Is poker just luck?

This is a frequent question that gets asked. Over the course of a single hand or session, and sometimes even a group of sessions, luck will be the deciding factor in poker. While there are elements of luck in poker, over the long term, it is skill that will eventually dominate. The main distinction is that poker, as opposed to other games of chance, is played against other players, rather than the house. The simplest way of explaining this is how your average good player values his hands. Newbies at the game will often play any two cards, as they don’t know the percentages of how various hands match up, nor do they realize that such a concept even matters. Yet anyone with experience knows that 87s will continually lose money to pocket aces, as it wins only 22% of the time. Bad players will also chase draws when they don’t know the odds of making their hand, and over time, these bad plays will cost them money, even if the draws sometimes hit.

A simple way to know whether or not this is true is to compare it to other games of chance where there are elements of decision making, and then asking yourself if it is possible to lose. For example, in blackjack, you do have the option of taking a hit on a 16, a 17, or even a 20 if you are suicidal, as there is nothing to stop you from taking more cards as long as you have less than 21. However, if you are playing a game like roulette, no matter how you shuffle your chips around the table, you can not prevent the wheel from hitting your spots. Likewise, when playing a slot machine, you only have the option of choosing how much to wager, and therefore skill plays no role.


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