Is Poker Gambling or Based on Skill? The Definitive Answer

There are many people out there who scoff at the thought of playing poker, deriding it as a simple game of luck, just like all other casino games, such as roulette and slots. To put it bluntly, however, these people are entirely wrong and don’t understand the finer points of the game – the finer points that allow a player with skill the chance to gain a huge upper hand over their opponents.

poker luck or skill

There are also others, most often poker evangelists with an unwillingness to admit the truth, who state that poker is a game based entirely on skill. The thing is, they’re also wrong, as the game is actually a mixture of skill and luck – an intoxicating fusion of a player’s ability to make the most of their cards, with fortune’s fickle mind helping and hindering players in equal measure.

On this page, we’re going to take a close look at how luck can affect a game of poker, but perhaps more importantly, we’ll also be looking at how you can increase your skill and therefore mitigate against changing fortunes while you’re sat at a poker table. Once you’ve finished reading, you should have a new respect for the way in which luck can affect every game, but you’ll also have the information needed to minimize the impact of bad luck and boost the benefits of good fortune.

How Does Luck Affect Poker?

poker cards

So, how does luck affect poker? Well, it works like this: every poker hand has a huge element of luck to it. After all, you need luck to be dealt strong hole cards; you need luck to see useful cards appearing on the board; and you need luck to ensure that other players don’t have a hand that is better than yours. Overall, in a single hand of poker, luck probably accounts for around 90% of the outcome, with skill only taking a tiny 10% stake.

So, with luck playing such a huge role in every hand, how is it possible to still say that poker is a game of skill? Well, it is because everybody will, over thousands of hands, get roughly the same luck. What will set some apart from others, however, is their skill.

For those who play with the maximum amount of skill, the way luck impacts on their game will reduce over time. Over one hand, they could easily lose money, as luck plays such a huge part. Over months however, they’ll find that good and bad luck starts balancing out, allowing their skill to shine through and tip the balance in their favor. Once the best players have been playing for a year or so, luck will have played a much smaller role.

Mitigate Bad Luck with These Skills

As we’ve already discussed, luck can come into play while sitting at a poker table. The key is understanding how to mitigate against luck and instead control your own destiny. The best way to do this is to understand the importance of math in the game, as doing so will make sure you’re always putting yourself in a position where, over the long term, good and bad luck are just about negated.

Make Superior Mathematical Decisions

As stated, it’s math that ensures you don’t really have to risk money on chance – something that makes poker one of the more beatable games in a casino. We’re not going to go into detail about the impact of probability on poker on this page, as we’ve already looked into it in great depth elsewhere on this site, however we will remind you of this: in order to become the best possible poker player, you must understand how to balance the amount of money you’re betting with the amount of risk you’re taking.

The key is this: you should only be playing in pots where the chances of winning are more favourable than your pot odds. If you consistently do this over a long period of time, any fluctuations in luck will flatten out and you will end up making money.

The reason many people don’t make money in the long term? They simply don’t understand how to balance pot odds with their chance of winning a hand. If there’s one thing you’re going to learn this year, make it understanding this vital topic – do so and you won’t need to worry about luck destroying your bankroll over a long period of time ever again.

poker statistics

Play Conservatively

Another important way to mitigate luck when you’re playing poker is to always put yourself in the strongest position. To do this, you’ll need to play conservatively, only getting involved in hands when you have been dealt strong hole cards, and then being prepared to fold later in a hand if things aren’t going your way. If you’re calling with unsuited 2-7 all the time, you’re going to be relying hugely on luck to win. Luck plays less of a part when you have AA to start with, however.

It might be worth mentioning bluffing at this point. The more you bluff, the more you are relying on luck. After all, when you bluff, you are hoping to be lucky enough that another player doesn’t have better cards than you, or hasn’t seen through your bluff. Sure, you can improve your bluffing skills and give yourself a better chance, however bluffing is still usually a risky strategy.

Don’t Chase Unrealistic Draws

Another important point is this: don’t waste your time chasing unrealistic draws . This doesn’t mean you should never stay in a pot when you’re hoping to hit one card to fill your straight or flush. Instead, it means that you should only be drawing when the pot odds and probability of hitting the card are favourable.

It will sometimes be the case that trying to hit a gut-shot straight draw will be worth it, plus it will also sometimes be wise to fold your flush draw, even when there are two cards left to come. Use the math and you will come out on top in the long run.

Identify the Weakest Players

As with pretty much all wagering games featuring multiple players, one of the best ways to boost your bankroll and seemingly get luck to swing in your favor is to target the weakest players. Poker is a ruthless game, and you have to be ready to exploit the weak player at the table. If you don’t, you can be sure that other players will.

It really won’t take too long to identify the weakest player. They’ll be making ridiculous raises that give you great chances of making money, plus they’ll often be easy to push around, forcing them off hands or, conversely, luring them in to calling a large bet. In a game between two strong people playing perfect poker, luck plays a large role, however when skill levels are wildly skewed, luck will play a much smaller role. So, your job is to find the weak players and then capitalize on their poor play.

Measure Success Over the Long Term

We’ve touched on this before, but it is important to reiterate it: you have to measure your success at the poker table over a long period. This means you can’t just play for an hour and then declare yourself a lucky or unlucky player. Instead, you’ve got to play consistently for at least a year for the luck to start levelling out.

If you just play one hand, the amount of influence luck will have will be huge. Over tens of thousands of hands, however, the number of times you’re dealt 2-7 should roughly tally up with the number of times you’re dealt AK, and the number of times you fail to hit your straight should tally up roughly with the number of times you get the exact card you need.

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Take Steps to Improve Your Poker Skill

As we’ve already said, it is vital that you reduce the impact luck has on your game. By doing so, you’ll give yourself more control over your success in the long term. But while reducing luck is great, you also need to have the skill to beat other players and building up this skill is a long process. Anyone can understand the math of poker after a while – the thing that separates the best from the rest at a poker table is a player’s skill.

So, how can you improve your poker skills? Well, the simplest way to do so is practice. You have to sit down at a poker table and play the game. You should be concentrating on everything you do, looking for any mistakes and learning from them. In order to concentrate, turn off any distractions, such as the TV and your cell. Also, only play at one table. It’s always tempting to multi-table, but doing so will mean that you don’t get to concentrate on specific hands, as you’ll always find yourself moving onto a new hand immediately.

You’ll also find that there are a couple of other ways to boost your skills at the poker table, with the first being poker coaching…

Poker Coaching

The first thing to say is this: poker coaching is not usually a cheap option. The best players will charge a premium for passing their knowledge over to you, with the minimum charge usually being around $50 per hour. Therefore, even an hour a week for a year will cost you $2,600. This means you have to win $2,600 more than usual to justify this outlay on poker coaching.

It’s usually the case that the outlay can be justified easily, as getting a professional poker coach should do great things for your game. A good coach will pick up on your weaknesses and show you how to fix them, plus being observed constantly should also help you tighten your game, in an effort to minimize any criticisms the coach might have.

Online Poker Courses

If you’re looking for a cheaper way to increase your skill at the poker table, an online poker course might be the right choice. These can even be found for nothing on sites such as YouTube. It’s generally the case that the paid courses are the best quality, however, and it really can be worth spending a few dollars to learn what these courses have to say.

One of the best places you can sign up for poker courses is The Poker Academy , which offers a range of different courses, from courses on no limit hold’em, through to a course on 7-card stud. Their courses are taught by highly experienced players, including Rep Porter , who is the lead instructor and has won three WSOP bracelets.

Another place you can learn to improve your poker is at the PokerStars School . PokerStars is the world’s biggest poker site by some distance, and they offer a large range of subjects. These courses aren’t taught by big-name players, however they are free, so there’s no reason not to try them.

You can also learn to improve your poker game at MasterClass . They have courses in a whole variety of different subjects, including a detailed poker course taught by Daniel Negreanu , the most famous poker player in the world. Once you have a membership, you’ll also be able to take other courses, including a course on chess taught by Gary Kasparov and a cookery course presented by Gordon Ramsey.

You Don’t Find Professional Roulette Players

Have you ever stopped to consider why there are no professional roulette players? The answer is simple: roulette is a game completely based on chance, and even those playing absolute optimum strategy will find that, over time, the house always wins. There is absolutely nothing that can be done to tilt the balance of power in the direction of the player, hence there’s no point in basing an entire career on hoping to make some money while playing.


Now consider poker. There are loads of professional players out there, many of whom have made millions of dollars from playing poker. What’s more, some players have won far more tournaments than they should have done if poker was only about luck. The reason the same players win over and over is that they have more skill than others. Every player will have the same luck over a prolonged period of time, but not every player can extract the maximum possible from the cards they’re dealt.

The simple fact that there are professional players proves that poker must have a huge element of skill attached to it. If you don’t believe this, then try stepping into a poker tournament without understanding the game – you’ll probably find yourself being eliminated pretty quickly.

Conclusion: Is Poker Based on Luck or Skill?

The answer to whether poker is gambling or based on skill is that it’s a little of both. In order to win a hand, a player will need some element of luck, but they’ll also need to know exactly what to do with the cards and the situation in front of them.

Over a long period of time, everyone should get the same luck, completely levelling out the playing field. So, what separates players, causing some to win more over time, and others to post a loss? The answer is simple: it’s skill. Therefore, poker has to be classed as a game of skill overall, as it’s skill, and not luck, that leads to players making money over the months and years they play the game.

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