03 June 2006

Luck and Poker

A rare weekend post. First, thanks to IGGY for the nice words this week ("...I'm a big fan..."); pretty flattering, so thanks.

I deposited $300 in Hollywood Poker to see if their 1000% bonus is doable. Sat in on one 3/6 table, promptly lost $120 I think never winning a pot. Very slow game, hardly any tables, couldn't figure out how to use PokerTracker with Hollywood (either the hands are on my hard drive or something). I think I would need to play something like 15,000 hands in two months to clear the bonus, so I don't know if it's doable. I'm just not sure.

Traffic drops substantially on weekends (probably down 75% or so), but I'd like to address my thoughts on poker and luck vs. skill. As many great topics start, it started with Jordan's initial post then alot of folks chimed in. I probably have a bit of a different take on the topic of luck vs. skill in poker: Poker is 100% luck.

100% luck--a bit stupid right? Well, first what is luck? dictionary.com defines it as the chance happening of fortunate or unfortunate events. I'd like to focus on the first word, chance. Let's start first with the universal first truth in a poker hand: you receive x number of random cards after a dealer has shuffled. If you're playing holdem, then we're talking two cards. I'll let the statisticians give you the odds of getting any two specific cards, but suffice it to say that for most players we won't have a decision to make probably 50-67% of the time. What I mean by this is a majority of the time, we look at our cards, and we have hands that everyone would deem poor, so we muck. Next, there are 5-10% of the hands that are universal that we will be playing them, so the decision then becomes what to do based on other factors like position, other players actions, chip counts, table image, etc. That leaves 23-45% of the hands where we have to decide if we'll play or not. I understand that this isn't exactly right (e.g., raising in the cutoff with rags), but hopefully you follow.

If luck is chance, then poker starts with 100% chance, meaning 100% luck. It then becomes what we're going to do with that combination of our chance vs. our opponents' chance that determines both our actions, our opponents' actions, and the results. I'll give you a couple of examples of what I mean:
  • December, 15/30 at the Bellagio. I'm in the 1s and have 9To (it's folded to me in the CO and I fold), 2s has 77 and raises preflop on the button, 3s calls with 22 in the sb, bb calls with 88. Flop comes 872, turn is 8, river is 7. Independent of the other players, was I lucky? I had a marginal hand that becomes playable in late position with no one entering in front of me. Was I lucky or unlucky to be dealt these cards? Was there skill involved to muck these cards? Independent of everything else, was the 3s lucky to be dealt the smallest pocket pair? Was she lucky to catch bottom set? Was she lucky to catch a full house on the turn? Was the 4s lucky to be dealt the best hand pre-flop? Was he lucky that the board hit everyone so powerfully? Was he unlucky that the 2s had lost the previous hand, thus getting all-in on the capped turn?
  • Last night, in a SNG. I'm down to 1245 in chips with the blinds 30/60 (I'm in sb with 99). It's chance that I get a medium pocket pair. UTG, who is horrible, calls, then UTG+1 raises to 150. I reraise to 675, as I decide to take a stand, UTG folds, and the raiser calls. Flop comes Kd9dTc. I go all-in with my last 570 and am called, with an 8c and 3d completing the board. The raiser has KhJh. Was I lucky that the raiser raised out of position with a marginal hand? Was I lucky that he called pre-flop? Was I lucky that he hits top pair? Was I lucky that he calls?
  • Later in the SNG, I have 2552, blinds are 100/200. I'm dealt QJo, and a solid player with 3352 in middle position limps, I raise to 875, blinds fold, he shoves, and I muck. Was I lucky to be dealt this marginal hand? Was I lucky that he jams?
  • $5/10 LHE on Party, I'm in bb with AhKh, UTG raises, CO calls, sb calls, and I call. Flop comes JcTh2h, sb checks, I bet, UTG raises, CO folds, sb calls, and I call. Kc on turn, sb bets, I call, UTG raises, sb re-raises, I call, UTG caps, sb calls, I call. 3d comes on the river, sb checks, I check, UTG checks. sb has KdJd, UTG has TT for the set. Was I lucky to catch big slick in the bb? Was I lucky to see a flop like this?
  • Later at the same table, I'm dealt AhKh again in the CO, it's folded to me, I raise, and the rest fold to me. Was I lucky?
Poker is 100% luck. The skill comes with how we take in all available data possible to bring our quick decision making honed through experience, analytical capability, and further chance. The other major part of skill is our ability to deal with the outcomes that result from chance, either the string of positive outcomes or negative outcomes. When we're riding high, many of us (at least let me start with me) alter our decision making. The luck of who is at the table and their tendency to fold or call you down impacts those outcomes during both the winning and losing streaks. AKs gets called down by underpairs when we're running bad but gets mucked vs. second pair bad kicker when we're running good.

I think in the macro sense, our ability to manage ourselves, our mental outlook, and the consistency of our approach during the extremes of chance is a major key to overall improvement and growth. Our no-nonsense ability to stay within our bankroll allows us to work through the negative extremes of chance.

None of this was thought out too well, so my apologies if it isn't too coherent. The down and dirty version: poker is 100% luck, and our long-term success is tied to the skill we have to deal with this luck, this chance.

Hope everyone is having a good weekend, and I'll see you Monday.


Blogger d said...

To use PokerTracker at Hollywood (or Poker Room + skins) you need to select File | Auto-Import PokerRoom (and Skins) Hand Histories. Then specify the location of your db file (C:\Program Files\ HollywoodPoker\ Resources\ Databases \ XXXTexasReal.db file).

3:18 PM  
Blogger ScurvyDog said...

Is bowling 100% luck, because there's a certain element of chaotic randomness when the pins strike one another that prevent even the most skilled of bowlers from rolling a 300 game every time?

Is golf 100% luck, because even perfectly struck balls sometimes find a divot or a sudden gust of wind blows an approach shot a foot to the left, ultimately resulting in it trickling back off the green, instead of rolling gently into the cup?

Just because you can't physically exert control over the next card that is dealt doesn't mean that poker is 100% luck. It just means that the game of poker includes the element of randomly dealt cards.

Just not sure you can so neatly divide luck from skill, and then claim that poker is 100% luck, simply because we cannot control what cards are dealt. I definitely agree with the conclusion and where you end up, but I think that claiming poker is 100% luck is a bit too bold.

5:44 PM  
Blogger Felicia :) said...

I understand exactly where you are coming from here, and agree with you completely. It sounds very Jesse May-esque.

Unfortunately, you are probably going to experience the same kind of backlash that I'm used to.

Readers either #1, Read it so literally that they can't see the forest for the trees, or #2, Read between the lines so greatly that they start attributing things to your journal that you never said.

Get the flame retardant gear on, you might need it.

Great post.

10:15 AM  
Blogger Fat Dan said...

Also on Hollywood or other Pokerroom skins you must turn on stats in the lobby. I think there is a button that says stats and then you enable statistics.

4:08 PM  
Blogger cc said...

scurv, I think we're on the same page. Probably more appropriately I should say that poker starts with 100% luck, and by luck I mean chance specifically. I believe pretty strongly that skill is a combination of experience, knowledge, analytical capabilities, probably with then a bit of intestinal fortitude to pull all that together and make a choice. I think where chance or luck further come into play is the corresponding actions from the other players. You can start pretty simply with your AA or AhKh raise of 4xbb in middle position, with the sb having QsJs and UTG having already limped with 44. How it all plays out from there on whatever boards hit and whatever actions occur are luck or chance in the micro sense, meaning on a specific flop etc.

None of that makes much sense, sorry (a bit distracted). Anyways, I think we're in agreement that poker isn't all luck, but 100% of the time luck is involved maybe? Thanks for commenting, as well as Felicia.

Dave/Fat Dan--I may need to reach out to you again if I can't figure this out. Thanks for the initial direction. I don't seem to be getting hand histories, so maybe it is what Dan suggested. Dave, I can't get yahoo mail for some reason, so thanks if you responded.

5:41 PM  
Blogger HighOnPoker said...

I like your way of looking at Luck, mostly because it's novel and you are willing to look at it from a different angle. If I'm reading it correctly, you are simply stating that poker IS luck, and that is inescapable. Of course, you do mention skill elements, and while you say its 100% luck, you don't mean it literally. It's just that poker is at its core a random selection of cards.

Also, thanks for referencing me. As I mentioned on my blog today, I was originally going to ask you to start the whole Luck v. Skill question, since I wanted to see the variety of opinions and I think from your Relationships & Poker series (and other ones), you clearly have a skill for getting people involved and processing it in a way that is very interesting and palatable. Anyway, rock on, CC.

5:24 PM  

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