"Poker is a skill game pretending to be a chance game.”
~ James Altucher
The variability in poker is huge. This gives rise to some fascinating characteristics of the game.
First, the high variance of the game provides excitement that has some addictive qualities.
Second, a high percentage of players think they are better than they are because they can play with excellent players and do okay at times. They play by their gut and rarely (if ever) use the math. The high variability allows them this luxury.
And third, there are few (possibly no other) major sports or games where the variability is as high as it is in Texas No-Limit Hold’em. Here are a couple of examples.
The point is that in most sports and games, the top players have an overwhelming advantage (because of small variances) over beginners in the long run, and well as in the short-run. This isn’t the case for No-Limit Hold’em in the short-run.
Tight Hand Variances
The poker hands in Hold’em have relatively tight hand variances. Here are some examples:
Note: The “s” in these examples means suited. The “o” means non-suited. This convention will be used throughout the text for suited and unsuited cards.
There are many more examples. The point is, even the worst hands will win a reasonable percentage of the time against the best hands.
It is this tight variance in poker hands which allows bad players to get lucky in the short run and beat good players. This is a major reason why vast numbers of people enjoy playing the game. On any given day even some of the worst players have a slight chance to win.
But, not in the long run! The best players will consistently win because the game of Texas No-Limit Hold’em is really a skill game, not a luck game.
Self-delusion is common in poker because of occasional runs of good cards and good luck. But good cards dry up, and good luck runs out.
Bad beats (low probability events) by bad players are common in poker and cause many tilt related rantings, especially from those who don’t understand the math. Yet, it is just the variance which provide these emotional roller-coaster rides all poker players have experienced time and again.
Millions of people play the game because of the high variability allowing them to get lucky at times. They supply massive sums of money for the tournaments fueling the poker boom. The silver lining is that the exceptional players do well over the long run.
Although you will have plenty of bad beats (everyone does), in the long run if your math and other parts of your game are solid, you will do better than those who depend on luck, instead of skill as a strategy.
So, what is luck?
The top players are studious, curious, patient, willing to do the work and always striving to do better. They combine their math skills with their other poker skills and become a feared shark at the poker tables.
In our next and final part of the Introduction we will discuss who Mastering Poker Math is for and the overall book layout
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