Is poker a game of luck or skill? That’s a question that many people often ask themselves. If you’ve been a consistent loser at the table, surely poker is all about luck. If you only suffer a few bad beats, you’re even more sure of that.
For me, luck is an old opportunity. These are random events over which no one has control – not even the dealer. Luck is positive – good luck – when it works in your favor and, therefore, in your favor. You win the pot. The opposite extreme is negative – bad luck; it can only cost you a chip.
My co-columnist, George “The Engineer” Epstein once wrote an article challenging the view of mega-rich casino mogul Sheldon Adelson that poker is just a game of luck. Adelson would not consider skill an important factor in visiting the dewa poker.
My poker friend Lucy and I discussed the matter at lunch the other day. We agree with George, skill and luck go hand in hand; both are important in determining how well you do at the poker table. Although no one can control luck (opportunity), with skill, we can influence it. As we eat, I list the various skills we discussed:
• Initiating hand selection is a vital skill. Have the appropriate criteria.
• Seat selection and position can be very important; aware and ready to change when the time is right.
• Know your opponent – tight or loose, passive or aggressive, call station, hunter. You can learn a lot about how they plan to play the two cards that are only dealt to them just by finding out when they first peeked at their hole cards; just look left. Then, at the showdown, watch the hole cards appear. Record their position. What do you say about the hands they play?
• Minimize the area by lifting when you start with the hand made. (Then an opponent who will get lucky and take you, get out of hand. Lucky you!)
• By drawing after the flop, always look for positive EVs – the pot odds are higher than your card odds. (In the long run, it will definitely make you a winner.)
• Be deceptive when you want to build a pot while holding a monster. Learn how and when to slow down, trap, and check for raises.
• Bet for the correct current value.
• Bluff and semi-bluff skills are essential. When doing so, always use Esther Bluff (as described in Epstein, The Art of Bluffing).
• Never chase with five or fewer hand drawn. Then the odds of your cards tied to be much higher than the pot odds. (Lucy comments: “Only losers will do that.”)
• Watch the game – not for big football matches shown on TV walls; and don’t drink alcoholic beverages. Don’t play – risk your money – when you’re tired. Take a break or go home.
As George said, using this skill definitely gives you the edge over your opponents. That’s how skill can influence luck. But first you have to learn the skills. It takes a lot of time and effort. When was the last time you read – better, studied – a good poker book? The higher the stakes you play, the more important that advice is.
Later that day, Lucy called me. He has thought of our discussion. “Another skill,” he says, “is the ability to be optimistic even when the cards are up against you. That will help you avoid tilting – which causes you to lose. “He quoted J. Harold Wilkins (1923-1993) who played prominent leadership roles in several states:” The world of achievement always belongs to the optimist. “