Poker – skill or luck? The Answer is – it depends

The question of whether poker is a game that predominantly relies on player skill or luck for success is one that has been dogging the game since time immemorial.

The reason it matters is that its classification dictates when and where it can be played and by whom. If it is a game of luck, like roulette, it is a gambling game and the gambling rules of the nation or US state in a question apply. But if it is a game of skill, like soccer, that is another matter.

Some argue that because poker involves dealing cards from a shuffled deck, it must rely on luck. However, for a game like Texas Holdem, the dealing of the cards is just the setup.

In football or cricket, the setup is also luck-based – winning the toss can be highly significant. But although having some luck helps, nobody would define football or cricket as games of chance.

Different types of poker

The type of poker you play has a bearing on the skill or luck debate, too. There are dozens of poker variations, and while all of them can be said to demand a mixture of luck in the cards you are dealt and skill in how you play them, there are also other ways they might be categorized according to what are the poker rules and specifically whether you are playing against the house or other players.

Here’s the thing about playing against the house – it doesn’t matter how good you are, you’re always statistically less likely to win. In blackjack, the very best players can reduce the house edge from perhaps three percent for someone playing on gut instinct to less than 0.5 percent.

This is by following every strategy rule to the letter and by card counting with skill. But the house still has an edge, even though it is drastically reduced.

The same applies to three-card poker or Caribbean stud. You might feel that playing house games like these is “safer” because you know what you are up against.

That’s true, you won’t lose the shirt off your back being hustled as three-card poker. But in the long run, you’ll always be hobbled by that house edge, which in this case is 3.4 percent if you play optimum strategy.

Playing poker with other players

With house poker games, the odds are loaded against you, and your only hope of winning is to be lucky with the cards you are dealt. It’s like hoping to call heads or tails right – you can’t guarantee it but sometimes you’ll get lucky and might call seven or even eight out of 10 correctly.

A game like Texas Holdem or Omaha is different. The house is not in the game and does not benefit from who wins or loses. It gets its rake whatever happens and so does not influence play. Suddenly, the skill becomes the deciding factor over who wins or loses.

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