Thoughts on Poker (The Economist)

Here are a few thoughts on the game of poker I collected on a special feature on Economist.com


Perhaps the clearest argument in favour of poker being skill- rather than chance-dependent comes from Mr Sklansky, and it has to do with losing rather than winning. Imagine trying intentionally to lose at a game of pure chance, like roulette or baccarat. It would be impossible. At the beginning of a deal or a roll you have to bet on something. You can no more deliberately play badly than you can deliberately play well. The same is not true for poker, which offers multiple opportunities to make sure you lose. Still, America’s Congress seems unconvinced.

Jennifer Shahade, who twice won the American Women’s Chess Championship and is now a semi-professional poker player, thinks that chess and poker rely on similar skills—a sort of calculating game-savviness—and that chess players are likely to succeed at poker because “they focus on finding the right moves, rather than having fun or how their ego feels.”

It is this missing information that makes poker so complex. Unlike checkers or chess, at which machines have also had notable success, poker is a game of incomplete information. You do not know what cards your opponent holds; information is revealed as the game progresses. A good player’s tactics will involve deception such as bluffing and slow-playing, both of which create more complexities.

Clemens France, saw similarities between gambling and faith: both expressed a need for reassurance, order and salvation.

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