Despite the celebrity status that many professional players have gained over the last several years, there are still people who do not believe that a poker player can be a winner over the long term on skill alone.
These skeptics may concede that some players have won significant sums of money at the game, but they chalk the winning up to ‘luck’ or ‘good cards’. Some people are just naturally cynical and find the idea of gambling for a living too good to be true; yet many others let their own negative experiences skew their beliefs.
Members of the latter group label themselves unlucky and say, “Well, I play correctly, but my pocket aces always lose to 6-7 suited or some other trash, so poker must be all luck.” These players are either not as good as they think they are, or they have not played nearly enough to show a profit from their good play. Regardless of what non-believers say, it is possible, albeit very difficult, to a winning player at poker over the long haul.
Poker is beatable because the player is able to make decisions that have a positive expected value (or return). In other words, the player can make bets that will win the majority of the time, or at least enough to show a profit. This differs from other casino games, which all favor the house over the long term, regardless of how well one plays.
Let’s look at a simple example to illustrate this:
The best starting hand in Texas hold’em is a pair of aces, also called pocket aces.
This hand will win approximately 4 out of 5 times against a random hand once all the cards have been dealt and played. If a player bets every time he is dealt pocket aces and gets one caller, he will win one bet 80% of the time and lose one bet 20% of the time, for a profit of three bets per five hands (4 winning – 1 losing = 3 total).
Although poker is much more complex than this example, winning over the long term boils down to either betting or folding when the odds are right. Great players must be able to take advantage of every possible edge, and since most are quite small, it takes many hours and many correct decisions to eventually show a profit.
Moreover, even perfectly played hands do not win every time, which leads to the frustration that most novice (and likely expert) players feel when they are beaten by a fluke hand.
Luck plays a factor from hand to hand and from game to game, but the skilled player will be able to overcome this and show a profit over time.
Note that if luck was so important in gambling, there would be many more winners at other games, and more casinos would be out of business.