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Well-informed players believe poker is primarily a game of skill; expertise and cleverness are key.

In a sense, it is no different than investing in a business or the stock market for profit; take a risk. Well-informed investments are best. Whereas, people opposed to the game insist it is just a matter of luck; so, it’s gambling, they claim.

There is both good luck and bad luck. As players, we prefer to look at poker as primarily a game of skill, recognizing there is, indeed, some luck involved. That’s also true when we invest in the stock market.

There is a chance – call it “luck,” – over which we have absolutely no control. We cannot control how world events will influence the stock market – nor what holecards are dealt to us and our opponents; nor the cards on the board. And, we have no say as to our opponents’ playing traits.

The luck-vs.-skill controversy has been debated for over 200 years – even before Mark Twain wrote about it – and will probably continue to be, no matter what. Poker is primarily a game of skill. The fact is we can use our skills to make poker less like gambling, more like a wise investment – more likely to be profitable.

Yes, there is a cost to play – at least in a casino or cardroom. That can be quite significant – the rake, the Bad-Beat-Jackpot drop, and tip to the dealer. To go home a winner, you must win more than the cost-to-play. You can reduce the “bad luck factor.” Recognize that “luck” is merely chance. There are 52 cards in the deck, any one of which may be dealt out at any time – over which you have absolutely no control. But, you do have control of how you play your hand and can even influence how your opponents play their hands – making luck less significant.

For example, using the Hold’em Algorithm (see ad for “Hold’em or Fold’em”?), you avoid playing poor starting-hands – so you are less likely to lose. (A dollar saved is worth more than a dollar won at the poker table.) It will also help you decide which hands to play, depending on their value, your position, and other factors – so you are more likely to win, based on the laws of probability, over which luck has no influence; statistics are inviolate.

Put the odds in your favor; in the long run, you will win more often, and enjoy bigger pots – a Positive Expectation. Thus, luck becomes less significant. Starting with a made hand (A-A, K-K, Q-Q), by thinning the field (raising to force out some opponents), the odds of winning the pot are increased. Skill reduces the luck factor! There will be times when you catch a monster – even the nuts.

Instead of betting – and forcing out opponents – be deceptive, using strategies such as slow-playing, trapping, and check-raising, to build the size of your pot – your profit or “return-on-investment.” Bluffing is a great strategy, permitting you to win pots while holding a “losing hand.”

The Esther Bluff tactic is a powerful tool for reinforcing your bluff. (Ref. The Art of Bluffing; see ad below.) “Knowing” your opponents helps, too. That’s skill – not luck! Chasing with a drawing hand – or one that is dominated by an opponent, can be costly.

The skilled player avoids chasing; he will not call bets when he has too few outs. (Then the pot odds are much less than the card odds – a Negative Expectation.) Don’t depend on good luck. By focusing your attention on the game – no drinking liquor or watching the big football game on the TV screen on the wall – you can better learn your opponents’ playing traits – tight, loose, passive, aggressive, calling-station, deceptive; and have a better idea of what hands they hold. And you can look for tells. Then you are able to make wiser decisions.

These are ways that reduce the luck factor, making poker more akin to wise investing – rather than gambling.

“Anyone who stops learning is old, whether 20 or 80. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing you can do is keep your mind young.”–Mark Twain

“The Engineer,” a noted author and teacher in Greater Los Angeles, is a member of the Seniors Poker Hall of Fame. Email: [email protected]

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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