Is poker skill or luck?

A recent study by a German academic has concluded that successful poker players owe more to good luck than good judgment. So do financial traders.

The results of this study were reported in the Daily Telegraph. The first question the reader will ask is did we really need a scientific study to tell us that? The study itself is based on a rather small sample, and appears to have related purely to Texas Hold ’Em, presumably the no limit version. It claims too that chess is entirely a game of skill; any adept chess player will tell you this is not true; chess has psychological factors as well as an element of luck, not to mention swindles.

Let’s though stay with No Limit Hold ’Em. Here are a few examples; one all players will recognise is the moron who can never fold an ace.


A hand played August 26, 2012.


A hand played August 26, 2012.

The above hand was played in the William Hill Sunday Facebook Freeroll on August 26, 2012. The players are getting close to the money but the two short stacks need to pick up a few chips to survive. The first player makes a move, all-in with QJ. The second player reads him correctly, and follows. There is a rule in poker that says you can raise with anything but you need something to call. A-10 is not a great hand, but the third player has a terrible hand. Heads up against A-10 he is less than 23% although he also has around an 11% chance to tie the hand. Here, he is an even bigger underdog; surprisingly, QJ is favourite, because there are two aces out. Still, the big stack calls with the worst hand, outdraws both the short stacks, and undoubtedly cashes. Would any person in his right mind attribute his winning this hand to skill?


May 17, 2012: A freeroll on PokerStars; two players with pocket pairs are all-in pre-flop, and the weaker hand wins.

The above hand shows two players all-in pre-flop; a pair of 10s is not that great a hand, even heads up, 7s less so, but again the weaker hand wins. Skill or luck? The next hand is just plain silly.


A freeroll on Party Poker, June 15, 2012: Some avant-guarde play is rewarded with an undeserved suck out.

The final hand is excusable. The guy with aces is very short stacked at level 2, so setting him all-in here is not unwarranted heads up. Having said that, no one should have any doubt that No Limit Hold ’Em at least is a game largely of luck, even if some players are consistently lucky while others are not.


July 13, 2012: Aces are cracked.

[The above article was published originally August 30, 2012 with 6 screengrabs The first screengrab was the widget picture. I cannot remember what this game was played but it is taken from the then recent Pokerfest, April 22-May 6, 2012. Usually I try to put screengrabs in chronological order. For whatever reason, I did not do that here].


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