First of all, I'm a newbie so excuse my stupid question but I have to know :(

I notice a lot of people say this, especially those who play a lot of poker. I'm not really a poker player, but I know the game. You get 2 cards and the dealer gives you 5 cards from which you can choose 3 to build your hand. How does this require any skill? To me it sounds pure luck. You get good cards you win, you get bad cards, you lose or skip the round... Am I missing something here?

  • 1
    Poker would be all about luck if you only played one hand and bet all your chips. In the end of a tournament the highest positions rarely go to the 'luckiest' ones.
    – petervaz
    Mar 22, 2013 at 20:24
  • @petervaz On the other hand, you've got to have some luck to win a tournament.
    – user1934
    Feb 10, 2016 at 19:54

10 Answers 10


You're missing the whole betting process, which is key in poker. Cards are dealt randomly, but afterwards, the players will wager on the strength of their hand until one of two things happen:

  • all players but one have folded their hands or;

  • the latest bet have been called by everyone still at the table.

So if you are a winning poker player, your betting will be such that:

  • players holding worse hands than yours will continue and /or,

  • players holding better hands than your will fold.

In other words, a lot of hands will never go to showdown and when they do, it is not rare that the player who wins the pot is not the one who had the best hand to start with.

  • so you say that deciding when to continue or to retreat requires skill. what if you get only bad cards and you have to retreat all the time. skill doesn't help in that situation
    – Cathy
    Mar 18, 2013 at 23:22
  • 1
    It is still possible to win hands with bad cards, as long as you don't get to a showdown. Furthermore, if you play long enough, you will statistically have your fair share of good cards too.
    – TTT
    Mar 19, 2013 at 1:30
  • @Cathy: (my last comment was too) And along the same lines, another skill is losing the least amount possible when you don't win a pot. With very bad cards this is usually pretty easy. But sometimes you'll have very good cards and will still lose, and minimizing the amount that you lose in those scenarios takes skill.
    – TTT
    Mar 19, 2013 at 4:08
  • And get max value when you do have the best hand
    – paparazzo
    Dec 5, 2016 at 14:38

The way poker games are structured is such that under normal circumstances there is an element of luck combined with an element of skill. Of course the cards you use to make your hand are completely random (in hold'em), and therefore this is the element of luck. But the betting structure involves calculating pot odds, psychology, and reading people. REalize though that certain structures have more luck than others. For example, suppose you are playing no-limit and someone has a flip coin type strategy for going all in, or folding. This removes almost all of the skill in the game, even against the top pros. Though there are some skillful tactics you can use to beat this strategy, if the blinds are small enough compared to the stack size. However, in limit poker, when playing a flip coin type strategy against a pro with a significant stack size, (perhaps 100 big blinds), the pro will likely win, I would guess 90% of the time or higher (in a freeze out setting). If this is true then you might have to admit that it's a skill game.


Poker is a game of skill. The trick is to play each hand correctly. Bad hands like 72-offsuit are best played by folding. Other hands like AA are best played by raising. Hands in the middle are usually payed best by total regard to the value of the hand and your position at the table.


quick and easy example in an 1$ heads-up situation with a very bad player an a solid player: the bad player goes every hand all-in, so its pushing range is 100%. the good player recognising this calls only with his 5% best hands and gets 72,56% chance of winning. after 100 games played this way the good player made 72,56 bucks on average. while in reality there's rarely this huge advantage, you can see that there can be a difference which let the money flow from weaker to stronger players.

  • Hi User1010. Just a quick note to say that readability is of great importance here, so structuring you sentences, using capitalization, all help improve the site, and inevitably your posts score. You can use the editing tool to do this :) Welcome to the site.
    – Toby Booth
    Jul 29, 2013 at 21:36

"Game of skill" and "game of chance" are not disjoint sets: they overlap at poker, backgammon, bridge, and many others. Any game can have a randomizing element like the deal of a card or the roll of a die, and yet still have player choices and strategies that lead skillful players to win more often than less-skilled ones. Would you call football a game of chance because they flip a coin to choose field sides at the start?

"Pure" games of chance are those where the player makes no choices after betting: baccarat, roulette, craps, and such have only one player choice: bet or don't bet, and the outcome of the bet is based wholly on chance.

Poker is not like that. You see cards first, and then you base you decisions to bet, fold, or raise based on the cards, your position, your stacks, you opponents, and other information. Which player will have the best hand is determined by chance--but which players will stay for showdown, which will leave early, which will win the pot, and how large the pot will be, and how those results will add up over time, are heavily influenced by player choices.

It is possible to make bad choices and still win, for a while, just as it is possible to make all the right choices and lose. That's why bad players keep playing. But over the long run--and that generally means months, years, thousands of hands--those who make better choices will win the money of those who make poor choices.

Of course the best choice is to be the house. :-)


Poker is a game of skill on many more levels than games that involve no chance at all. One level of skill is mathematics and the ability to calculate the odds of your hand improving. Mathematics can also be used to calculate if it is a good or bad decision to fold or call based on the relative size of the bet and size of the pot. Another important skill is psychology or the ability to cause your opponent to think you have a strong hand when you don't. The way an opponent bets can be used to determine the contents of his hand. Position relative to the dealer is an extremely important factor. And there are many other things about the game that must be learned and practiced to improve. One proof that poker is a game of skill was hinted at by emanuele in this thread. The fact that the same people win multiple tournaments proves it. Otherwise, tournament winners would be a more random sample. And the fact that there are many professional cash players who make a living at poker is another proof. You will never hear of someone who makes a living playing craps, slots, or roulette.


I will try to proove that poker is a game of skill. Phil Hellmuth has the record of WSOP bracelets, with his 13 wins at WSOP. The number of players at every tournment of WSOP is of the order of 100. This means that if poker would be a game of chance, you have to win the WSOP one time every 100 on average. In this case the order of magnitude of the probability of win 13 times the WSOP is (1/100)^13, a probability very very very small. Taking into account that the age of the universe is of the order of 10^9 years, this means that the time required in order to see a such rare event is much more grater than the age of the universe. This proove that poker is a game a skill.

  • This might be a valid calculation if these were the only 13 WSOP events that Phil Hellmuth had ever entered ...
    – Peregrine
    Mar 20, 2013 at 13:30
  • 1
    +1 The math may be wrong but the point is still valid.
    – jacknad
    Mar 20, 2013 at 19:14
  • This alone doesn't prove skill; Phil Hellmuth could still be the luckiest player alive. If you ha a standard deviation, you could "prove" this with a very large confidence interval. Mar 20, 2013 at 23:14
  • wow, a lot of math skilled players :). I know that the math here is not correct, but what I would show is the exceptionality of the occurence of the event. This is a binomial event, if we call W the numbers of wins and L the number of looses, we have that the probability of this even is BinCoeff(W+L,W)P^W(1-P)^L. If P is very small the order of magnitude of this event is P^W. @Cory This is a binomial event, in such case standart deviation(that is = NP(1-P)) can't be greater (in value) than mean = NP where N=W+L.
    – emanuele
    Mar 21, 2013 at 9:46

It not only depends upon luck but we have to use our intelligence and skill while choosing the cards which is more beneficial to use. Poker constantly puts you to decisions (e.g. bet or check, raise or fold) that require skill to navigate effectively. Each of your decisions impact your ability to win a hand or session. The fact that there are many levels of success in the game only goes to prove that their different skill levels influence their results long term.Try the game at Pokabunga.


Unlike certain card games such as bridge, in poker, you don't really play your cards. What you are "playing" is your BETS.

To use the Kenny Rogers song, the thing to know is "when to hold 'em, and when to fold 'em," that is, to continue or stop BETTING, given your two cards, and how they fit (or don't) with the cards on the board.

Over a lifetime, two "regular" poker players will win and lose about the same percentage of their hands. The winners are the ones that will have big bets out on their winning hands, and small bets out on their losing hands.

  • Don't take too much poker advice from Kenny Rogers though, because later in the song he advises to never count your money at the table.
    – user1934
    Feb 10, 2016 at 19:57

Just for a very simple answer;

You get good cards you win, you get bad cards, you loose or skip the round

The skill is in determining whether your cards are [relatively] good or bad.

You won't always win with a pair of aces, which you can assume are pretty good cards to start with.

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