University Study Proves Poker is a Game of Skill, Not Luck

by Lou on March 24, 2008

While courts here and abroad have lately been deciding that poker is a “game of luck,” science has decided it’s a “game of skill,” and backed up their opinion with hard evidence to prove it. Michael DeDonno (pictured right), a doctoral student from Case Western Reserve University has evidence that supports skill over luck in poker’s age-old debate.

Based on two poker-related studies, DeDonno found that skill trumps luck, although the bigger issue of whether DeDonno’s findings will help in subsequent court challenges is still an open issue.

DeDonno and Case Western Reserve psychologist Douglas Detterman asked 41 college students to play eight games of Wilson’s Turbo Texas Hold’em, a computerized hold’em simulation. Participants were dealt a total of 200 hands each, and received two cards face down. If participants chose to play, a flop was dealt. This was repeated until the player either chose to fold on one of the subsequent wagering rounds or the hand went to a showdown on the river.

Half of the students—the majority of whom had little experience playing poker—were given charts that ranked the two-card combinations from best to the worst, and were told that professional poker players typically play about 15 percent of the hands dealt them. The other group was given some background on the history of poker, but no strategy assistance at all.

Those participants receiving strategic assistance did better than those without the strategies.

“If it had been pure luck in winning, then the strategies would not have made a difference for the two groups,” said DeDonno.

DeDonno then undertook a second study. This time students played 720 hands. Groups were once again divided into those receiving strategic assistance and those who were given historical information about poker.

While all students improved their play with practice over the large number of hands, the group given strategies performed better.

He also found that students reduced the average number of hands played at the beginning (27) to 15 hands after given strategies, which improved their games and validated that “… fewer hands does result in improved performance.”

According to DeDonno, using poker strategies has some real life applications in such areas as investments and buying a home where partial information is available. He also discovered that the poker simulation has applications in psychological testing for decision making and risk taking.

This is something most poker players know intuitively, never mind a good answer to players who challenge me with the “Why should I buy one of your books? I know it all already,” query.

Now, if only the courts and politicians would open their eyes and minds …

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