Poker is not a game of luck. It’s very frustrating to me when people say this. Is there luck involved? Of course, but have you ever noticed that the same people keep winning over and over again? They don’t win every single time, but they win a lot more than they lose.
Why do you think the same people keep winning WSOP Circuit rings? Those are enormous fields. Even if they fired five bullets, they have to be highly skilled to get those rings. The re-buy period ends at the dinner break. There are still hours and hours of play.
Based on what I wrote above, I’m going to do something different with this article. It’s an approach I have yet to use. I’m going to base this article on my recent experiences on and off the felt. The topic of poker luck is a perfect fit. As always, I will include poker tips along the way.
Poker Luck – Ms. Lady
I’m not going to reveal this person’s identity. I will just say that she’s someone I run into from time to time in a different area of my life where I spend a lot of time. No, it’s not a strip club. I don’t spend any time there. It’s somewhere else, and the relationship is strictly platonic, if it’s even that. It’s more on the business side.
I entered an unnamed establishment about one week ago. I’ll refer to this person in this establishment as Ms. Lady for simplicity purposes. When I entered, Ms. Lady said she hadn’t seen me in a while and asked how things were going. My mind immediately went to poker. After some brief conversation, I told her about my long hot streak followed by my cold streak, but that I felt like I had my game back. Her reply: “Isn’t poker just chance?”
Ms. Lady didn’t realize it, but she was in mortal danger. Fortunately, I was able to restrain myself. I will admit that I got defensive, which rarely happens, but I got defensive for poker and poker strategy, not for myself.
“Whether it’s traditional poker games or poker tournaments, poker is a game of skill,” I said.
“Why?” she challenged.
“When I watch someone look at their hole cards for seconds longer than normal, I know they’re going to raise because they’re calculating how much many chips they should bet based on the strength of their hand. When I see someone look at their chips before it’s their turn to act, I know they’re preparing to fire. There is literally no other reason they would look at their chips.
When I’m trying to make a decision and I shift my eyes up to find my opponent starting at my chips, I know they expect to win those chips, so it’s a fold. If someone’s speech and movements become stiff and unnatural, I know it’s a bluff. When their hands are shaking, I know it’s a strong hand because their body is reacting to excitement of a positive future result. The list goes on and on.”
“I didn’t realize that much went into it. So, poker strategy is a real thing?”
“Are potato pancakes a real thing?”
She laughed. “I see what you’re saying.”
“Try playing in a few Texas Hold’em poker tournaments and see how you do.”
“Where would I do that?”
“You can play in Cherokee. It’s only a few hours to get there. They have all kinds of poker games over there, but I’d stick to the low-buy-in Texas Hold’em poker tournaments if you’re a beginner.”
“Do you think I would win?”
“Do you?” I asked.
“How would I win? I never played before.”
Harrah’s Cherokee 2/5 NL Cash Game
I’m not a fan of playing in a casino poker room on a Wednesday night. This excludes the big poker rooms in Las Vegas. When you play in a casino poker room on Wednesday night, you’re going to be up against mostly regulars (regs).
I had only played at Harrah’s Cherokee on a Wednesday night one time prior to tonight. (Yes, I’m actually writing this article after playing. It’s currently 2:50 a.m.) When I played on a Wednesday night years ago, I lost. I did not like that.
When I went back tonight and sat down, two of the regulars gave each other a look. I don’t know what that look meant. I only bought-in for $300, as always, so I assumed they weren’t excited about winning all my chips. It’s possible they knew my identity, but if that’s the case, then this thing is way bigger than I think.
People tell me this often, but for some reason, I just don’t believe it. I actually feel like I’m overrating my popularity in my own mind. Either way, the entire table was full of regs. I knew I was going to need to buckle up, especially since I had primarily been playing poker tournaments for so long.
Why do you think I went into extreme focus mode? If I sat down at a 2/5 NL game and noticed it was a bunch of donkeys calling $300 bets with middle pair and jamming with 76-suited, I would be focused, but I wouldn’t be in extreme focus mode. This tells you that there is no such thing as poker luck in a big-picture sense.
Yes, poker luck exists in smaller portions, but the best poker players don’t think about poker luck. It’s not even a real thing to them. If they continue to make the right decisions in the right spots, they know they will be profitable over the long haul. When they get “unlucky” it’s just part of the process. They refer to it as variance.
While we’re on the topic of variance, you can limit its potential damage by playing fewer poker hands. If you constantly put yourself in situations where you’re flipping, the house is going to win. You can reduce variance’s potential to harm you by following this simple rule: Wait for a better spot. This applies to traditional poker games and poker tournaments.
Poker Luck – Small Tournament
When I was + $115 after an hour at a tough table (all regs), someone at the table happened to mention that there was a $45 buy-in 10 p.m. tournament. I hadn’t played in a $45 buy-in tournament in years, but I thought it would be fun. Plus, even if I lost, I would be locking in a small win for the night.
I ventured over to this poker tournament, where I had a starting stack of 6,000 chips. It wasn’t exactly a deepstack poker tournament. Shoot, it wasn’t even a turbo. At the same time, the structure was barely good enough to avoid bingo poker tournament territory.
This poker tournament would have been a great demonstration for Ms. Lady. She would have learned why there is no such thing as poker luck. There is variance, but there is no poker luck. Whenever I hear someone at a poker table say that another player is lucky, I know they don’t understand the game. They might understand the poker rules, but that’s about it. And they certainly don’t understand the poker rules for winning.
Poker Luck and The Bandana Bandit
The player to my right was a cool dude, but he admitted that this was his first time playing in a live casino. I shall refer to him as Bandana Bandit because he wore a bandana over the bottom half of his face like a bandit.
Up until tonight, Bandana Bandit had only played online. I knew what that meant: He had no chance. If it was going to be the same pattern I had seen before with online-only players, he was going to run up his stack and blow it up. And that’s exactly what happened. But how he did it tells all of us that poker luck isn’t a real thing.
Every time this dude raised, it was to 1,600. It didn’t matter if the big blind was 200, 400, 600, or 800. It was the same pre-flop raise every time. I don’t think he realized that the impact of his pre-flop raises changed based on the blind level increases.
Then he did something much worse. He began showing the table his cards after pre-flop raising 5x the big blind with hands like JT. In fact, he did this three times with JT. Bandana Bandit might have left the game after busting and told people that he had bad luck, or that he didn’t run good. But poker luck had nothing to do with it.
Bandana Bandit Knockout
I wasn’t the one to knock him out, but I hit him pretty hard on two hands. They were very easy poker hands to play. On the first hand, he raised to 2x the BB to 1,600 pre-flop from the button. I was in the small blind with AQ-off and jammed it on him. I only had 12 big blinds at the time. He called with KTo. My hand held.
It’s a very simple hand, but look closer. Look at this hand from a poker luck vs. poker skill perspective. Would a good player in his spot call for 12 BB with KT? Absolutely not. It’s possible if they have a ton of big blinds, but they would have to know they’re behind because they’re playing against me and I jammed it from the small blind.
I’m not referring to myself as good, bad, or medium rare. I’m saying that anyone who has played with me knows that I would never do that with something weaker than KT. Even if someone has only played with me for an hour, they should know I wouldn’t do that. Therefore, Bandana Bandit made a strategical error. It had nothing to do with luck.
On the second hand, he open-raised to 1,600 from the button again. It was either the next orbit or the orbit following that one. I three-bet him this time, but I raised three times his raise. He open-folded 96-off. Is someone going to try to tell me that wasting 1,600 in chips relates to bad poker luck? All the dude had to do was fold. But I’ll tell you why he couldn’t fold: Ego!
Poker Luck – Playing the Player
Bandana Bandit has been reading “the book.” I’m not referring to any of my poker books. Hell no! I’m referring to the traditional poker book that provides technical information and never covers anything related to the playing the player. Shoot, I think I just gave myself a gargantuan idea! It’s an epiphany! And you’re here to share it with me! Too many exclamation points?
Please give me a break. I’m excited! My excitement relates to having the idea of writing a poker book titled: Playing the Player. Is that out there already? I’ll have to check.
Either way, Bandana Bandit read somewhere that he should open-raise on the button with any kind of hand that had potential. He felt like if he didn’t do it he would look bad to others, which relates to Ego. His bad decision had nothing to do with poker luck because it was A DECISION!
I finished 7th of 27 in this tournament. Only the top three cashed (and they would likely do a bubble save for the fourth place player). There were two instances where at least 75% of players would have been knocked out earlier in the tournament. Twice I had opponents put me all-in on the flop when I had top pair/top kicker. I folded both times because I could tell that my opponents had me beat.
In both situations, I couldn’t see their faces due to big bodies between us, but I could tell by the speed of their bets and their past play. It was the first time I had played with both of them, but I knew what was going on. This relates to seeing so many poker hands through the years that some things become automatic versus an amateur. It has nothing to do with poker luck.
If someone tells you that poker is a game of luck, they’re either uninformed, a bad poker player, or straight-up stupid. There is no such thing as poker luck! There is variance, but good players ride the wave. As long as you keep making good decisions without getting emotional, you’re going to be a long-term winner. That is one of the best poker tips I can give you.
♠ pokerjournal.org / Tyler Nals
Poker Luck – FAQs
A: Poker is absolutely a game of skill.
A: Players are not lucky or unlucky. The players who appear to be luckier are just stronger, better players.
A: Some poker games are considered a game of chance, but only if that poker game is vs the casino/house, for example, three-card-poker. Any poker games vs other players is considered a game of skill. The same players win/lose consistently for a reason.
A: It’s a very small percentage if you’re the best player in the game. It’s a very high percentage if everyone at the table is evenly skilled. This is why game selection is so important.
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