Is Poker Gambling or A Game of Skill?

January 28, 2022

Is poker a game of skill or gambling? This has become a topic of discussion over the years.

For most of history, poker was considered gambling, but the debate is no more with the rise of televised poker. It has definitely turned into a game of skill.

The definition of gambling is flexible and can be defined in two ways: "to bet or wager money on the outcome of a game or anything else that you have no control over" and "to stake or risk something, such as reputation or money, on a result that may be uncertain."

Poker is typically considered gambling because it involves betting and there are money at stake. It is also a game of chance in the short-term and that’s why many resemble it with blackjack or roulette games. However, poker does not follow the typical rules of these games: it requires strategy and skill and thus cannot be considered gambling.

In contrast to other popular card games such as blackjack, craps, or roulette, poker is a game that requires skill. Players compete against each other rather than trying to beat the casino, and that makes all the difference in the world.

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Poker as a Game of Chance

Let’s discuss both of the angles to see where we should land poker after all. Poker has been considered a game of chance since its inception in the early 19th century. Early poker games were often played on Mississippi riverboats, and it was not long before variations of the original poker were created and the game spread across America.

By the 20th century, poker was thoroughly associated with gambling and even involved large tournaments and cash prizes. The World Series of Poker started in 1970 and turned poker into a popular national pastime for Americans, who spend fortunes trying their luck at the green table. However, this trend changed dramatically in the 21st century as televised poker showed that skill was crucial in winning.

While clearly there is luck involved in the short run since anyone can win during a single session or even a tournament, the trend of better players prevailing in recent tournaments is too clear to ignore.

With the likes of Daniel Negreanu or Phil Helmuth who are crushing the game for decades, it would be hard to believe that they are just the luckiest people in the world and it is all it takes to win in this game.

Poker as a Game of Skill

The main argument that supports poker as a game of skill is that it requires deep logical thinking and careful analysis of other players' behavior. Anyone can learn how to play poker and become a winning player by practicing, training, and learning the game's rules. Poker is much more than just luck or chance; it is an art that requires many hours of practice to master.

A good example of the mental skills required for poker involves mathematics and probabilities. Professional players spend hours analyzing their hands and determining the odds of winning based on previous games, their current position at the table, and the behavior of other players.

Many mathematical theories can be applied to poker, such as game theory optimal play, and indexical decisions. This makes it evident how much mental effort is required for playing good poker.

While luck definitely has a role, it actually plays a reasonably small part in the long-run. Poker is more of a competitive strategy game influenced primarily by skill.

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