Why Poker is a Skill Based Game
I’ve lost count of the number of times people have told me that poker is all luck. I’m not talking about those who continuously moan about losing to weaker players, telling anybody who will listen how they have so much more bad luck than everybody else. I’m talking about the people who genuinely believe that there is no skill involved in poker, that if everybody played enough hands the winnings and losses would all be evened out.
Well, they are wrong and I’m going to show you why.
Poker is a fusion of skill AND luck. Although technically it is still gambling by any definition, it is possible to obtain what is known as an ‘edge’. Let me show you what I mean by using the simplest possible example that anybody can understand.
Gambling on the flip of a coin
Just imagine for this example that we’re sat in a bar with nothing better to do than wager on the result of a coin toss with some random guy. There are only two possible results. Heads or tails.
So if we can get 1-1 odds (evens) on our money we will break even over the long run. If we bet £1 then half of the time we win £1, and the other half of the time we lose our £1 stake.
But just imagine if our random guy has had a bit too much to drink and is willing to accept odds worse than evens. Then we stand to make a profit because we have an ‘edge’. We will win more when we win, but still lose the same when we lose.
This understanding of the odds for each situation in poker is what allows people to make money over the long run. You can’t win every time, but that doesn’t matter. In fact if you did win every time then the weak players would lose too fast, realise they were outclassed and then pack up and go home.
Becoming a Skilled Poker Player
Imagine you are playing a game of NL Texas Holdem, you are heads up on the flop with a guy who shoves his last ten big blinds into the pot. You look down to see you have a six high flush draw which is about 4-1 to come in. But the odds on offer are only 2-1. Damn! You don’t even have a pair.
So you can fold quite happily knowing that you have saved yourself some money. An unskilled player will call here thinking because they have a draw so it can’t be bad. But it is bad! Stopping yourself from chasing draws with insufficient pot odds is the first step to take if you want to apply some technical skill to your game.
Many of you might look at poker as some kind of glamorous pursuit, all about psychology and bluffing. But the reality is that it is an elaborate maths puzzle, with every single decision dependent on how much money is already in the pot. This is where your skills start.
Dispelling a Common Myth
Something you will hear a lot from beginners is that microstakes games are impossible to beat because the fish never fold. With the examples above you should now understand this is actually where your profits come from!
Players who refuse to let themselves get bluffed are the guys who will give you the most money in the end. Don’t kid yourself that moving up to higher stakes will give you an easier ride, build your skills in the smallest stakes games where people don’t like to fold.