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Is Online Poker Based on Luck or Skill?

Nov 13 4 min read

Whether poker is a game predicated on luck or skill has been hotly debated for decades. Some think that because there is so much randomness in the cards, online poker is a game decided entirely by luck. Whichever way the cards fall is how the game goes. They look at poker as no different than roulette or craps. Conversely, others swear that poker is a game based entirely on skill. They are unwilling to admit that there is no luck involved at all.

While there is some truth to both sides of the argument, anyone firmly planted on one side is objectively wrong. The truth is that there isn’t a simple yes or no answer to this question. Those who say otherwise don’t understand the finer points of the game.

The truth is that poker is a mixture of skill and luck, and that’s what makes it so exciting. No matter how well you understand the game, it can still trip you up regularly. On the other hand, even the worst player in the world can get lucky and win a big pot.

What follows is a deep dive into how luck and skill combine to create a winning poker player. The guide will focus on how to improve as a player by mastering a few skills, as luck cannot be taught or predicted. You can, however, minimize bad results with some guidance.

How Luck Affects Poker

Poker skills can only get you so far in the long run, considering the outcome of every poker hand has a significant luck factor involved. You will rely on luck to get a pair of strong cards in the hole and the right community cards to put together a winning hand. You also need luck to ensure that other players at the table don’t have better cards than you.

The truth is luck accounts for the majority of what goes into the outcome of a hand of poker. So, does this mean that luck dominates the poker table? Statistically speaking, it does not. This is because eventually, everybody will experience the same luck. It may take thousands of hands, but the math checks out.

Assuming luck is the same across the board, skill is the only thing separating good players from bad ones. If luck was the only factor, everyone would be equally good at online poker. Anyone who has ever played poker online knows this is not the case and skill plays a huge part in the outcome.

How Skill Affects Poker

Luck maybe 90% of the game, but skill makes all the difference. You can have the best luck in the world, but eventually, a skilled player will clean you out. For players at the highest skill levels, it is even possible to lessen how much luck impacts the game. Over time, as you get better, you will notice this change.

It is not that you are getting lucky more often, but more so that you are putting yourself in the best position to win. It can be hard to differentiate between the two sometimes. The best way to put yourself ahead of the casual players is by understanding the math of online poker and how to use it to your advantage. Eventually, you won’t need to rely on luck to win big at the poker table.

The Math of Poker

We aren’t going to get too deep into this subject because it’s way too dense to fit all the information into this article. There are college courses taught on the subject if you really want to take your game to the next level.

The basic idea here is to make the best mathematical decisions based on what you know about the cards in front of you. When executed to perfection, you won’t feel like you are risking money on a chance at all. At this level, poker becomes one of the more beatable games in a casino as opposed to one of the most challenging.

A top tip in regards to poker math is to only play pots where the chances of you winning are more than your pot odds. Pot odds refer to the ratio between the size of the pot and the size of the next incoming bet. They are a major factor in determining your best move at a poker table. To calculate pot odds, just divide the amount you have to risk to call by the total size of the pot.

Say there is a pot with $100 and the player before you raise $100.  It will cost you $100 to call, at which point the pot would be $300. To calculate the pot odds, divide $300 by $100 for a result of 33%.

Calculating winning odds is a bit trickier but you have to do both in order to get useful results. You need to compare the pot odds to something after all. To put it in basic terms, your winning odds are 4x the number of outs you have on the flop. That number drops to 2.2x on the turn.

Sticking to this system will almost guarantee you a profit if you play long enough to allow the luck factor to flatten out. The biggest reason why most players lose money in the long term in online poker is their lack of discipline. Many don’t understand how to balance the odds. Simply comparing winning odds and pot odds will put you well above the average competition.

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