Poker – Luck or Mathematics
Most poker players that have been in the position of enjoying an unbeatable winning streak or an awful losing run will have considered the possibilities of luck being a major factor in their game play.
There are times when the cards simply appear to be blessed. Every pair of hole cards produces a playable hand that’s followed up by a kind flop or a losing hand is miraculously turned around by a sensational river card that throws a pot back into your bankroll. The feeling of invincibility that this can bring is often elating and, at times, borders on the supernatural.
There are other times when the whole world seems against you. The number of times that the dealer throws you a stinker of a hand seems almost impossible to fathom and even when you do get dealt a respectable opportunity, an opponent limp in with the luckiest combination of cards to pip you at the death.
Clearly a sign of luck in action, or just a factor of probabilities and numbers?
Anybody that has played poker for a considerable amount of time will know that luck simply doesn’t cut it in the end. There will always be times when a player takes an undeserved pot simply by beating the odds but over an extended number of hands and games, good cards will consistently beat bad ones. It’s obvious really, isn’t it?
Let’s take a look at the aspect of luck from a more general point of view as far as gambling is concerned.
How many gamblers have you met that complain about their luck being down? No matter how many bets they place, there always seems to be a horse that pips their selection at the post or a team that concedes late in the game to blow their bet into the water.
Is this down to bad luck? Have the forces of nature really conspired against them in an effort to fleece them of the last banknote in their back pocket? Quite simply, the answer is a resounding ‘No’!
Gambling isn’t a hobby that can ever be based on good or bad fortune. Gambling is based on probability or, more importantly, the probability of actually losing.
Most forms of gambling take place against the ‘house’ and anybody that has regularly been to the track, visited a casino or even played the lottery will know that the odds are stacked against them before they even start. The prices of a horse or the payouts on a table game are manipulated to provide the house with an ‘edge’, and it is this edge that keeps a bookmaker or casino in business.
Quite simply, those that gamble frequently is more likely to lose. Mathematical probability makes it so.
But what about poker where players compete against each other instead of the house? Surely bad luck can be more prevalent in a situation where a player taking a gamble on weak cards frequently beats his opponent?
Let’s take a look at an interesting statistic before we commit to an answer here.
Mathematicians have worked out that a player will only see the top hand, a royal flush, once in every 649,739 hands that are played.
On a mathematical basis, this means that the possibilities of having to beat the best hand in the game will be so rare that you will hardly ever come up against it.
Coming down the scale of winning hands and a player is likely to hit the next best combination, a straight flush, just once in every 72,192 attempts. Once more, players with any other combination of cards will nearly always win on the basis of a straight flush being so rare.
As we move down the winning hands past 4-of-a-kinds, full houses, flushes and straights, the likelihood of a strong winning combination becomes more likely. The probability of hitting a straight in poker is once in every 255 hands and suddenly consistently good winning combinations become achievable. Players who may have been limping in with two pairs based on low hole cards won’t beat a good hand like a straight without an incredible shift in probability and would need to be hitting flushes or full houses to win. Again, this is mathematically unlikely to happen on a regular basis.
We eventually come into an area where high and low cards go head-to-head against each other, and this is where most pots are won or lost. You are as likely to be dealt a suited AK in the hole as any other two cards. The difference is that you are more likely to win with them based on the fact that further cards to support your hand are as equally likely to appear, or not appear, as any other combination of hole cards.
This offers an explanation as to why tight players consistently win games. They are patient, don’t try to beat probabilities and wait until they are more likely to win.
Watch players at a low-stakes online ring table, and you will frequently see players winning a pot on an unsuited low combination. It happens and its part of the game. But how often do you see these players try them same thing again just to get blown away by a good hand? Keep a close eye on it next time you play online. It happens a lot more often than you probably think.
Mathematics is a game of probability, and probability will see more good poker hands win pots than bad ones ever will. Occasionally, the other side of probability will surface and weak cards will beat a good hand. Consistency is the key, and players that can keep it tight over a longer period of time will ultimately be the ones who profit from the game of poker.