Is Poker a Game of Luck or Skill?

One of the most famous debates in the gambling world evaluates the differences between games that involve luck and those that require defined skills. The debate has been going on for years and will probably continue for generations to come.

This debate may seem academic, and unimportant, but this is not the case. With the proliferation of online gambling, many countries are now addressing the issue of legalization of online casinos and poker rooms. Legislators in these countries are far more tolerant towards the legalization of games involving skill and are sometimes reluctant to legalize games of pure chance.

Casino games, such as craps, roulette and slot machines are left to the whim of chance despite what enthusiastic players of those games may say. The same applies to lotteries and bingo sessions. The bettors cannot control the results any more than they can control who wins. Conversely, chess involves tactics that puts the purity of skill into a game.  

One of the centres of controversy is the game of poker. Ask any avid poker player what is the main driver for winning and he will, no doubt insist it is skill. But is such an approach realistic? Can you honestly say that skill is the only attributor to winning the game?

The answer is that Poker probably has elements of both luck and skill that cannot be computed, so the worst player at the table may win the chips and the best player may lose all his or her chips.

The basic argument to mark Poker as luck driven is that no player can control the cards he receives during the game. These are strictly determined by chance. That’s why a player with a “good day” may receive great cards and have a winning streak. The same player, with the same skills may encounter rough times and enter a losing streak. What is the difference? Have the player games skills changed?

Those supporting the skill base of the game may say that the player’s state of mind could influence his or her game play. The opponents may have changed their strategy. Influences outside of just saying ‘I was unlucky today’ become more relevant rather than to imply that luck shaped the outcome. Examples include change of players, and simply not being able to play at the same table. These can influence a state of mind that inhibits the players’ ability.

Poker players able to read the style of a player gain a better chance of winning or at least will benefit from that player’s mistakes. Poker players decide when to discard, withdraw, or pass cards so while control of the cards remains with the player so does the luck versus skill relativity.

Check out professional poker players’ statistics in the World Series of Poker – the most important tournament in the world of professional poker. On the one hand players, marked as the best in the world pride themselves with multiple tournament victories. 7, 8, and even 11. How did they get to win so many titles? Could it be anything other than great poker capabilities? On the other hand, every year new champions are joining the honorary list of winners. They win once, and never win again. So why did they win? Was it luck? If it was skill – why didn’t they recreate their victory?

More and more consideration can be raised for each of the opinions; no one opinion can present one, decisive argument. It is probably because there is no one, strict answer to the question – is poker a game of luck or skill?

More Tools

Follow luckmeter on Twitter