Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Poker: Luck or Skill?

Take a moment to think about that for a moment. Ever lose on the river to someone with a 2-7 offsuit? Win because you flopped a full-house? Been dealt four of a kind?

Oddly enough, this is one of those very polarized questions. People I talk to feel very strongly in one direction or the other - but I ask you, what is the difference between luck and skill? Hopefully you took a moment to think about that, as the answer may not as easy as you might think.

To help frame this question, I want you to picture a continuum that runs from the card game War (pure luck) to the board game Chess (pure skill). In War you are dealt some number of cards that you place into a pile and flip over one at a time, highest card wins. There is no skill involved, and the only "luck" is that when a war occurs you have a higher card. There's nothing you can do to improve your odds of winning aside from cheating (stacking the deck).

Chess is the other end of the spectrum, everything is on the table and in plain view. The only difference between you and your opponent is your skill at the game. If you have memorized all the opening moves and your opponent hasn't you'll probably beat them.

Poker though, falls somewhere between the two. Although it does require luck, there is an element of skill. You need luck, and even the pros call that out, in order to win. At some point, you need to take a chance and pray you succeed. At the same time, you can minimize those guesses by determining the types of players you are against, maximizing your position in the game and focusing on playing well against those factors.

Where am I going with this? As I had posted earlier, in Massachusetts Poker is a game of chance, and therefore illegal. For the longest time I didn't agree with this, as playing the players can win as much as playing the cards - as long as your luck holds out.

And that will probably keep it illegal in Massachusetts, for the time being. Too bad really, there's a lot of untapped revenue that the various states are missing from making poker for money illegal.

Guess they learned how to cope with the digital age from the RIAA.

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