Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Luck In Poker: The Myth Revealed

According to our dear friends at Merriam-Webster the word "luck" can be utilized as either a noun, or a verb. The definitions for these uses are similar but enough of a difference exists so that the word may only relate to poker in one of it's forms, and then only slightly. The other is only used by misguided fools who shouldn't be near a Hold Em Poker table, let alone giving their money away at it. It is the former though that many of us derive a steady bankroll increase. It is to those players that we owe a hearty "Thank You, and Come Again".

For the purposes of this writing we refer only to community card games in which their is no draw or selection of cards. The reason for this distinction is because everything that happens in these games is preordained. The outcome, as far as the cards are concerned, has been decided before the first card is ever dealt. Once the deck is shuffled and dealing has begun their are no outside forces that may change the cards you will be playing with. This is what truly signifies the "Any Two Cards Can Win" philosophy. This is not the case when playing draw poker as the number of players past the opening round, and the cards they elect to take, will randomize your cards drawn. Also in stud games if someone folds during the betting rounds the cards you receive will change.

In order to differentiate the winners from the losers let's first delve into "luck" in it's improper form.
Function: intransitive verb
1 : to prosper or succeed especially through chance or good fortune -- usually used with out
2 : to come upon something desirable by chance -- usually used with out, on, onto, or into

The player that says "He lucked out" or "That was a lucky draw" does not fully understand the game of Texas Hold'em. While it is fashionable to say these things they rely on a perceived outside force that changed the cards dealt. As we know the cards cannot be changed so this is an incorrect assumption. With the thought of "luck" as an outside force playing havoc with the cards no one can beat the game in a long term struggle. In fact those that believe luck is a factor in the outcome of the game should never play the game. If one persons luck is stronger than another then the second can never win. If luck won't be on your side then why play. This player doesn't think in these terms though. The lucky player always believes, nay, has to believe, that luck will come his way. He knows that he will "luck out" often enough to stay in the game. This player will pay over and over to see the cards because the next one just might be the "lucky" one.

Now that we know luck as a mysterious outside power is not really in the game of poker, we can make our own luck.
Function: noun
1 a : a force that brings good fortune or adversity b : the events or circumstances that operate for or against an individual
2 : favoring chance
The first definition is the one that applies to the game of poker. To break it down the "force that brings good fortune or adversity" is yourself as a player. Your ability to "read" the other players can give you an edge. The ability to force your will upon a table allows you to bring your own luck. Forcing others to fold by bluffing also is a way of creating your own luck.
To aid in this cause we look at the "b" definition. "... events or circumstances that operate for or against an individual" is our betting. The act of placing chips into a pot are the "event" that can aid or hinder you as a player. In conjunction with your read of the table betting is what makes your luck happen. We can have no bluff without the bet, no control without the bet, without eachother one cannot survive. It is this symbiotic relationship that makes up the game of poker and allows you to create your own "luck".

If we expand this further the word luck becomes interchangeable with the word skill when looked at in its proper usage. My personal preference is not to use the word luck at all when thinking about the game of poker. It is a players skill, his abilities to maximize the situation in his favor. Knowing when he/she has the best of it, or getting out when they don't. Understanding your outs and the odds of achieving them. Although the cards have decided the outcome of the hand before the first one hits the felt it is the players skill that may determine the eventual winner. If you think the game of poker is just a game of "Lucky draws", and "Lucky players" then do yourself a favor and quit playing the game before it's too late. If you are willing to take the time to develop your "skill" then the game can be "lucky" for you. Just remember where the "luck" comes from and you'll prosper.