Luck or Skill in Poker

Horseshoe on a hand on white backgroundIn this article I wanted to write about this idea regarding luck and skill in poker. It is a question which was raised by some players while I was playing free poker games. I think it is something that sometimes confuses novice player, so I want to explain.

Regardless of how well you play, there is always an element of “luck” involved in winning at poker. For example, you could be a huge favorite, when your AK is up against AQ and you’re all-in preflop, only to see a Queen on the flop with no improvement by the river. It is important to understand that even though you’re a huge favorite in a hand, it doesn’t mean you will always win the hand. But over a large enough sample size, you will come out ahead.

It seems to me that as I play more and more poker and as I become more successful at it that indeed poker is about skill, but I have to understand why that is. I know a part of it is that I now have a different idea of what constitutes luck and success in poker. I used to be like a lot of people and think that I was having success (and getting lucky) when I won a pot.

I now understand that poker isn’t about winning pots, it’s about winning money and making the correct decisions. I think that one realization alone may have more to do with my current level of playing than anything else. But I have also been coming to the conclusion that I get lucky (or have success) in my game because I put myself in position to be lucky more often that I did when I started playing.

Here are some common sense rules I follow:

  • I don’t play tired or stressed out
  • I don’t play with money I can’t afford to lose (scared money)
  • I don’t play in limits over my head
  • I absolutely never play when I am drinking alcohol

Even though there is an element of luck in poker since you can’t predict what card’s going to show next, you can make an educated guess about the likelihood of what cards will likely come and how that will affect the strength of your hand. You can also fairly accurately define an opponents range of hands once you have some history with them to determine your equity and chances of winning against this range. The skill component of poker comes from making better decisions than your opponents, and hence, better players will seek out games where they feel they have an edge against weaker players.

In the long run there’s no luck in poker, but most poker players don’t realize the short run is longer than most people think. In the short term your success is all about luck but in the long run your results will have nothing to do with luck.

You really want to make sure that you play at a limit where you feel very comfortable. This ensures that you will focus on making the correct decisions instead of thinking about how much money you’re risking, which can be a distraction and negatively impact your game. If you can play poker, whether it be online or live, with patience and discipline, you will create your own luck due to having good cards and making the correct plays instead of gambling.