DU professor says poker is about skill, not luck

After a billion hands of poker, University of Denver professor Robert Hannum knows when to hold 'em

"We can look at how those hands were played, with full knowledge of everyone's cards," he explains. "No one else has done a study with a huge database like that."

The process allowed the DU team to track how a highly skilled Hold 'Em player fares when given a killer starting hand, such as a pair of aces, compared with a weak player. Both will probably win the hand, but the skilled player is likely to win more money. And by comparing actual outcomes of hands with what would be expected to happen, based purely on the strength of the cards — in other words, if the betting decisions that drive real-life play were removed — Hannum believes their analysis makes a particularly persuasive case for poker as a game of skill.

His colleagues in Hawaii will get the first glimpse of the research this week, with a paper on the subject to follow. Hannum cautions that no single study is definitive, but the online data serves to reinforce what professionals have known all along: Good betting trumps good cards.

And the evidence is mounting. A 2009 study of online Texas Hold 'Em games found that three-fourths of the hands never go to a showdown — and only half of the rest are won by the player at the table who would have had the best hand, because in many cases that player had already folded, subdued by a more skilled player's betting decisions. A recent working paper by Freakonomics author Steven Levitt and Thomas Miles found that 2010 World Series of Poker players rated as highly skilled earned an average return on investment of more than 30 percent, while the rest of the field averaged a 15 percent loss of their investment.

In the course of his work, Hannum has had the opportunity to confer with several players who've ranked in poker's elite, including Howard ("The Poker Professor") Lederer, Greg ("FossilMan") Raymer, Robert Williamson III, Phil Gordon and Mike Sexton. Some have been guest lecturers in his classes, wowing students not only with their grasp of the numbers but also with the finer mysteries of the game.

"They're all good at reading their opponents," Hannum says. "But I'm really amazed at how good these guys are at putting you on a range of hands. Not that they know you have a pair of queens, but they can narrow it to three or four or five possibilities. If you can do that well, you have a pretty good chance of winning at poker."

A pretty good chance, yes. But not a sure thing. If a billion hands of poker have taught the probability king anything, it's that there's no such animal as a sure thing.

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jenny john
jenny john

Ya i am also agree with them that poker is all about skill and chance not depend on luck, casino is a one of the best option for enjoyment and earning money. I this blog post i found really a useful stuff about the casino gaming. slots


Ya i am agree with this sentence that poker is all about skill but i think luck is also does matters in casino gaming. Without skill and knowledge we can not give our best performance casino gaming is might be risky. online slots

Terry Terril
Terry Terril

Very interesting article. The gambling games can be analyzed top to bottom, but they are only games. Different rules, different instruments, luck or skill, maybe even a little cheating. But all- in-all they are only games, played by people. Poker, roulette, craps, 21, the big wheel, keno, bingo and hundreds of others have been around for years. What's the big deal?

The big deal is m-o-n-e-y. If a big game of Texas Hold'em was held in Central Park NYC, and was played for fun, and the winner received a rousting applause, no one would give a hoot. But when money is introduced into the game as a fee for playing, or as a prize for good play,many people especially the government guru's get their shorts in a knot.

Nobody really cares if a game is mostly luck or if its all skill. The people who are most concerned about the activity are interested in the money. Who's getting the money? Will the players get money? Will the provider of the games get money? Will they give their honest share to the government? Will government employees and their cronies get money? Where does the money go?

If the numbers on where the money goes are analyzed a whole different perspective will be revealed. Bet on it.