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Is Poker Skill or Luck?


What is the effect of luck in Texas Hold ’em (poker)?  This has been a subject of much debate in the legal community, like in the US, where any game of chance is considered gambling.  There have been legal jurisdictions that have had a dominance test for poker, to see if the outcome is skill based or by chance.

Dominance Test For Poker


There was a study done in March 2009, where it was revealed that statistically, Texas Hold’em is a game of skill.  This research had investigated over 103 million hands and have found that 75.7% of them didn’t go to showdown.  The winner in these hands managed to win the pot skillfully by the way they bet, casting doubt into their opponent’s mind.  It really didn’t matter if they held the best hand or not in some cases.  The remaining 24.3% of hands showed that the player who held the best five card hand won 50.3%.  49.7% of pots were then won when the player with the best hand folded prior to showdown.  This test showed that the best hand took the pot just 12% (24.3% divided by 50.3%) of the time.  So the final numbers are, being dealt the best hand and going to showdown and winning is about 12% of the time (luck).  88% of the pots won is, by the way, a player bets (skill).

Computer (AI) Tested


There was an article in Jan. 2015 that reported that there was a new computer algorithm called counterfactual regret minimization (CFR).  Researchers claimed to have developed a computer program that plays limit Texas Hold’em nearly perfect.  They spent two months having the program play more than a billion hands and collected 11-terabytes of information for its database.  The program was called Cepheus, you can check it out here.

Although the program is not perfect, the fact that researchers were able to develop a program that comes close to solving a type of poker, reveals that it is not all chance.  There is luck involved, just not as much as you think.  Cepheus opens the old debate, whether the game is one of skill or one of chance.  If researchers can create a computer program that is nearly unbeatable, this would clearly show that skill is involved.


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