Luck does have a seat at the table

Like it or not, luck plays a very big role in the game of poker.

What is “luck?” Awhile back, we defined luck based upon a study by Professor Richard J. Wiseman: “Luck is success or failure brought about by chance rather than through one’s one actions.” Professor Wiseman heads the Psychology Research Department at the University of Hertfordshire, England.

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Luck is powerful. According to Wiseman, “Luck has the power to transform the improbable into the possible, to make the difference between life and death, reward and ruin, happiness and despair.

“People have searched for an effective way of improving good fortune (luck) in their lives for many centuries.”

At the poker table, we often see players place a lucky charm atop their holecards. Some call it a card-guard. That includes me. How about you?

Can we influence luck? Certainly, we cannot control luck. Superstition won’t help, although many people wish it were so. “Knock on wood for good luck!”

But, by using the laws of probability, we can influence luck in our favor. Wiseman concluded that “lucky people generate their own good fortune.”

For example, you are bound to beat out a player who plays weak starting hands. Suppose he has 7-8 offsuit in his hole cards; while you hold K-Q offsuit. In both cases, if the hand improves on the flop, it will be to pair up one of the hole cards. You both improve to the same degree; but a pair of Kings is a big favorite over your opponent’s pair of 8’s, of course.

But the probability is the same in both cases. You can expect to pair one of your hole cards about one out of three times. Certainly, there is a chance (call it “luck”) that your opponent might connect with a better hand on the flop — such as trip 7’s; but that’s much less likely than either no improvement or catching one pair. The laws of probability are on your team.

What is Probability? Probability is a branch of mathematics that deals with calculating the likelihood of a given event’s occurrence; it is expressed as a number between 1 and 0, or as a percentage. Each coin toss is an independent event; the outcome of one trial has no effect on subsequent coin tosses.

In poker, the probability of each event is readily calculable, but we don’t need to figure each one. Suffice to say, certain hands have a higher probability to improve than others — as explained in our example above. So, the skilled player elects to play such a hand in preference to weaker hands. Makes good sense.

So why do so many players (losers) play weak hands — even in early positions? Why do so many (also losers) invest their chips to chase a drawing hand with few outs? Go figure. But, that’s great from our own selfish standpoint. We are anxious to win as many pots as possible — the bigger the pot, all the better.

Your expertise makes all the difference. There are so many skills essential to winning; but, without having learned those skills, it is highly improbable that you will go home a winner. In previous columns, we have discussed the various skills at some length. I suggest you seek these out and become expert in using them.

From my standpoint, bluffing and semi-bluffing are the greatest skills essential to winning. If you never bluff, you are destined to be a loser. Remember: In a casino, you need to win enough to overcome the casino’s cost-to-play — about $125 per hour in low/middle limit hold’em games).

Using deception to build the pot when you catch a monster is another essential skill. Examples: check-raising, slow-playing, baiting and stealing the pot.

But it never hurts to have a little luck on your side too.

About the Author

George Epstein

A retired engineer, George Epstein is the author of “The Greatest Book of Poker for Winners!” and “Hold’em or Fold’em? – An Algorithm for Making the Key Decision.” He teaches poker courses and conducts a unique Poker Lab at the Claude Pepper Senior Center under the auspices of the City of Los Angeles Dept. of Recreation and Parks and at West Los Angeles College.

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