great effect on any single session. In the long run, however, that luck will be boiled down to an infinitesimal, near-nothing.

In a single hand of poker the cards play the biggest role in assigning a winner, with the better player having only a very small edge over the weaker opponent. If enough hands are played, the edge that the better player has on each hand, as small as it is, will eventually amount to a statistical advantage that luck cannot overcome. In any single session, the worst player at the table has a reasonable chance of walking away a winner. Likewise, the best player could easily lose. If those players played long enough, however, the better player would profit eventually and the worst player would invariably lose.

The skill in poker can almost be hidden within the luck. Many great players just appear to be very lucky to other players (Gus Hansen). There is enough luck involved to keep horrible players thinking they are great and thinking that great players are just lucky. That is fundamental to the poker community, and the biggest reason that there even exists a lucrative opportunity for professional and semi-pro players. After all, most people wouldn’t play Tiger Woods at golf for $1000 a hole, and how many people in there right mind would shoot hoops against Lebraon James at $100 a point? Funny thing though, rich business men practically stand in line to wait for a chance to play high stakes poker against Phil Ivy and Doyle Brunson. So, to answer the age old debate “how much of poker is luck and how much is skill”, I say, well, just enough.

Good “luck”.

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