Many people, new to poker and already hooked alike, tend to have a ‘wrong’ perception of what poker is all about. In view of the complexity of the game and the reputation it has had in the past this is not a surprising observation. Some think poker is all about bluffing, others think it is all about luck. Some might still see poker as a gambling game played by suspect people in obscure basements filled with cigarette smoke and lit by flickering lights. Others might perceive poker as an easy way to make a fortune, ’cause ‘hey, that guy on TV could do it too, right?’
Although poker for one person might not be what it is all about for the other and hence there won’t be a ‘correct’ answer to the question posed, this article will give you more insight into what poker could be all about.
Poker is a game of decisions. And the better the decisions you make are, the higher will be the likelihood of you ending up as a winner. Therefore playing winning poker is all about making as many of the most correct decisions as possible and at the same time inducing mistakes by your opponents. David Sklansky, a well know poker author (-ity), defined a mistake in poker as making a different decision than you would have made had you known the exact cards of your opponent.
However, even if you would know the exact cards of your opponent it won’t always be clear what exactly ‘the’ correct decision is. Besides his or her cards, you also have incomplete information about your opponent’s reaction to your decision. Therefore a mistake in poker would be making a different decision than you would have made if you had known the exact cards and the exact reaction of your opponent; a different play than the ‘optimal play’.
A game of skill
Sometimes the optimal play is merely a mathematical exercise such as calling all-in on a draw with the correct odds to do so.
Other times the optimal play will be a matter of narrowing down your opponent’s range of hands as much as possible based on the cards that are exposed, his reaction to your decisions earlier in the hand and/or your opponents betting pattern as well as a matter of anticipating on his or her reaction based on everything you know about this person.
And this is the element of skill in poker.
To come as close as possible to the optimal play with every decision you make takes a lot of discipline and patience, guts sometimes. It’s an art. And they say it takes a lifetime to master.
A game of chance
Sometimes the optimal play might result in you getting some or all of your money in the pot while being ahead in the hand. However, if there are cards left to be dealt your opponent might still be able to improve to the better hand, or ‘suck out on you’ as it is so eloquently called.
Other times you get dealt a great hand only to be beaten by a very unlikely better hand of your opponent.
And that’s the element of chance in poker.
An element of the game you can’t control and sometimes is the determining factor. It can make the seasoned professional lose from the beginner; make the optimal play result in a total loss.
A game of skill and chance
There is and always will be a discussion as to whether poker should be viewed as a game of chance or as a game of skill. Certainly with regards to poker legislation (paying taxes) it often comes down to this question. Both elements, skill and chance, are clearly represented in poker. But which one has the upper hand? Isn’t it possible to diminish the influence of chance on the end result with skill and playing style? Surely the influence of chance on results will be bigger for someone completely void of any understanding of poker than for the professional player? And bigger for someone taking the smallest edges than for someone playing more conservative? And how does it compare to for instance stock trading and starting a business? There might be many stock traders out there relying more on chance and having more ‘gamble in them’ than a lot of poker players.
Poker today is as accessible as it can be. Millions of people play poker, either live or over the internet. And it is brought to many more by TV. Obscure? Maybe in the sense that some of these poker players are clicking hours on end with their pajamas still on and the curtains still closed while other people are enjoying a sunny afternoon.
So what is poker all about?
Is it all about money? The money certainly adds excitement and emotion to the game. If you think poker is all about money, then you probably would want to win as much as possible. And isn’t the only thing you can do to achieve this trying to make the best decisions as often as possible? About bluffing then? In view of the above, bluffing is nothing more than a tool to make the optimal play and/or inducing mistakes from your opponents, now or in future hands. What about luck? Sure, luck is part of the game. But how can a game that takes a lifetime to master be all about luck?