Are We Seriously Still Having the “Luck vs Skill” Debate About Poker?

I was annoyed recently when I read a NY Times article quoting Chad Hills, who “analyzes the gambling industry for Focus on the Family.”

” Chad Hills, who analyzes the gambling industry for Focus on the Family, says the skill-versus-chance argument is nonsense. True, players can improve their game with practice and so on — but the cards ultimately determine who wins and who loses. Not even the best players “can tell you what the next card flipped over is going to be,” Mr. Hills says.”

Nonsense?  Really Mr. Hills?  We can put this to rest easily:  sit down and play heads up no-limit hold’em  against a professional player of my choosing.  After an extended number of hands, Mr. Hills’ chance of winning would be approximately zero, and (for the mathematically inclined) would asymptotically approach zero as the number of trials increased.   All this despite the fact that we don’t know the next card that will be flipped over! The fact that there is an element of chance in poker does not mean that it is a game of luck on par with other casino gambling games.  The fact that there is luck involved in each and every hand does not mean that poker is not a game of skill.

The Economist also noticed the NY Times’ quoting of Chad Hills, and responded with a rather lucid piece illustrating that almost all games (excepting chess and Go) contain elements of luck.


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