When Luck and Skill Collide: Online Poker as a Unique Sport


888poker The game of online poker is one that often straddles two different spheres. On the one hand, the skill elements present in the game make it akin to a sport or, at the very least, a mind sport like chess. On the other hand, the unavoidable element of luck in the game has led many to say that it’s not a true sport. Now, if we look at the latter statement in more detail and compare it to recognised sports such as golf, then it doesn’t hold true. Despite golf being a highly skilled game, there is still an element of luck in it. The run of the green, a gust of wind or an unexpected bounce can all help or hinder a player. Although a terse example, it does show that there is an element of luck in golf as there is in all sports. Essentially, it’s the amount of luck and the impact it has on the result which causes people to class something as a “real” sport or a “game of chance”. 2375879687_0633f3fd9b_zGood Luck” (CC BY 2.0) by Dmitry Baranovskiy

Why is There Luck in Poker?

So why is there an element of luck in poker? Because poker is a game of unknown information (i.e. you don’t know what your opponents’ cards are) and the cards you receive are randomly dealt from a deck, mathematical variance will always be at play. For example, let’s say you use your skill to dupe an opponent to move all-in in a game of Texas Hold’em with pocket deuces while you hold pocket aces. In this instance, you’ve made the right move and have a huge statistical advantage in the hand. However, despite being an 81% favourite, you aren’t a 100% favourite. Even though deuces are the underdog, they still have a chance of winning and when you’re all-in and waiting for the community cards to come, there’s nothing you can do about it. This, in a basic way, is how luck is present in poker and when you look around the online poker industry you’ll notice that it’s been handled in different way.

Online Poker is a Matter of Perspective

6625373_c196722d90_zpoker” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by jpbourque Depending on the market an operator is trying to target, the emphasis will often be placed on one aspect or the other. When online poker started to gain popularity, operators targeting the US often focused on the luck element in poker. Using Chris Moneymaker as a figurehead, sites would essentially suggest that anyone can live the American dream by taking on the pros and beating them at their own game. This strategy then filtered through to other countries that were slowly jumping on the online poker bandwagon. The UK, Australia, Germany and Russia were all sold the idea that, even with a modicum of skill, they could play poker and win. However, as the game evolved, players improved and the industry grew, the skill aspect of poker came to the fore. High-stakes players like WSOP winner Joe Hachem and Daniel Negreanu were pushed into the limelight and their particular skills were highlighted. For example, Hachem was the natural talent with an affinity for reading players, Negreanu was the master of logic and online pros like Brian Townsend were math geniuses. In addition to showing this angle to established markets like Australia and the US, it’s now being taken up by emerging markets in Asia. By using comparisons to professional gaming (eSports are hugely popular in Asia), online poker operators have highlighted the skills gamers-turned-poker-pros like Bertrand Grospellier have. The idea behind this marketing drive is that it should appeal to Asian gamers and their desire to use strategies to defeat an opponent.

Both Angles are Always Visible 8618843702_73614152b7_z

Yin and Yang Tao Rock Garden” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by keepitsurreal What’s important to remember, however, is that this luck vs. skill angle is always at play. Indeed, while Asian markets are searching for the skill in poker, in Australia players are more intrigued by the luck and entertainment angle of poker. In an effort to bring these casual players into the game, operators are now highlighting poker-loving celebs like Shane Warne to show people that anyone can ante-up, have some fun and, potentially, win some money. Whether poker is a sport or not, there’s undoubtedly luck and skill involved at all times and, depending on where you are in the world, you’ll be locked into one angle or the other.]]>