Poker Involves Over 50% Luck, Study Suggests

4 weeks ago
Poker Involves Over 50% Luck, Study Suggests
23 Sep

We’ve all heard of games being down to ‘the luck of the draw’. But when it comes to playing poker, is luck really the main component? A new study by the University of Heidelberg suggests so. Despite players spending hundreds of hours (and hundreds of dollars) building up poker strategies, perfecting their ‘poker face’, and practising against a range of competitors, it seems this preparation doesn’t place them at quite the advantage we all assumed.  

The news might come as a bit of a surprise to anyone who’s played poker before. The game seems miles away from activities such as online slots at a UK casino, roulette, or even a national lottery – all of which are completely and utterly down to chance. The fact that there are professional poker players such as Daniel Negreanu, Maria Ho, Phil Ivey, and Liv Boeree suggests that getting good at the game requires a level of skill and commitment most of us can’t easily achieve. If the outcome of a poker match were more than 50% down to luck, surely somebody playing poker for the first time would be in with a very real chance of beating a world expert. 

Let’s take a closer look at the University of Heidelberg’s study and find out why we could be taking more of a chance on poker than we thought. 

What did the study find out? 

Researchers at the University of Heidelberg set out to determine whether it’s possible to quantify the extent to which a game relies on luck or skill. They decided to come up with a rating system that was based on the Elo rating system – a method that’s used to calculate the different skill levels of chess players

The researchers analysed more than 4 million different online games of both chess and poker in order to work out the rating. They found that the Elo rating across the chess games varied hugely, which showed that there was a big disparity in skill between novices and experts. In the poker games, however, this rating was far narrower. This showed that the skill levels didn’t vary to the same extent. 

Does luck always trump skill? 

If you’ve been honing your poker technique, don’t give up just yet. The researchers did find that skill could win out in the long run. After roughly 100 different games, they discovered that a poker player who has a higher Elo rating than their current competitor was 75% more likely to have won more games than their opponent in the past – showing that if practise doesn’t make perfect, it can at least give you a helping hand. 

Is poker considered a game of skill?

Around the world, different governments classify poker in different ways. In Germany, poker is officially a game of chance, which is only legal in regulated casinos. In India, however, almost all forms of gambling are banned besides card games such as poker (and sports betting). This is because the government considers the skill element of poker to be more important than luck, which means it doesn’t technically count as gambling. 

With no consensus among countries – many of which choose to regulate poker as either a game of skill or game of chance – could the University of Heidelberg’s findings alter the way poker is perceived?

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Writer and semi-retired poker pro from Edinburgh (UK).Read more


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