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Poker Showdown Between Luck and Skill

Carl Bialik write a column called "The Numbers Guy" for the Wall Street Journal and keeps his column on the internet here

He writes

Is Texas Hold ‘Em poker more a game of chance or of skill? That question has figured in several legal tests of playing the card game for money: Games of chance are considered gambling under U.S. law. Now a major poker Web site has sponsored a study it claims demonstrates that it takes skill to win — which would help the site’s legal standing. But several poker experts question that claim.

We have discussed this problem in previus issues of Chance news here and here

Texas Hold 'Em like other poker games starts the the players being delt a number of cards. Then each player put must put a certain amount of money in the "pot". Then in a number of stages the players make bets which the other players must match or drop out of the game. When there are no more bets there is a "showdown" with each player still in the game showing their cards and the player with the best hand wins the money in the pot or if their are ties the players share this money.

The Numbers guy writes

PokerStars paid Cigital, a software consulting firm, to analyze 103,273,484 hands played on the site last December, for real money — usually at least $1 blind bets. Three quarters of the hands analyzed ended without a showdown, meaning that the winner never had to show his or her cards — everyone else eventually folded during the rounds of betting. And half the time that hands did end in a showdown, a player who would have won had already folded.

Paco Hope, technical manager at Cigital and co-author of the study, argues that the paucity of showdowns shows poker is a game of skill: The winner could have won by making identical bets no matter which cards he or she had drawn. “Most people think, you get your cards, and the best hand wins,” Hope said. He added, “Whether or not you go to a showdown is determined by the decisions you make, which are determined entirely by your skill.”