The message above is one my friend sent me yesterday, and it is often asked of poker players. The idea that poker is a game based on luck is a long-held belief by many who are new to the game or those who have never played. The aforementioned friend then went on to say:
“I don’t get where the skill is, because it’s all based on the cards you happen to be holding and the cards on the table? Just coincidence if they’re a pattern?”
When we think about luck and poker it conjures up memories of all those time you’ve lost to runner-runner, or Connor Drinan’s brutal exit from the 2015 One Drop. But as all good players know, poker is all about minimising the effect luck has on you. David Sklansky, author of ‘The Theory of Poker’, said that all good poker players “are at war with luck. They use their skills to minimise luck as much as possible.”
However, many people still believe that poker is about the cards and nothing else. There was a time where I thought that if you just waited, and played as many hands as possible, sooner or later you will connect with the board in a way which will make a strong hand. There are still people who play like that today. I’m sure we’ve all got stories of players limping in with T4o in the hope that the flop comes T44: “It could happen! I’ve seen it happen!” Never mind that the odds are 1,088-to-1 (around 0.09%), he wants to take a chance with any two cards in the hope that he gets lucky and flops something good.
A day to learn, a lifetime to master
There are many things you can say to people who still believe that poker is inherently based on luck. I always point them to Annette Obrestad’s feat of winning a $4 180-man SNG without looking at her cards. Position and bet sizing can trump hole-cards any day.
There will of course be instances where we play perfectly only for the opponent to hit their 2-outer. There will be times when we mutter “It’s going all-in anyway” or “No getting away from that,” and that is alright. But the fact of the matter is, it is the casual player who occasionalyl plays the odd home game who blames their losses on luck. If you are applying yourself consistently, and constantly striving to improve your game, you will notice over time that skill and strategy takes precedence.