Is Poker a Game of Skill?
By definition, a “game of skill” is defined to be a game whose outcome is derived mostly from a physical or mental capacity, rather than by an outcome left to chance. For many years, poker has been labeled by many to be a game of chance, when in fact, it should be considered primarily a game of skill.
Recent U.S. legislation, namely, the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) of 2006 has aimed to make the funding of online poker sites unlawful, for the purposes of playing poker. The UIGEA specifically cites poker as a game of chance, thus putting it into a different classification than other games that are exempt from this law due to their skill nature (for example, Fantasy Sports pools). Outright categorization of poker as a random game of chance is a total misnomer, as there is a significant element of skill associated with the game.
Chess is a game that is universally accepted to be 100 % skill-based, with the possible exception of who gets to move first in the game. Poker certainly cannot be classified as 100 % skill-based, since there is certainly an element of luck involved, when it comes to cards that are dealt to a player. Obviously, there is an element of randomness here, and this is one of the major reasons that many people consider poker to be a game of luck.
However, there are many reasons that Poker is much more than a game of luck. The sophistication of the game and its many nuances clearly delineate it as a game of skill. Here are some of the more prominent aspects of the game, that help define it as a “thinking man’s game”; that is, a game of extreme skill:
Betting Strategies – Players wager in poker due to many different reasons, some of which include: 1) they feel that they have a stronger current hand than their opponents; 2) they believe that the odds of receiving an additional card(s) are good enough to warrant betting a certain way; 3) given the game’s scenario, a bluffing betting strategy may provide them with an avenue for success. All of these reasons clearly point to a “mental” decision that is made by the player, which by definition, qualifies it as a game of skill.
Bluffing Strategies – A player may consider bluffing to his opponents (this can be in the form of staying in a game, raising the stakes of the game, etc.). Bluffing can be performed by these aforementioned game actions or even by providing physical clues (whether true or false), such as staring, sweating, blinking, smirking, or providing a stone face. These combinations of both mental and physical signals, qualify poker as a game of skill.
Probability of Success – Poker is an extremely mathematical game. For example, in the game of Texas Holdem, there are statistical mathematical probabilities of your chances to win a hand, given your two initial hole cards. Knowing these probabilities, in conjunction with your shown opponent cards and the flop (displayed later in the game), can be instrumental in how you approach the game betting-wise. Clearly, this mental capacity supports poker as a game of skill.
Seating Arrangements – Cognizance of your seating arrangement, relative to the Dealer, plays an important aspect to how you play a given hand. You may be more inclined to stay in a hand, if you are seated closer to the dealer (where you bet later in a round), than if you were to have a seat requiring you to bet first in a round. Again, this cognizance and mental capacity support the fact that poker is a game of skill.
Blind Positions – Cognizance of whether you are part of a small or big blind, may determine whether you stay in a hand or not, and clearly must be factored into your game decision making process. Clearly, this mental capacity points to poker being a game of skill.
Cards in Play – one’s awareness of the cards that have already been put in play in a game, factor into the odds of you getting a certain card or your opponent having a certain hand. Your awareness of this, and your resultant mental approach to the game, strongly supports poker as a skill game.
Understanding your Competition – Certain players exhibit certain characteristics when they play poker. Some players tend to be conservative, while other are extremely aggressive in their mode of play. Still, others tend to bluff in certain scenarios, while other tip off their type of gameplay with physical indicators (sweat, squirming in chair, smirking, etc.). These physical and mental aspects are always factored into the game, and their recognition help contribute to the game’s skill factor.
In summary, we have clearly demonstrated that poker is not strictly a game of chance, but a combination of both chance and skill. Further, the skill elements to the game are plentiful, so it can be concluded that these aspects of the game clearly depict poker to be more of a game of skill than a game of chance.
This article was written by Douglas Hayman, President of Expert Software Systems, a database expert and web designer, who hosts and develops many informational websites, including Top Poker Sites Review, a leading informational poker website contains subject material on a myriad of subjects including rankings, rules, tips, strategies, news, and much, much more; and Review of Best Poker Sites, an informational website that contains a detailed review of the features of today’s most popular online Poker websites.