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Another Vote for Poker as a Skill Game

Another Vote for Poker as a Skill Game

Poker fans in the US have been struggling to find any sort of good news in the wake of the move by the US government on April 15th to indict Full Tilt Poker and PokeStars for breaking assorted US anti-gambling laws, but they got at least a small tidbit of positive news with the release of a new paper by Freakonomics author Steven Levitt.

Levitt tackles the age-old question of whether success in poker is due to skill or chance, with his unequivocal conclusion being that poker is very much a game of skill, despite the fact that the random nature of cards does add an element of chance into the equation. The best-selling Freakonomics series has brought Levitt plenty of fame and fortune, with his insightful, analytic approach to unusual economic theories and ideas appealing to a wide range of readers. 

Levitt uses data from the 2010 WSOP and other sources to compare the results of "skilled" and "unskilled" players in the WSOP, unearthing plenty of evidence that skilled players very much have the better of it; skilled players averaged a 30% return on the buy-ins they invested to play tournaments, while the unskilled players lost 15% on average. To put it in dollar terms, skilled players booked a profit of about $350 for each tournament they played, while the unskilled players lost about $400 per tournament.

As far as the larger impact of Levitt's paper, it's likely to be nothing more than a curiosity piece for many readers, but it could potentially influence some of the debate in the US over the status of online gaming, especially in light of efforts to regulate and tax online poker. Many of the arguments for allowing online poker is that it's a game of skill, and a very different situation than games o chance such as slots or roulette.

While it's easy to argue the skill side of poker, the body of evidence as far as scholarly research and studies have been lacking, which is why Levitt's paper (and conclusions) are welcome news to many poker fans with their fingers crossed that gaming laws in the US might be changed to allow legal online poker once again.


10-May-2011, 08:20

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