In a study released on Friday, it was revealed that Texas Hold’em, statistically at least, is a game of skill. The research in question investigated 103 million hands and found that three-quarters of them did not go to showdown. In essence, they were won due to betting by players.
A total of 75.7% of the hands examined as part of the study did not go to showdown. In these hands, the victor’s skill of betting managed to win the pot for them, regardless of whether they held the best hand. In the remaining 24.3% of hands, the player who held the best five cards only won 50.3% of the time. In the other 49.7% of pots, the player with the best hand folded prior to showdown. Overall, the best hand actually scooped the pot just 12% of the time. Therefore, according to the study, Texas Hold’em can be seen as 88% skill and not predominated by chance.
Former three-term Senator from New York and current Poker Players Alliance (PPA) Chairman Alfonse D’Amato commented, “As a poker player, I can tell you that knowing when to hold or fold is not based solely on the cards that are dealt, but a series of decisions based on skill and the actions taken by other players. This study provides the raw data to back up the compelling arguments made by poker players around the world that it’s skill, not pure luck, that determines the outcome of this game.”
The data in question has been used by the PPA to help prove that poker is a game of skill in several legal battles. Most recently, a judge in South Carolina overwhelmingly agreed that poker was a game of skill, but still found the defendants in the case guilty of illegal gambling due to a lack of direction by the state’s legislature and courts. Other judges in Colorado and Pennsylvania concurred with the PPA’s assessment that poker is a game of skill, a trait that might help the game receive special recognition on a national level.
The study was performed by Cigital using 103 million hands on PokerStars, the world’s most popular online poker site. Heads-up and play money games were excluded, as were many micro-level games with less than $1 blinds. While PokerStars was busy gearing up for World Record Week last December, the hands were being logged. The festivities saw PokerStars set the record for the Largest Online Poker Tournament at 35,000 players and the Most Players to Simultaneously Play Poker Online at 250,500. PokerStars also upped the ante on its marquee Sunday Million, offering a prize pool of $2.5 million. PokerStars worked in conjunction with Cigital on the study.
Wall Street Journal writer Carl Bialik authored a blog on the study, outlining many of the doubts its opponents had. Among them were “players’ decisions are determined by the cards they draw, which is entirely a matter of luck.” In addition, the relationship between Cigital and PokerStars was questioned and individual players were not tracked to see if they experienced success over time. Finally, “the study doesn’t answer the question of how showdowns and best-hand wins would look in a game of pure skill, or of pure chance.”
Despite the pitfalls, PPA Executive Director John Pappas was elated at the public disbursement of the study’s results. He commented in a press release on Friday, “The question of whether poker is a game of predominant skill or chance is not about the player’s ego, but the nature and legal protections of the game. In courtrooms across the country, judges and juries are finding that poker is a game of skill – not chance like lotteries or slot machines – and this study confirms that fact.”
Read the full study claiming that poker is a game of skill.