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I just read a NY Times article which claims that a US Judge ruled that poker is a game of skill and not one of chance.

In a ruling that goes to the heart of what it means to play poker, Judge Jack B. Weinstein tossed out the conviction and vacated the indictment of the man who ran that gambling business. The judge’s reason: poker is more a game of skill than a game of chance, so game operators should not be prosecuted under the federal law the prohibits running an illegal gambling business.

Is there any evidence to support that poker is a game of skill and not luck?

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This is a largely meaningless question. (a) There are clearly strong elements of chance. (b) There are clearly elements of skill, including betting strategies, bluffing strategies, evaluating probabilities, observation. (c) There are lots of forms of poker, with varying reliance on chance. (d) Over long periods, small skill tend to overcome luck. If you have a 1% advantage PER HAND over an opponent, chance is more important than skill. Play 10,000 hands, and the situation reverses. – Oddthinking Dec 22 '12 at 7:04
John Hodgman, in his definitive book 'More Information Than You Require', points out that "Poker isn't a game of luck, poker is a game of chance" – Richard Terrett Dec 22 '12 at 7:16
@Oddthinking, blackjack also clearly has (a) strong elements of chance, and (b) elements of skill, however the game is ultimately one of luck, because even with perfect play, you will lose the game unless you are lucky. – Mew Dec 22 '12 at 8:12
@Oddthinking, I agree that if you have a 1% advantage per hand over an opponent, that skill is more important than luck. But you're obviously missing the point. I am asking whether it is POSSIBLE to gain such a 1% advantage in the first place. – Mew Dec 22 '12 at 8:15
@Chris: I'm afraid the BlackJack analogy isn't helping. Your argument seems to be "If the expected outcome is negative, it is luck-based, by definition." That isn't a sensible definition of luck-based (or to Richard's point: chance-based). (I'm ignoring card-counting in Blackjack as an unnecessary distraction.) – Oddthinking Dec 22 '12 at 8:21
up vote 7 down vote accepted

In tournament play, which is not a particularly long trial, there seems to be evidence that skill plays an important role:

Examining the performance in the 2010 World Series of Poker group of poker players identified as being highly skilled prior to the start of the events. Those players identified a priori as being highly skilled achieved an average return on investment of over 30 percent, compared to a -15 percent for all other players. This large gap in returns is strong evidence in support of the idea that poker is a game of skill.

The Role of Skill versus Luck in Poker: Evidence from the World Series of Poker, Levitt & Miles, 2011.

I don't know that it's valid to claim that the influence of skill is more than that of chance but it's interesting to note that the ROI magnitude for "highly skilled" players (30%) is greater than the magnitude (15%) of others.

In table play, I cannot find a reference to something I recall, which is that skill only begins to statistically dominate after several thousand hands (~2000-3000 IIRC). I believe that is only relevant to "correct" play based on pot odds and ignores psychological aspects, betting and bluffing strategies, etc.

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While both answers were good, the reference provided was very interesting in this one. – Mew Dec 26 '12 at 2:57

There is no doubt there is an element of chance involved in Poker. (Extreme example: If you are dealt a Royal Flush, you cannot lose.)

I am taking the question to mean "Is there ANY skill involved in Poker?".

I have to admit I find the answer to be blindingly obvious.

To give an extreme example, if a player had a sub-optimal strategy of betting 80% of their bank on every hand, no matter what its strength, would be quickly defeated by a moderately skilled competitor who merely folded when their cards were below the median strength.

Nonetheless, it has been studied:

  • MICHAEL A. DEDONNO AND DOUGLAS K. DETTERMAN, Poker Is a Skill, GAMING LAW REVIEW, Volume 12, Number 1, 2008, DOI: 10.1089/glr.2008.12105

They looked at a somewhat tighter question - could simple instruction improve the expected outcome of some non-expert players?

The unequivocal finding is that poker is a game of skill. In both studies, participants who were instructed outperformed those who were not instructed. Given that poker is a complex skill, it is somewhat surprising that even elementary instructions and limited practice had an effect.

The reason that poker appears to be a game of luck is that the reliability of any short session is low. In a casino game of poker, about 25 hands are dealt per hour. In Study 2, participants played 720 hands equivalent to about 30 hours of casino play. Study 2 met the psychometric qualification for moderate reliability of a psychometric task. What this suggests is that obtaining accurate estimates of poker ability may not be easy. Luck (random factors) disguises the fact that poker is a game of skill. However, as these studies show, skill is the determining factor in long-term outcome.

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You support posting evidence of a claim in "meta", but you seem to have blatantly disregarded the link that I posted in the question. The Judge declared that poker is not a form of gambling because of the skill involved. Many forms of gambling have components of skill, but I'm sure no judge is going to say that blackjack shouldn't be classed as gambling. The issue is thus, whether or not the skill element is greater than the element of luck. – Mew Dec 22 '12 at 8:40
Ahh... maybe your question isn't "Is the skill element greater than the luck element?" (which I maintain, is meaningless) but is "Does US Law consider it a form of gambling?", which would be resolved by posting a link to the court papers with a decision made by the judge? If this is a question of scientific fact, what an arbitrary authority decides is not definitive evidence. If it is a question of law, then it is the only thing that matters. (Note: I am still flailing, trying to figure out what the question means.) – Oddthinking Dec 22 '12 at 8:48
@Chris: Doesn't this answer the question in the comment "Is it possible for a poker player to gain a long term-edge over his opponents?" – Oddthinking Dec 22 '12 at 8:49
if you're still trying to work out what the question means, wait and think about it before trying to attack it. – Mew Dec 22 '12 at 8:52
Good try, Chris, but I have explained several times why there is a problem with the question. The issue isn't that I am naive about the field and don't understand the question. The issue is that I understand the field and the question needs clarifying. – Oddthinking Dec 22 '12 at 9:07

The supreme court of Sweden decided that poker (texas holdem) is a game of both skill and chance.

  • The article headline and subtitle are:

    HD: Både tur och skicklighet i poker

    Pokerspelet texas holdem handlar både om tur och skicklighet, slår Högsta Domstolen (HD) fast i en ovanlig dom.

  • Which in English via Google translate:

    HD: Both luck and skill in poker

    Poker game texas holdem matter of both luck and skill, hitting the Supreme Court (HD) caught in an unusual sentence.

The court decided that while the game is a game mostly of chance in a tournament form it is a game of skill.

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This appears to be pretty much a repeat of the claim - the evidence is no stronger than original claim. (I maintain my objection the claim is meaningless.) – Oddthinking Feb 13 '15 at 8:42

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