Thursday, November 19, 2009

Joe Cada's luck proves poker is mostly not skill

Imagine you or any other random person playing Lebron James in basketball. He has a skill advantage that can't be overcome by luck. You might think, you'll just shoot the ball as soon as you get it, and if it's "make it and take it", you can get on a streak and win. But he has height, jumping ability, and the knowledge of the game to stop you. You versus Lebron in basketball is a skill match 99.9%.

Contrast that to poker, and poker tournaments especially. There are many professional players and others who are trying to convince the public that poker really is a game of skill and not luck. They are lobbying against legislation to ban gambling, including poker on the internet. Yet, the 2009 World Series of Poker (WSOP) just belied that assertion to the nth degree.
Clearly, the most lucky players made it to the final 2. Not only that, poker-wise they played the worst poker. Joe Cada made dumb moves like:

raising with 22 (fine)
he get's reraised by a big stack, and he goes allin (very dumb)

That's dumb because no matter what you are putting your tournment on the line for a coin flip. That means the best case scenario is that you are near 50% odds to win/lose.
There is no chance someone was bluffing with a re-raise with so many chips. Especially against an aggressive player. Nonetheless, whatever they have is either way better than 22 or pretty much equal.

Likewise, Cada did similar with 33.

There are skills in poker that can give better players advantages. Over the long-term. The long term can be months or years. Yet, poker is played in seconds. For example,

if you have 67 suited and you raised 3 x the blinds.

You are called by AQ.

Flop is Q67.

You can check and then call a bet realizing the odds are that you are ahead. You are trying to entice more betting in a situation where you are confident yo uhave an edge. But your edge has odds to it. Right now you are 75% to win this hand.

The AQ bets pot size. you call.

8 comes so the board is Q678

Since you raised, and let's say you assume the other player is tight-aggressive, you can discount the straight possibilities. Again, good poker skill involved. Now your odds to win are 81%.

you check again. AQ best 3 times the pot, you go allin. He calls.

Nearly 1/5 you will lose. You've done everything right. Not only that. You can lose five straight hands like that wher you "outplay" your opponent. In tournaments, it is very rare for the player who used skill best to win. Not just bad beats, I'm talking bad players win.

Bad players are those who make moves that have no mathematical logic. No poker logic. They just made a mistake. Like:

-raising allin a tight-aggressive player who raised for the first time in an hour and you've got pair of 3's.

-calling a raise for a large percentage of your stack against a loose-aggreesive player with ace-ten and then folding to a bet. If you were going to call, then you should have gone all-in either then or later.

-slow playing a big hand to the turn when there are numerous possibilities, and then going allin. If the other player is any good he will either have a really big hand or fold. You've played a lose-lose scenario.

Poker is mostly luck. Skill can limit the luck in the long run. But it is always mostly luck. It is gambling. The interesting interplay between the two is what keeps the game popular. A better player can win most of the time, eventually. But there will be plenty of nights the best poker player in the world goes home broke. That in fact is part of the skill. Dealing with bad luck.

Lebron versus a random player is not going home in a game.
Unless you make it h-o-r-s-e or some other game where he can't block your shot, and no dunks, etc...

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