Poker; Luck, or Skill?

by PokerAnon ~ September 7th, 2012. Filed under: Gambling.


I’ve made posts in years gone by where I’ve mused on the degree of chance versus skill in poker when compared with other games such as roulette, chess, or blackjack, so I was intrigued when I saw a news article from a study on luck and skill in poker.

The article is overshadowed if you search the news in the late part of August for “poker”, “skill”, and “luck” by the ruling by the Brooklyn federal judge who ruled that poker is more a game of skill than of chance, a story which hit the news at about the same time as the research article. In that story the judge ruled that poker is more a game of skill than chance.

In the article that I read the researcher claims differently than the judge.

Where is the line dividing luck and skill? How much does chance determine success? It turns out that, from sport to the stock market, we are constantly deluded by an illusion of order, when in fact we are assailed by randomness. And a new study claims that, in one area where we ultimately expect skill to triumph – namely, poker – we may be far more at the mercy of fortune than we believe.

Anyone who has ever played Texas hold ’em or the like thinks they know how much talent is involved. But Professor Gerhard Meyer, of the University of Bremen’s Institute of Psychology and Cognition Research, says they are wrong. He says that we are, as in so many parts of our life, fooled by randomness into believing that we are masters of our destiny.

Poker, he insists, is largely a game of chance. Some games are clearly luck – roulette, for instance – while others, like chess, are matters of pure skill. But, as Meyer explains, “most games are heterogeneous, because they involve both chance and skill, and poker falls into this category.” The question is, how much skill is involved? Meyer’s study found that the workings of randomness far outweigh the importance of talent or hard work.

In Meyer’s study, 300 poker players took part, playing 60 hands each on tables of six. They were divided into “expert” and “average” players, and their ability to make money from good, bad and average hands was assessed. It turned out that – as you might expect – “expert” players lost less money on bad hands; but surprisingly, they did no better than average players on mediocre hands and even made slightly less on good ones. The conclusion, says Meyer, is that “poker players overestimate the skill factor in their play.”

Where is the line dividing luck and skill? How much does chance determine success? It turns out that, from sport to the stock market, we are constantly deluded by an illusion of order, when in fact we are assailed by randomness. And a new study claims that, in one area where we ultimately expect skill to triumph – namely, poker – we may be far more at the mercy of fortune than we believe.

First, LOL using 60 hands per player as a statistical basis. Even if you multiply 60 hands by 300 participants that totals 18,000 hands, which still isn’t significant for analyzing results even if those hands all belonged to a single individual. Any poker player who has done any study at all knows this.

Lose less with the bad hands? Okay. Win less with the good hands? Umm, what do expect when you are only going to play 60 hands? Decent players are going to wait until their skill tells them how to play at this particular table. Decent players know that results only become significant with thousands of hands, not 60. They’re apt to play conservatively, losing less with poor hands and winning less with good hands, until they figure out their opposition and how to play them. You want to compare chess players but end their games after three moves each and then look at the statistics? And why not evaluate players who have of millions of hands of poker stored in their databases showing that they are winning and covering the rake, and then tell them that in poker “the workings of randomness far outweigh the importance of talent or hard work”?

I do see two caveats with my comments about this article. One is that there are at least two individuals involved here, the professor and the author, and it’s possible that the author has slanted this article for entertainment purposes. Even if that’s the case I’m not sure I can buy the direct quotes from the researcher.

The other caveat is that both the author and the researcher refer to “we” and “poker players” as not understanding the degree to which randomness affects results, and it’s possible that by those references they mean Joe Average recreational player. If that’s the case, then they should have specified. Again though, based on the direct quotes I don’t think that the researcher has a clue how good poker players understand and deal with the randomness.

I hope no funding body paid a lot of money for this research to take place. Even the anti-gambling anti-poker factions would have wasted their money here.

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