Skill versus luck when playing poker

Apr 14, 2009 5:04 PM
by George “The Engineer” Epstein |

Surprisingly, they are not too unrelated!

The debate rages on: How much of poker is skill, how much is luck?

All agree that in the long term, skill will determine the winner. Luck is regarded as a random event. It’s chance – the likelihood of a particular occurrence – over which we have no control. So, in the long run, like a sine wave, luck will even out.

Skill, on the other hand, depends on the individual. The more skilled you are, the more you will win in the long run.

Years ago I developed a math model relating skill and luck. It clearly shows what is almost intuitive – in the long run, the more skill you have, the more you will win when luck is with you, and the less you have, you will lose when your "luck is running bad."

Today I offer a somewhat different perspective, one based on the premise that luck can be influenced to some extent. Luck is not completely random and can be skewed by skill: SKILL is Helping Yourself to Be LUCKY!

Using skill, you can improve your good luck. Think about it.

What is skill? It’s ability, talent, cleverness.

Yes it’s all that and more: expertise, competence, flair, proficiency. In the game of poker – as in the game of life – skill permits you to make the best decisions in your favor.

Luck and Probability

Speaking of "luck," what exactly do we mean? How does it relate to probability?

Depend on the rabbit’s foot if you will,

But remember it didn’t work for the rabbit. – R.E. Shay

We can regard luck as chance – the likelihood that a particular event will occur at a particular time. If you toss a coin in the air, it could come up "heads" 10 times in a row. If you were calling for "heads," then you had good luck; otherwise, it was bad luck. Luck is chance at a particular moment in time.

But, in the long run, we know that it is equally likely that the coin will come up tails; it’s 50-50 – or 50% – or 0.5. That, of course, is probability: chance in the long run. It is essentially a mathematical concept – like Newton’s Law of Gravitation. Humans cannot defy it.

Now then, think about this: If there were a way to bias the coin – without cheating, of course – then you could give yourself a definite advantage. Thus, you would be influencing luck in your favor.

Can You Improve Your Luck?

It is generally accepted that luck is beyond a person’s control; it is regarded as completely random. But, in the game of poker (and in many other activities in life), luck can be influenced.

In other words, you do have a degree of control – at least to some extent. Luck does not always have to be random or hit-and-miss. Indeed, you can skew (i.e., bias) the incidence of luck so it is more in your own favor: More frequent good luck and less frequent bad luck.

Next time: we will explain How You Can Improve Your Luck.

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