Every so often, I see a certain phrase related to poker bandied about on social media, usually as a meme of some kind, with images of varying applicability. That phrase is: “Poker is a combination of luck and skill. People think mastering the skill part is hard, but they’re wrong. The trick to poker is mastering the luck.”
That statement is attributed to someone called Jesse May, someone I know literally nothing about, that he probably perhaps said that, and (I presume) he is or was involved in high-level poker to some degree or other. But I mean, who cares, right? It’s just one of those profound-sounding nonsense statements that people make up when they want to seem smart without actually being smart, right?
On the Nature of Luck
If you realize one thing about luck, about chance and probability and percentages, I beg you that it be this: luck happens. In poker, any other game of chance, in video games, in life in general, a 95% chance is not a guarantee and those who treat it as such and act as though they were entitled to things happening the favorable way when they don’t, should be viewed as the idiots they are. It’s not even that in a 95% chance, the 5% case will happen roughly 5% of the time.
Whether it really does happen roughly 5% of the time or not in any run, including the pure probability players’ precious “long run” doesn’t even matter. The important thing is, with a 95% chance of success, the 5% case is going to happen. It could happen after 20 instances of the chance, or 30. It could happen after 5 or 10 successes. It could even happen in the very first instance.
In other words, sooner or later, luck happens.
If the long shots never hit the shot, the entire lottery industry wouldn’t exist for one thing, because no one would even believe they could possibly win. The fact that luck happens is absolutely essential not only to gaming but to life. Such a long shot screwing you over in the form of a bad beat should not be bemoaned. It should be celebrated! You can, as I do, use such a loss as evidence, that the only way the troglodytes that you deign to grace their table with in your presence can possibly beat you is through luck of such a magnitude. You can at least occasionally be on the other end of such a beat.
And most important of all–and this is what I’ve been building up toward all along–you can control how much of an effect such instances of outlying probability have on your gains and losses. That’s what mastering the luck is. It’s playing in such a way that you are prepared for a bad beat to come your way, that it does not cripple neither your psyche nor your bankroll nor your tournament chip stack. And when it becomes clear that luck is coming your way, it is milking your inferior opponents for vast amounts of their chips without them realizing how doomed they are until it’s far too late.
When you can do that, you can truly win in poker.