Skill versus luck in Poker

Skill versus luck in Poker

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Most people misunderstand poker. To be completely frank: most people only know poker from the low-stakes games they grew up playing with their family and friends. In these low stakes, home games luck often does play a much bigger role than skill. However, this isn’t real poker.

The money to be gained or lost in a home game tends to mean next to nothing and everyone almost always plays every hand to the end. Add in to that, dealer’s choice & the ever popular “wild cards” and you have a recipe for gambling on your hand, not playing it. In these situations, it’s often the middle hand that wins by catching a lucky card on the river.

Another reason why luck has such a big role in home-style poker games is that many of the skills we use in pro-style games just don’t come into play in a home game. Skills such as patience in determining which hands to play, when to bluff, and how to read your opponent just aren’t used when playing such low-limit against your family. If you are playing too many hands in a tough poker game, you will find yourself short stacked in no time.


The plain fact is that if you play too many hands in a pro-level poker game, you won’t win. It’s mathematically impossible for you to last for any length of time. But, if you play this many hands in a home game, you may fair better because the sheer size of the pot from the hands you draw out on may offer sufficient pot-odds to draw on that inside straight or whatever the case may be. Especially, if there are “wild cards”.


Another big difference between home poker games and pro-style games is bluffing. Bluffing will actually succeed in a pro game, where everyone will just call you in a low-limit family-style game. It is extremely hard to pull off a bluff in the family oriented game. The main reason for this is the limits are set against you. That 25 cents you’ve raised the pot isn’t going to be enough to scare anyone away, even if it was a check-raise. Anyone would call that, even if they thought they were beaten.

In a pro game, however, bluffing is a sound strategy. If you’ve played very few hands, it’s very possible to steal a pot at the end of a hand by becoming overly agressive at the right time. Your opponents will almost certainly put you on a strong hand, if not the nuts.

Reading your opponent

Another very important element in pro games is the ability to read your opponent. Are they full of crap or are they the real thing? In most home games, there is so much money in the pot (relative to the size of the amount to call) that there is no need to even consider this factor. In pro poker, however, there is enough money involved that a good read can be very valuable.

The simple fact is, if serious poker was a mere game of chance, there would be no such thing as a professionaly poker player and the people you see on the television constantly winning tournaments (i.e. Phil Ivey, Doyle Brunson, Daniel Negraneu, etc) would just have to be the luckiest people in the world. This, obviously, is not the case and many a professional poker can have very successful careers by honing their poker skills.


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