If we disregard deals, players accidentally mucking winning hands, and time-limited tournaments, in order to win a poker tournament, you must win the very last hand of the tournament. In order to win the last hand, exactly one of these statements must be true:
- You were the underdog, and you won the hand. (You got lucky.)
- You were the favorite to win the hand, and you did. (You did not get unlucky.)
- You were even up to win the hand, and you won it. (You got very lucky!)
(If you're wondering why I said very lucky for number 3- it's because I think you'd have to have the same hand as your opponent to be even up- which means the only way you can win is by making a flush. The most common example that you'll never forget is when you have AA, you're up against AA and you win/lose with/to a flush.)
To summuraize, to win a tournament, on the last hand you either have to get lucky, or not get unlucky.
That statement can be extrapolated to the rest of the preceeding hands in the tournament too, i.e., the above logic can be applied to every hand you win in the entire tournament.
Multiple times after winning a tournament (small ones, mostly 10-100 people), I remember thinking that I won because I never got unlucky- no one pulled a bad beat on me. Sometimes I recall winning a tournament because I got lucky a few times, and sometimes it was a combination of the two. Sure you'll have a few hands here and there where you catch a bad beat and still end up winning, especially in large tournaments, but in the smaller tournaments, most of the time a meaningful hand where you get unlucky will send you to the rail, or lead to it shortly after, particularly closer to the end of the tournament.
So this means that to win a tournament, you will have traversed a course of mostly getting lucky and not getting unlucky. Occaisionally, you will also get unlucky, and many times you will also not get lucky. (Not get lucky means you were the underdog and didn't win.) We now have 4 "main" ways your chip count can significantly change per hand throughout the course of the tournament:
- Got lucky. (Was underdog, won hand.)
- Got unlucky. (Was favorite, lost hand.)
- Didn't get lucky. (Was underdog, lost hand.)
- Didn't get unlucky. (Was favorite, won hand.)
I would like to know if we can quantity the approximate expected ratio of those occurrences throughout the course of a tournament, separated by wins and loses, for someone who wins the tournament. I'm not sure if this can be done mathematically without real data. Ideally we could datamine tracking software to get these numbers. For example, perhaps if you just won a tournament, and looked back at those types of hands, you might see this:
- Didn't get unlucky: 90%
- Got lucky: 10%
- Didn't get lucky: 90%
- Got unlucky: 10%
Why does this matter? If we can get real numbers, it helps assign the skill vs luck ratio of poker. This number may be important for certain governments in how they determine whether to define poker and/or poker tournaments as pure gambling, vs a game of skill.
Update: Imorin pointed out many reasons why my above method for attempting to quantify luck may not work, and I agree. I still believe there may be a way to achieve this. Here is what prompted me to ask this in the first place. I believe that almost everyone who wins a tournament can think of at least one hand in the tournament where they got lucky, and had they not gotten lucky, they would have either busted out, or very likely not have won the tournament. A few times I remember winning single table tournments thinking afterwad, "I won that because I never got unlucky. No one sucked out on me the entire tournament." But I've never won a multi-table tournament where there wasn't at least one hand where I got lucky, and had I not, I probably wouldn't have won it.