Poker skill wins more often but luck can still win

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Yes, luck is important

While we all proclaim to the world (or anyone who will listen) that poker is a game of skill, we must admit the fact it is also a game of luck.

The main difference between these two concepts is luck can be both good and bad; in the long run, everyone should have equal shares of both the good and the bad. (It may not seem that way when you get rivered twice in a row.)

On the other hand, skill is always positive. The more skill you acquire, the more likely you will win. But, let’s face it, in the final analysis, in the here-and-now, luck often will rule the day.

The other night, playing in a 4-8 limit game with full kill, after about four hours I was struggling to get even. But the witching hour had arrived, and my poker buddy, who drove us to the local casino, was standing over my shoulder, anxious for me to wrap it up and go home. I was on the button, so this would be my last hand for this session – win or lose.

I looked down at 8c-7c. I love suited connectors. They are quite rare. The odds are 26-to-1 against suited connectors being dealt to you.

Four or five players plus the blinds were in the pot and there had been no raises. Great! That satisfies the Hold’em Caveat when starting with a drawing hand that must improve to win the pot at the showdown: Get in cheap (no raises) in a multi-way pot so the pot will be large if/when you connect.

So I paid to see the flop. And what a flop it was – the kind you might dream about: Jc-10d-9s. I had flopped a straight; but it was the low end of the straight. Considering the high odds against flopping a straight (about 28-to-1 against), I had to admit I was so lucky to have flopped even a bottom straight!

A middle-position opened the betting on the flop. The lady to his left raised and two others called. I decided my best bet was to just call along, hoping my straight would hold up, while building a big pot in the hope of making up for my losses. Maybe I would be lucky and go home even for the evening. Six of us saw the turn. It already was a good-sized pot.

But the turn card was an ugly Queen of clubs. This could not have been worse for me. An opponent holding a King in the hole would shatter my Queen-high straight. Again the middle-position opened the betting. I certainly hoped he didn’t have a King in the hole, but just in case I also had a draw to a club flush.

Again, after the middle-position opened the betting, the lady to his left raised it up. Two others called her raise. I decided to go for broke and re-raised, going all-in. (No, I was not on tilt.) They all called my three-bet to see the river. The pot was huge! Could I be lucky this time? I had been rivered three times that evening. But I felt confident. (Wishful thinking?)

Thankfully, the river was a blank. The middle-position bet and was called by the lady to his left. I was all-in, so I watched (and prayed). The middle-position turned up his two-pair. He had caught Jacks and 10’s on the flop. The lady smiled as she turned up a set of 9s. Then I showed my bottom straight – and scooped a monster pot!

Yes, I had been lucky!

By the way, when I cashed out, I was two chips ahead for the evening – much better than going home a loser. Luck does count!

“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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