Is Poker About Luck or Skill?

Is the game of poker based on luck or skill? For any serious poker player, there is little doubt that skill is a big factor in poker. However, if you have never experienced playing poker before, you may be mistaken for thinking that the game is all about luck since you can’t predict what card is coming next or what hand you get dealt.

But this is thinking about poker in a vacuum with no regard to the long term but this is hardly surprising since lots of amateur players probably lack a deeper understanding of the math and probability in poker. Poker being a game of luck is usually the belief of those who treat the game of poker like other casino games of chance.

However, in order to win and do well at poker, you actually have to be a skilful player. If you are not able to play the game well, making plays that have a positive expectation, so you know it will make money in the long run, and instead depend entirely only on chance, the likelihood of losing money will be higher.

It wouldn’t be right to talk about luck in poker without discussing variance. There are poker games which are higher variance and this means you can expect larger swings in your bankroll even for good players. Such higher variance poker games include multi-table tournaments, and when you play them it can be quite volatile and your bankroll can experience lots of swings.

When playing multi table tournaments with really big fields, even if you are a solid tournament player it’s going to be hard to outlast a lot of players to make it in the money or go on to win it. In a game like Omaha, which is another high variance game comparatively speaking, players are rarely getting all of their chips in the middle as huge favorites, and sometimes you can just have one of those days where you never seem to win those flips.

It can be better on the psyche to be playing lower variance games for this reason. You can still have those sessions where it seems like nothing is working out for you, although the swings on your bankroll shouldn’t be as brutal. It also depends on the number of hands you play. The variance we’re talking about will even itself out in the long term, and this can be accomplished much more easily when you’re multi-tabling online poker.

Short Term vs. the Long Term in Poker

In the very short term, luck can play a much bigger role where it seems you’re getting one bad beat after another, or it can feel like you’ve been card dead for hours while playing in a cash game. But in the long run, everything evens itself out, all players will get the same number of good/bad hands, and the same applies to the number of suck outs, and skill will be the determining factor that decides the winners and losers in the game. Of course, no one is saying it hurts to be lucky 🙂 It’s just that it’s highly unlikely that a solid winning player is going to lose money in the long run over a significant sample size. Just like it’s highly unlikely that a losing player will win.

All in all, the game of poker is largely about skill because with sufficient knowledge about the game played, it will lead to making the correct decisions more often. The bad players will regularly be making bad decisions, and you get to profit from these mistakes being made.

Sometimes these players will get “lucky” and suckout, but you want to play against these types of players, because if you play against them for long enough, it’s inevitable you will beat them for a good amount of money. If you don’t want to take our word for it, a U.S. district judge came to the conclusion the poker was indeed “predominated by skill” and therefore is NOT included in specific federal laws that prohibit gambling.

It doesn’t mean that if you don’t have the poker skills that you cannot participate in online poker games, because you can play at the micro stakes tables that can be found at all online poker sites. When playing these games, you risk very little, and get to play other inexperienced players, but it is still more exciting than any game of chance, as you still get to enjoy the excitement of a poker game and get to test your skills and challenge yourself with real money at stake.