re: Poker & is poker really a game of skill, or is it just luck
Poker is 100% skill in the long run. Here you have the classic error of thinking that winning pots is the goal, but it's really winning MONEY.
is a good argument for skill:
IS THERE REALLY ANY LUCK IN POKER?
by Annie Duke
My brother, Howard Lederer, and I have recently been having some really interesting discussions about the luck factor in poker. Now we all know that there is skill in poker but the general consensus has been that there is a preponderance of skill, not that poker is a game that is all skill. Arguments for the preponderance of skill have centered on the fact that good players, in the long run, will come out winners but in the short run anyone can win. So the argument has been that poker is a game with a significant luck factor in the short run but over the long run the law of large numbers will play out and the better players will win.
But is this really true? Is there really any luck in the short run at all? Howard has come up with a very compelling argument that the answer to that question is no.
Let's say we program a machine so that it knows the rules of Texas Hold'em. It knows that you are dealt two cards. It knows that a flop, and a turn and a river comprise the community cards. It knows that you can check, bet, call or raise on any given street. It knows the rules and mechanics of the game. But let's also say that we program the machine to play with no skill at all. This means that the machine will randomly choose at any given decision point whether to check, bet, call or raise. Now remember, on any given street there are up to 5 possible decisions (a bet and four raises) and our machine will behaving randomly, with no skill, at any of those decision points. How would the machine do? Terribly, obviously.
If you put our machine into a short event, like a sit and go, against 8 skilled players it would lose every time. The skilled players would quickly come up with the most effective strategy against the machine, which would be to raise the minimum against the machine every time. This would always put the decision back on the machine for the lowest risk and 1/3 of the time the machine will fold, 1/3 it will call and 1/3 it will raise, regardless of its hand. And the machine will behave this way regardless of its hand. It will be as likely to fold Aces full as it will to fold 9 high. It will be as likely to call with top pair as I will to call with 5 high. You can see pretty quickly that our unskilled machine would never win, even in the short run.
Howard's argument shows that poker players tend to drastically over estimate the luck factor in poker, mainly because in general we are playing against very skilled players and whenever we close the skill gap between opponents in a skill game it appears that there is more luck involved. We can take baseball as an example to demonstrate this. No one argues that baseball is not a game of skill. And the same thing happens in baseball when we narrow the skill gap that happens in poker. If we take the Yankees and pit them against a little league team where the skill gap is very large then the Yankees will win every time. But if we take the Yankees and pit them against an equally skilled major league team, say the Red Sox, now luck appears to play a much larger factor. Factors like injuries, weather, etc. now play a much larger role in determining the outcome of the game. While the better team will win over a series of games, the outcome of a single game will appear to be determined by luck, by factors outside of the control of the teams.
And poker is no different. Good poker players will overestimate the luck factor in poker because they forget exactly how skilled the opponents they are playing against are. The fact is that most players are very skilled at hand selection and betting theory that you play against, even in the smallest games, compared to a totally unskilled player like our machine. As in baseball, the more skilled the players are that you play against, the more there will be the appearance of luck in determining the outcome in the short run. To take the baseball analogy further, if we take the very best professional player in the world and stick them in a .50/$1 NL game, they will crush the game just as the Yankees will crush the little league team. If we take that same player and pit them against the other top pros, they will win in the long run, but the short run outcome will be largely determined by luck just as in baseball in a similar situation when the Yankees play the Red Sox the outcome will be determined by factors like injuries.
The interesting thing is that if we took our same unskilled machine and programmed it to know the rules of the lottery but gave it no skill it would perform the same as a human being. This is because there is no skill to the lottery. Once you know to purchase the ticket and fill out the appropriate number of circles on the ticket and give it back to the attendant to receive your ticket you are good to go. Once you know the rules there is nothing more to the game. And yet, lotteries are excluded in the current gaming legislation but poker is at risk. Seems illogical to me.
Poker is a game of skill. It is a game where the outcome is as determined by skill as baseball. Once we understand this, it is clear poker should be set aside from gaming legislation that legislates games of chance since it is clearly not a game of chance. It is just a matter of getting people to truly and deeply understand the difference between games of skill and games of luck.