Luckyblind's Poker Blog

Random thoughts and reports from a relative Poker newbie.

Location: Drogheda, Ireland

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Monday, January 31, 2005

Skill Vs Luck

A recent post on the Hendon Mob Forum had me thinking about how much skill is actually involved in playing poker. I am only going to concentrate on tournaments as that is all I really know about - my cash game sucks !

Immediatley players such as Daniel Negreanu, John Juanda, Devilfish, Gus Hansen and even Phil Hellmuth spring to mind. All have multiple wins in large field multi table tournaments and even more final table finishes.

Lets use Daniel Negreanu as an example. Going back over his performances for the last year he has the following finishes :

3rd out of 512
1st of 376
1st of 302
1st of 68
1st of 287
3rd of 538
2nd of 546
3rd of 221

Plus 8 other money finshes, mostly top tens.

If it were purely down to luck the odds of these 8 top three finishes are:
171:1 + 376:1+302:1+68:1+287:1+179:1+273:1+74:1 = 1730:1

My reckoning is that if it was all down to luck ten that means he would have had to enter 1730 tournaments to achieve these results. You may be able to do that in one year online but live tournamnents ? He probably entered less than 50. That means he achieved over 30 times his expected results if it was all down to luck.

Now let's look at Dave 'Devilfish' Ulliott. Not a particulary stand out year for him but his best 8 finishes were:

5th of 454
1st of 85
4th of 59
3rd of 82
1st of 171
3rd of 128
1st of 60
2nd of 58

Combined odds of 521:1

Now Dave plays a lot of tournaments but again he probably played no more than 50 in a year so he acheived 10 times his expected results if it was down to luck.

You could go through the results of a lot of players and the findings would be similar and if you go back long enough for most of them you will find that they get more than expected return most years. I think most people will agree that although not statistically impossible, nobody has a run of luck that lasts that long.

Of course there is luck in poker in the short term, I am sure that everyone at some point has had someone hit a 1 or 2 outer on the river against them to knock them out of a tournament, but I am sure that if you kept count of how many times you won a similar hand then in the long run you would be well ahead.

So where is the skill in poker ?

A not exhaustive list of skill points:

  • The ability to read other players
  • The ability to pass a good hand when you know you are beat
  • The ability to use your position to its best advantage
  • Knowing when and when not to play poor starting hands
  • Patience
  • The calmness to avoid 'steaming'
  • The ability to 'change gears' when necessary
  • Knowing how to adjust your bet size to extract the most out of a winning hand
  • Knowing your outs on any given hand
  • Ability to correctly determine 'pot odds' and 'implied odds'
  • Knowing the point you need to gamble
  • Luck !

To sum it all up in whose words I am not sure but ' A good player has more bad luck than a bad player ' - I must be a very good player because I have had lots of bad luck recently :-)