Many of the people in my life think that because I play poker, I gamble for a living. I try to explain to them that poker isn't gambling; it is, in fact, a game of skill. Mathematics back up that assertion, but friends and family members are rarely convinced.
Despite the evidence to the contrary, poker still has a stigma of being a gambler's game. Why is that?
I think it comes down to short-term thinking versus long-term thinking. An old maxim suggests that in any one hand, poker is 90 percent luck and 10 percent skill. A prime example of this took place earlier this year at the $1,800-buy-in main event of the Hollywood Poker Open Grantville (Pa.) Regional Championship.
Just five of the final nine players would earn money. Bradley Yazici, who began the day as chip leader with 170,400, and Jason Thomas, who wasn't far behind with 156,100, were in prime position to take home prize money.
Play had just begun on Day 2 of the event. Blinds were 700-1,400 with an ante of 100. Thomas raised to 3,200, only to have Yazici reraise to 7,500. Action folded back to Thomas, and he pushed back with a four-bet to 16,000. Not to be outdone, Yazici five-bet to 35,000. Thomas six-bet to 60,000, and then Yazici seven-bet the rest of his stack. Thomas called.
Fittingly, it was the two biggest hands in poker that inspired such fierce action. Thomas held pocket aces and was an overwhelming 82.36 percent favorite, while Yazici held a pair of kings and had a 17.09 percent chance of catching another.
The 4h 2s 9c flop wasn't particularly interesting, though Thomas became a 91.62 percent favorite. But then the dealer turned over the Kd to give Yazici three of a kind.
Thomas was visibly shaken as he went from an overwhelming favorite to being one card away from hitting the rail. The rest of the players at the table, as well as the spectators on hand, were shocked by the sudden turn of events, and everyone watched as the dealer put out the 6c on the river. Thomas' skill allowed him to get his chips in the middle in an overwhelmingly advantageous mathematical spot, but bad luck struck.
However, that was just one hand. If they were to play out the same scenario 100 times, Thomas would win far more often than not. So while any single hand of poker may indeed be 90 percent luck and 10 percent skill, over the long haul, with a big enough hand sample, those percentages actually reverse themselves. Once you realize this and accept it -- easier said than done to accept bad luck -- you'll be well on your way to being a successful poker player.
By the way, Yazici went on to win the tournament and claim the $22,752 first-place prize, demonstrating that no matter how much skill you have, it doesn't hurt to have a little luck on your side.