The news and politics of poker

  1. 2009-05-05 06:20:59

    More on Poker as a Skill Game

    Riffing off the discussion on this post, I thought I'd draw your attention to a recent op ed by Gary R. Reed, the Colorado director for the Poker Players Alliance:

    Poker is not gambling. For us in the Poker Players Alliance or elsewhere to go on allowing the uninformed to lump it in with gambling in general is a disservice to the game and to us. Gambling is games of chance played against a fixed statistical disadvantage.

    Poker is no such game. No fixed disadvantage exists prior to the cards being dealt and the actions or lack of same of the players determines the odds, statistics and chance surrounding any given hand. In other words the house will not take from 6% to 20% of your money given that you play long enough to make those odds apply.

    I like his quick definition of gambling: a game of chance played against a fixed statistical disadvantage. That's quite useful for us, since it draws a clear delineation: roulette and craps? Gambling. Poker? Skill.

    I think the issue that non poker players have trouble with is that there is still chance involved in poker. They see some guy on ESPN spike a one-outer on the river and think it's all luck. But chance is not the same thing as luck. Luck is beating the odds. You have to be lucky to win at roulette. Before a single roulette player sits down, the house has already won. Over the length of the table's service, it will make the house a profit. If it did otherwise, it would be broken.

    Chance is different. It just means that there is some probability of an event happening. The skill comes in figuring out when your chances are good and getting your money in. Simple, right?

    To highlight the difference, think about this: if you want to make poker into gambling, a game of luck, just deal every hand face up and play as normal. Now you're gamblin'! But that's just silly and no one would play it.

    So here's my longer definition of where to draw the gambling/not gambling line:

    1. Given the current state of the game-any game-is it possible to determine a best move to take?
    2. If so, and you take that move in each case, will you come out ahead versus other players in the long run?

    If you can answer yes to both of those, then you're looking at a skill game, folks. Chess is really obviously a skill game. Given the state of the game, which is perfectly represented by the layout of the chess board, it is possible to determine a best move to take.

    The state for poker is a lot harder. There's the betting action and the flop/turn/river just to start with. Then there's each player's past history, their mannerisms, position, etc. But given all of that information, it is still possible to determine the best move. And if you take it, you will win in the long run.

    Posted by Ethan at 2009-05-05 06:20:59

Comments on “More on Poker as a Skill Game”

    • anonymous
    • i is gambling...there is an element of skill as there is in know there are 4 decks in the know what cards have come fact if anything the fact that the shoes isnt shuffled every deal makes black jack a safer option...obviously you gain som einformation from tells, but you place money on the uncertainty that a card you need will come out...chess is a purely skill is has an element of uncertainty hence it is partially gambling. and despite being a regular poker player..i do disagree with gambling online...there isnt the requirement for a good poker game to need money as such

    • avatar for Ethan
    • go right ahead :)

    • avatar for FREMONTkyle
    • LOL im stealing that ethan ok??

    • avatar for Jason M
    • very true :/

    • avatar for Ethan
    • Isn't that the best? Financial companies are allowed to gamble with and lose people's pensions with no repercussions, but you can't play poker online with your own money. Fantastic.

    • avatar for Krishna
    • If people are allowed to use probability to make decision on random events, there should be no stock trading and every other profession.
      In poker at least the math is straight forward.

    • avatar for Tony Gags
    • Perfect

    • avatar for Jason M
    • Right on, right on. This is what I've been saying all along :) Just written a little bit better LOL