Poker Skill

Applying Poker Skills

Poker Skill"A smooth sea never made a skilled mariner."
-- English Proverb

In some poker tournaments players get a lot of chips, blinds go up slowly, and each round lasts a long time. In other tournaments, each player gets a small stack of chips, the blinds go up fast, and each round is short. The second type of tournament is often called “a crapshoot” -- meaning anybody can win, luck decides. It seems that most people look at this and view the crapshoot tournaments as having little skill.

This is not true, and helps illustrate how poker skills come into play in all the various forms of poker. Even though random luck is dramatically higher in crapshoot tournaments, the value of skill in these events also increases. Despite skill decisions being of more individual importance in a crapshoot, luck is more important in determining the winner because the luck values simply have increased more. Just to make up some numbers, if skill is twice as important, luck has increased ten times. So, the luck overwhelms the skill.

But don’t let this confuse you. In tournaments with fast rising blinds, a higher percentage of decisions will call for critical applications of skill. It should be clear that if a player has only enough chips to play one hand, choosing that hand is far more important than each individual hand choice when a player has chips for 100 hands. Luck overwhelms the skill in that choosing of one hand, while skill normally overwhelms luck when there are 100 (or 1000) hands to play, but this does not contradict the fact that there was more skill in choosing that one hand than in each individual hand among the 100.

Okay, so what if skill is more important, but less effective? What we need to understand is that the value of applying our skill in poker is a variable thing. Just because skill is more important in each second in some game doesn’t mean it is more valuable. Just because you are a much better player than your opponents doesn’t mean that is the best game choice for you. (It should still be a profitable choice, but may not be as profitable as other choices.) Having only a small skill edge over your opponents that you can apply and re-apply thousands of times can be much more profitable if the relationship between skill and luck is less extreme.

In other words, I’d rather play a tournament against mediocre players where I get plenty of chips, the blinds go up slowly, and the rounds last a long time than play a crapshoot tournament against a bunch of nutballs.

The tournament example is an easy one for people to understand, but it is not the focus here. The point is the relationship of skill to luck and the more effective ways to apply your skills. High-Low Split Stud with no qualifier, “Q”, is a game where nutballs would be completely destroyed in no time, but it is generally played at fairly high limits where there aren’t many complete loonies. What there are though are players that are a definite notch below the group of more skillful players. “Q” will always be a very profitable game for highly skilled players playing against mediocre players -- more profitable than playing seven-card no-peek against poor players would be.

Some mediocre online poker players complain about how “tough” some Holdem games are -- games that are filled with other mediocre players. There is no skill edge in these games for these players. At the same time, some excellent players find these “tough” games to be extremely easy, not because the opponents are awful, but because mediocre Holdem players do not fare at all well against outstanding Holdem players.

Mediocre Holdem players, ones who rely on solid starting hands but who do not excel in post-flop play, can do very well against nutballs with pitiful starting hand selection. But then, excellent players will often find playing against these nutballs will be less profitable than playing against the mediocre players. The outstanding player will have an edge over either group, or over any mix of the groups, but one type of opponent will inevitably be easier to exploit than others. There is no direct relationship that says if Player A pounds Player B and Player B pounds Player C that Player A will really pound Player C. Player A likely will have an edge over Player C, but that edge may be smaller than the one he has over Player B.

Skill is an almost ghostly thing, but only "almost." Skill does exist. It is always there, but it is ever changing. Kinda bizarrely, sometimes when it is more important, it is also less valuable. Sometimes Player A will consistently take more money from Player B than he will make from Player C even if Player B consistently beats Player C. Having skill alone is the beginning step on the very difficult road of applying your skill in the best ways available. One talented player’s rose is another talented player’s thorns.

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