A good friend who doesn’t play poker recently gave me a gift book of poker along with the back issue of “Poker Digest” magazine, going back to the turn of the century.
Published by June Field – who many of us will remember as an important contributor to the world of poker – “Poker Digest” was the forerunner of “Card Player” magazine, and offers excellent columns by top players.
Poker expert John Vorhaus, author of the six-volume “Killer Poker” series, plus numerous other books, including the novel “Under the Gun,” is one of the greatest poker authors.
His column in the January 11, 2002 issue is about “gambling.” Poker, he wrote, “is a game of skill, not a game of chance.” In that sense, he explained the importance of “advantage” – when you have the advantage over your opponent thanks to your superior skills. As a result, you make better decisions than the other players at your table, so you win their chips.
Vorhaus spoke of “statistical advantage.” As an illustration, he uses a simple example: you and someone else turn a coin or head; You pay him two coins when he wins, while you only get one coin when you win. That’s an easy way to explain your use of cannabis odds vs card odds when making decisions at the poker table.
With a drawing hand, the number of chips in the pot (present, or “implied” in the river) relative to the size of your call bet, should be higher than your odds of catching the winning hand (based on the number you have). Those are “positive expectations,” and should convince you to win in the long run – and that’s not gambling.
Here’s a common example: On the River you have a four-to-pea flush. That gives you nine good points – the cards from that suit that are left on the deck. (There are no pairs on the board, so a full house or quads are unlikely.) With only River’s cards to come, the odds of your hand are about 4-to-1 against making a big flush. There’s an eight chip bet you have to call to see the river. The pot now contains about 80 chips. That gives you a pot odds of 10 to 1 (80 ÷ 8), well above your card odds (4 to 1) – positive expectations. It’s akin to making a wise investment.
Some will say you gamble when you take a risk for something of value (usually money), for which the risk return ratio is high, or indeterminate. Yes, of course, if you play slots or other games where the casino determines the odds – and you have no control over the matter – you are gambling. On the other hand, in poker, when the odds are not in your favor you can fold and keep a lot of chips. (The money you save is worth more than the money you win.)
That’s where skill plays a dominant role. Key skills include (1) selection of starting hands, depending on your betting position and other factors; (2) ensuring positive expectations; (3) know the characteristics of your opponent and observe what is being told so that you can “read” his most likely possession; (4) uses “The Art of Bluffing,” including Esther Bluff and the best way to build pots when you catch monsters.
As Vorhaus says, your poker skills can give you an important advantage over your opponents – more like a wise investment, helping you avoid gambling.
This discussion has removed a significant aspect of playing poker in a casino – one player considers: Costs to Play! GamingToday recently published an informative column on this. You have to win enough to make up for those costs, which amount to about $ 25 per hour of play – all reason to become proficient in this ultimate poker skill.