Among poker aficionados, there have been years of research and countless arguments made to provide a definitive answer to the question of, “Is poker a game of skill?”
Of course, it isn’t an easy question with a simple answer, especially among the general public who largely still classifies poker as “gambling”.
This debate has been going on for as long as poker has been played. However, it intensified when televised poker tournaments gained in popularity and with it online poker websites began to rise in the early 2000’s.
Legal ramifications for classifying poker as a skill game
Because of these websites, legal issues came up with legislators wanting to categorize poker as either a game of skill or as a game of chance; in many countries the rules and regulations are more strict for the game of skills and in many cases they were considered illegal. However, some games of chances are easier to play and the set of regulations are very much relaxed.
The reason to mention this thing is that it is very easy to abuse online poker if it is left unchecked. This detailed review of the cardroom BetOnline Poker traces some of the issues online poker sites have faced over time. From here on started the unstoppable debate and multiple types of research to categorize poker.
Luck vs Chance
David Sklansky who is one of the most respected poker players has stated many times that good poker players are at war with luck. They actively use their skills to minimize luck as much as they can.
For a poker player, making a decision to hold or fold is not only based on the dealt cards, rather it is a series of actions which is based on the skills of the player and the decisions taken by the other players on the table.
Classifying poker largely relies on your perspective
According to famous poker players it’s your own perspective and turns at the tables which categorize poker for you. If you play the game cautiously with disciplined and structured bets and manage your bankroll strictly then you will be bound to state that skills win at the end.
On the other hand, if you’re a casual player who bets generously, takes risks, goes on tilt, and doesn’t manage your bankroll well at all then you will see poker as a game of luck. The player’s perspective will still be only a relative result of the argument of poker categorization.
University research clearly favors the skill argument
In a study conducted by Amsterdam University, the researchers collected a database of 456 million player-hands of 12 months of online games. They investigated the consistency of players’ performance.
The players who were in the 10% of the best performing players in the first six months did twice as well in the next six months than the other players. The players who were in the 1% of the best performers in the first six months did 12 times well than the other players in the next six months.
On the contrary, the players who performed badly in the first six months continued to play badly and did not convert into good players.
Skill separated the performance of the players
The point is that, if it were the game of pure chance then the winning and losing of the players would not have been this consistent. But it cannot be categorized as a game of pure skill as well because the cards that are dealt to a player cannot be controlled.
Poker clearly has chance involved, but where’s the balance?
Therefore, the debate has been raised to the point of tipping the balance in either the favor of chance or skill and we have to find the fulcrum. The tipping point that we have found is that the skilled players are found to play better than their unskilled opponents after the first 1500 hands have been played.
When the players have found their flow in the first nineteen hours then they can play a game of skill. Now the devoted poker players can bask in satisfaction that it requires genuine skills to win the game rather than just blind luck. But still, sometimes blind luck does win on a short-term basis!
The never ending debate of luck vs. skill in poker
The categorization of the poker player is a never ending debate. Players will keep playing and the researchers will keep studying until the end of time because poker certainly contains both elements of luck and skill.
My final thought is this: When is the last time you heard about professional craps, roulette, and slot machine players, which are all house casino games of pure chance?
Professional poker players? There are thousands of them sitting at a table right now waiting to accept the generous gift of chip stacks from casual players who think all they need is confidence and a little luck.