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Poker is a Game of Chance

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By Dr. Panayiotis Papadakis

It was a bright sunny day when a couple of hundred poker players were playing a poker tournament inside of an air conditioned room. Some of the biggest names in poker came to town to win some of the money from the local rookies. Armed with knowledge (and not to mention celebrity status) those poker hotshots were pretty confident that they were going to win this event, hands down. After all, poker is a game of skill, it had been said, and who can be more skilful than a group of skilled poker champions? So, the dealers shuffled up and dealt some cards.

Only a few minutes into the tournament The Grandfather of Poker was heads' up against a totally unknown 19 year old rookie that hasn't even learned the ranks of all the poker hands. The Grandfather says, "All in," and pushes his pile of chips towards the pot. The rookie who only read our Theory of Poker tutorial remembers that he should not fold (because if you do, you don't win) looks down at The Grandfather and without the slightest hesitation says, "I call."

The cards are dealt on the board and the rookie wins.

What skill did the rookie use to win that pot?

Of course, none whatsoever. This was all luck. In fact, The (pissed off) Grandfather of Poker even tells him so, right to his face, as if that was going to make any difference.

Throughout the tournament history repeats itself, when The Poker Brad loses to a truck driver, when The Poker Master gets crushed on the river by an inside straight draw, against another rookie, and so on. Make a long story short, before you know it all the "champions" are in the losers' lounge, sipping on room-temperature tap water from recycled Styrofoam® cups, complaining about bad luck. And why, may we ask, are those skilled players complaining about bad luck, if poker is a game of skill?

There are plenty of examples like that and yet, poker "experts" have managed to convince the masses that poker in a game of skill, in all the worthless books they've published.

Poker is a game of chance. Period.

Here is a short explanation of why this is so.

Poker is played with a deck of 52 cards. Those 52 cards are shuffled, so that the cards are basically rearranged in any random combination and then the cards are dealt out. Now, the first question we need to answer is, how many combinations of 52 cards exist?

The answer is 52! (pronounced 52 factorial). You arrive at the result by multiplying a string of numbers, starting from 1 and ending with 52, like so 1x2x3x4x5x6...etc...x49x50x51x52. The result is roughly 80,658 vigintillion possible combination. And how much is one vigintillion?

One vigintillion is the numeral 1,000 followed by 20 sets of 3 zeroes; in other words, one followed by 63 zeroes. So, not 1 of those, but 80,658 of those vigintillions, is the number of possible combinations with a deck of 52 playing cards. The abbreviated version of that number is expressed as 8.0658x1067 (pronounced 8 point 0658 times 10 on the power of 67). Wow!

The number is so humongous that we can't even imagine what it is without doing some more simple math.

The following excerpt has been borrowed (with permission) form CARDSHARK Online.


If a shuffle takes 2 seconds it will take one person 5.1x1060 years to have the deck shuffled in all the possible combinations exactly once. At the same pace, it would take a team of 5 billion people, each shuffling a deck simultaneously, 1.022x1051 years to shuffle all 5 billion decks combined into all the combinations, only once. Scientists have calculated that our Sun will keep shining for another 10 billion years, or 10.0x109 years (at that time life on Earth will cease to exist). This means that we would have to extend the lifetime of our planet 1.022x1041 times to be able to accomplish this feat.

If 5 billion people all started shuffling today, and continued shuffling once every 2 seconds, they would only be able to accomplish 7.889x1026 combinations of 8.0658x1067 possible combinations, by the time the Sun would stop shining, which is only 9.8x10-40 % of all possible combinations (or 0.00000000000000000000000000000000000000098%, which is to say, approximately less than one dodecillionth of a percent).



So, let's ask any reasonable person if anyone in the right state of mind thinks that any "skilled" poker player is genius enough to remember all these combinations and optimal play strategy for every single one of them? Of course not, since it is not even possible to arrange a deck of cards in all those possible combinations, in the lifetime of our planet.

So, all those "experts" that tell the world how poker is a game of skill can flush their theories down the toilet. Poker is a game of chance and that's all there is to it. No level of skill and/or expertise in the world will ever change that, as long as we keep playing poker with a full deck of 52 cards. If poker was truly a game of skill, we wouldn't have all these exciting stories about bad beats and lucky draws, and made hands getting crushed on the river.

Conclusion, arguably, there are possibly some elements of skill that can be used in the game of poker. But chance greatly overpowers skill, so skill is insignificant. To say that poker is a game of skill is like saying that a herd of sheep is black in appearance because of the presence of a single black sheep. So, even if poker is a game in which skill may occasionally play some role, you can completely eliminate the element of skill and play the game as a pure game of chance.


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