Luck in Poker
By Bob Garcia
Introduction to the role of luck in poker
There is perhaps no game on Earth that has as intertwined dynamics of luck and skill as poker. Although many inexperienced players (and even some very experienced players *cough* Phil Hellmuth *cough*) will blame all their losses on luck, the truth is that while luck does play a huge role in the game, it is, for the most part, something that evens itself out over a long enough timeline.
Let’s take a deep dive into luck and poker and check out some factors that influence this aspect of the game while also learning how to minimize its impact on our bottom line.
Luck and Variance in Poker
Firstly, it’s critical to understand that there is no separating luck from poker. As long as you are sitting at the table, there is always a possibility that luck will rear its ugly head and humble any illusions you may have about dictating the way things are supposed to go. This is what is known as “variance” — the natural ebbs and flows of the game, both as they related to losses and to wins.
By recognizing that no matter how good you get, no matter how sound your strategy is, there is always the potential of “running bad” over a significant sample-size, you release yourself from the self-defeating woe is me mentality and free up that mental energy to dealing with what’s actually important: getting better at the game.
Skill and Poker
Although luck is an inherent part of the game of poker, it does not necessarily manifest equally among all players. That’s because the more skilled you are at the game – meaning, the more positive situations you put yourself in – the less likely you are to experience the very worst bouts of variance. That’s not to say good players never run bad, only that one’s skill level at the table has a huge influence on how often they need to be reliant on luck being on their side.
To paint an extreme example, if the only pots you ever really contest are ones where you have top-tier hands, you are going to require a lot of good luck when playing those hands (remember, not running KK into an opponent’s AA is a form of luck too) versus a player who is involved in many pots, constantly chipping away at their opponents’ stacks. The latter player’s skill will create much more room for error in those moments of bad fortune and thus allow them to stay in the game long enough for variance to balance itself out. So the next time you hit a bad run of cards, don’t curse your luck, simply learn from the experience and continue working to improve your game.
Bankroll Management and Luck
Apart from skill level, one of the most critical elements of surviving a bad run of luck is to have deeply disciplined bankroll management strategies in place. This means not playing above your means (a minimum of 50 buy-ins is required for most game variations, and most regulars won’t play with less than 200 buy-ins), having a stop-loss in place each session, and having the emotional fortitude necessary to avoid going on tilt and blowing up your bankroll in an afternoon. By practicing good bankroll management, you rob luck of one of its most destructive elements: putting you out of the game for good. As the saying goes: you’ve got to be in it, to win it.
In conclusion, although luck is an unavoidable part of the game of poker, by understanding variance, working on your game, and implementing good bankroll management strategies, you can minimize its impact on your bottom line and create a solid foundation for long-term poker success.