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Old 11-14-2011, 08:28 PM   #1
David Sklansky
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Thoughts On "Predominantly Skill" Definitions

I am posting this here rather than on the legislation forum because there are more visitors here. If what I am about to write helps the cause, anyone should feel free to use it.

People who argue that poker is predominately skill have to deal with the fact that good players sometimes have losing weeks. This happens because the hourly standard deviation for an expert player is usually at least ten times the expected hourly rate. Eventually this doesn't matter because the win is proportional to the number of hours played while the standard deviation is proportional to the square root of the number of hours. Thus in my example, after 100 hours the win rate exceeds the standard deviation. At which point the player is almost 90% to be ahead.

Is this good enough for our purposes? Perhaps not. And I will shortly improve upon it. But it does give a clue as to the structure of an argumently as to whether something is predominately skill. There has to be an x% chance that the better player will be ahead after y hours.

If people accept the definition of predominately skill as having a 90% chance of being ahead after 100 hours, poker instantly fits. But that might not seem strong enough to the layman. If so one needs to go a bit further.

Firstly one must point out to him that expert poker players are usually playing against very good players. So the skill difference is small. But that fact means it is not fair to judge them on the 100 hour threshold. Even if a game is almost all skill and very little luck, if the players were equally skilled, the contest APPEARS to be all luck. And if there was a tiny skill differential, the contest would APPEAR to be almost all luck. The slightly better player could be behind after many hours.

So my first contention is that the only fair way to judge the degree of skill is in comparison to an AVERAGE player. I'll get back to that.

If an average player plays a session of whatever game against an expert player, what kind of favorite would the expert need to be for that session, before you would say that his skill predominates over luck? It seems that 3-1 is about right. If the game was all skill the expert would be 100%. If the game was all luck it would be 50%. Thus anything above 75% would suggest commonsensically that skill predominates over luck.

So we have lowered the bar from 90% to 75%. Most experts are 75% to be ahead after perhaps 50 hours.

But that is when they are against good to very good players. A misleading standard. Suppose they were against average players. The ones who break even on the kitchen table. In that case the experts skill would be such that it was 75% he would be ahead after ten hours at most. And I have a feeling that such a statistic would convince most non players that poker was predominately skill.

But even the above is not a totally fair measure. Unless the game was head up. The fairer criteria would be how the expert COMPARED to the average player after a certain number of hours. Would he be doing better or worse? I think we would all agree that in most poker ring games an average player would have less than a 25% chance even after three or four hours, to be doing better than an expert sitting in that same seat.

Hopefully that last sentence, properly proved, gets the job done.
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Old 11-14-2011, 08:34 PM   #2
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Re: Thoughts On "Predominantly Skill" Definitions

perhaps, but this still doesn't explain why i'm running bad this year.
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Old 11-14-2011, 08:44 PM   #3
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Re: Thoughts On "Predominantly Skill" Definitions

I am sure that convincing the public that a 75/25 advantage after 3-4 hours in a live game gets the job done in terms of the skill vs. luck debate. I actually think 60/40 does it but 75/25 is a slam dunk.
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Old 11-14-2011, 09:02 PM   #4
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Re: Thoughts On "Predominantly Skill" Definitions

no, 90% of experts are not ahead after 25(hands/per hour--an opportunistic rate)*100 (hours) hands

maybe look at %return on investment for average winner over some arbitrary number of hands to gauge "%skill"?
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Old 11-14-2011, 09:10 PM   #5
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Re: Thoughts On "Predominantly Skill" Definitions

Poker is 100% a game of skill. This is a true statement.
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Old 11-14-2011, 09:13 PM   #6
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Re: Thoughts On "Predominantly Skill" Definitions

So why aren't you, David, going to testify in one of the poker hearings? Either you or Fossilman should really consider getting the PPA's nod and try to get invited, assuming either are willing.

Obviously everyone at 2+2 is going to agree with OP's statement. We need the right people in congress to hear this truth.
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Old 11-14-2011, 09:37 PM   #7
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Re: Thoughts On "Predominantly Skill" Definitions

Didn't the freakonomics guys write a paper about how poker was a skill game within the last year or so?

I think dropping that name at every opportunity possible would be more effective at convincing the public than talking about ROI's and standard deviations.
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Old 11-14-2011, 09:44 PM   #8
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Re: Thoughts On "Predominantly Skill" Definitions

What are the best arguments you've heard for poker being more luck than skill? This was tried in court once right, and they said something about how in one hand the cards matter more than the player?
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Old 11-14-2011, 09:45 PM   #9
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Re: Thoughts On "Predominantly Skill" Definitions

Quote:
Originally Posted by David Sklansky View Post
Eventually this doesn't matter because the win rate is proportional to the number of hours played
Perhaps I'm misunderstanding your use of terminology, but I don't understand what this means. Win *rate* (in dollars per hour) should not be proportional to number of hours played. If that were so, then the longer you play, the more you'd win *per hour*. That would be nice if it were true , but it isn't in my experience. It is the dollar amount that you win, and not the rate at which you win it, which is proportional to hours played.
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Old 11-14-2011, 09:45 PM   #10
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Re: Thoughts On "Predominantly Skill" Definitions

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Originally Posted by MikeGotNuts View Post
What are the best arguments you've heard for poker being more luck than skill? This was tried in court once right, and they said something about how in one hand the cards matter more than the player?
There was that Cigital statistical analysis that showed that most poker hands are won by skill, in the sense of players maneuvering their betting to successfully fold out the player that would have held the best 5 card hand, more often than not - http://www.cigital.com/resources/gaming/poker/

The Freakonomics paper on poker as a skill game, having less luck/variance than sports tournament/Wall Street - http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/0..._n_859388.html

And the Harvard Poker Strategic Poker Society article posted recently, on how it improves thinking, it's academic value etc - http://onlyagame.wbur.org/2011/11/12/harvard-poker
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Old 11-14-2011, 09:53 PM   #11
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Re: Thoughts On "Predominantly Skill" Definitions

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Originally Posted by David Sklansky View Post
I think we would all agree that in most poker ring games an average player would have less than a 25% chance even after three or four hours, to be doing better than an expert sitting in that same seat.

Hopefully that last sentence, properly proved, gets the job done.
Agreed.

And the longer the time played, the less chance the average player has of doing better than the expert player.

And is it true that the higher the rake, the less chance the average player has of doing better than the expert player?
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Old 11-14-2011, 10:00 PM   #12
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Re: Thoughts On "Predominantly Skill" Definitions

Great post, I hope it helps.
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Old 11-14-2011, 10:04 PM   #13
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Re: Thoughts On "Predominantly Skill" Definitions

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Originally Posted by e i pi View Post
Didn't the freakonomics guys write a paper about how poker was a skill game within the last year or so?

I think dropping that name at every opportunity possible would be more effective at convincing the public than talking about ROI's and standard deviations.
The DOJ SDNY also wrote a paper recently conceding poker to be a game where skill will prevail in the long run, and congress held a hearing recently in which their primary concern with online poker was cheating not the predominance of luck.

The prevalence of bots, trojans and other scams are far more relevant to getting legislation passed, we've essentially won the skill argument.
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Old 11-14-2011, 10:07 PM   #14
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Re: Thoughts On "Predominantly Skill" Definitions

Why are you focusing entirely on the output? What are the inputs that give an 'expert' his edge? Thats where the focus will be in this debate.
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Old 11-14-2011, 10:08 PM   #15
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Re: Thoughts On "Predominantly Skill" Definitions

Quote:
Originally Posted by e i pi View Post
Didn't the freakonomics guys write a paper about how poker was a skill game within the last year or so?

I think dropping that name at every opportunity possible would be more effective at convincing the public than talking about ROI's and standard deviations.
Yeah I think it was Levitt did that one, not dubner (?) They used a relatively small sample size but it was enough to infer that the pros generally had an ROI of 30 percent plus in the main event of the world series and that poker seems to have more skill involved than baseball.

Imo tournaments are easier to use because we can safely state the quality of the player in comparison to an average field- you cant do that for cash. Looking at all sunday mill results for players which we define "experts" in advance would demonstrate their huge edge in that particular tournament
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Old 11-14-2011, 10:11 PM   #16
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Re: Thoughts On "Predominantly Skill" Definitions

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Originally Posted by jungleman View Post
no, 90% of experts are not ahead after 25(hands/per hour--an opportunistic rate)*100 (hours) hands

maybe look at %return on investment for average winner over some arbitrary number of hands to gauge "%skill"?
yeah basically thats what im saying and what levitt used- an obvious group to pick for that analysis would be whoever is the top 10 in bluff player of the year/opr- something arbitrary
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Old 11-14-2011, 10:14 PM   #17
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Re: Thoughts On "Predominantly Skill" Definitions

Not this again....

Poker is not all skill. Over the long term a good player can make more money than a bad player but this can be said about Blackjack too.
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Old 11-14-2011, 10:22 PM   #18
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Re: Thoughts On "Predominantly Skill" Definitions

This has probably been said a million times before in the legislation forum, but I think a pretty awesome analogy for why poker must be more skill than luck is that a good poker player operates exactly like casinos do - maintaining small edges in a high variance game. And, duh, casinos make a trillion dollars on a consistent basis so to claim it's mainly luck would be ridiculous. Stocks traders and poker players is another good one, but casinos and poker players definitely have more in common so your argument can be a lot more conclusive.
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Old 11-14-2011, 10:24 PM   #19
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Re: Thoughts On "Predominantly Skill" Definitions

Quote:
Originally Posted by David Sklansky View Post
If an average player plays a session of whatever game against an expert player, what kind of favorite would the expert need to be for that session, before you would say that his skill predominates over luck? It seems that 3-1 is about right. If the game was all skill the expert would be 100%. If the game was all luck it would be 50%. Thus anything above 75% would suggest commonsensically that skill predominates over luck.
in my opinion, luck and skill aren't opposing forces, and the level of skill that a game requires should be based on the difficulty of playing the game well, regardless of expectation or relative expectation.

if i had a higher winrate at small stakes full ring flo8 than lhe, lhe would still require more skill....because it requires more skill.

if i set up a competitive slot machine bank where some machines were +ev against the others, it would still require the same ammount of skill to sit there and push the button. ("if the game was all luck, it would be 50%" is not true)
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Old 11-14-2011, 10:28 PM   #20
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Re: Thoughts On "Predominantly Skill" Definitions

Forgive my ignorance about this, but who are we arguing with? Has anyone presented a cogent defence of the position that poker is a game of luck?
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Old 11-14-2011, 10:32 PM   #21
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Re: Thoughts On "Predominantly Skill" Definitions

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Forgive my ignorance about this, but who are we arguing with? Has anyone presented a cogent defence of the position that poker is a game of luck?
I think they imply it, by calling it gambling, instead of gaming.
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Old 11-14-2011, 10:34 PM   #22
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Re: Thoughts On "Predominantly Skill" Definitions

Many other courts in ROW have upheld the skill side of this argument - does that not count for anything in the US? (a 900yr old court in The Hague, Netherlands; Swedish High Court and Supreme Court; Court of Appeal, France in 2011, etc etc)

Last edited by vamooose; 11-14-2011 at 10:51 PM.
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Old 11-14-2011, 10:34 PM   #23
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Re: Thoughts On "Predominantly Skill" Definitions

Please explain here the numbers 10hrs and/or 100hrs come from?
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Old 11-14-2011, 10:47 PM   #24
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Re: Thoughts On "Predominantly Skill" Definitions

Poker can be played skillfully and one can lose short term, yet you can also really gamble in poker and win short term... I think that's the problem.
But how would one explain that aspect of it being a game of skill?
And how long is the long run?
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Old 11-14-2011, 10:49 PM   #25
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Re: Thoughts On "Predominantly Skill" Definitions

Quote:
Originally Posted by David Sklansky View Post
I am posting this here rather than on the legislation forum because there are more visitors here. If what I am about to write helps the cause, anyone should feel free to use it.

People who argue that poker is predominately skill have to deal with the fact that good players sometimes have losing weeks. This happens because the hourly standard deviation for an expert player is usually at least ten times the expected hourly rate. Eventually this doesn't matter because the win rate is proportional to the number of hours played while the standard deviation is proportional to the square root of the number of hours. Thus in my example, after 100 hours the win rate exceeds the standard deviation. At which point the player is almost 90% to be ahead.

Is this good enough for our purposes? Perhaps not. And I will shortly improve upon it. But it does give a clue as to the structure of an argumently as to whether something is predominately skill. There has to be an x% chance that the better player will be ahead after y hours.

If people accept the definition of predominately skill as having a 90% chance of being ahead after 100 hours, poker instantly fits. But that might not seem strong enough to the layman. If so one needs to go a bit further.

Firstly one must point out to him that expert poker players are usually playing against very good players. So the skill difference is small. But that fact means it is not fair to judge them on the 100 hour threshold. Even if a game is almost all skill and very little luck, if the players were equally skilled, the contest APPEARS to be all luck. And if there was a tiny skill differential, the contest would APPEAR to be almost all luck. The slightly better player could be behind after many hours.

So my first contention is that the only fair way to judge the degree of skill is in comparison to an AVERAGE player. I'll get back to that.

If an average player plays a session of whatever game against an expert player, what kind of favorite would the expert need to be for that session, before you would say that his skill predominates over luck? It seems that 3-1 is about right. If the game was all skill the expert would be 100%. If the game was all luck it would be 50%. Thus anything above 75% would suggest commonsensically that skill predominates over luck.

So we have lowered the bar from 90% to 75%. Most experts are 75% to be ahead after perhaps 50 hours.

But that is when they are against good to very good players. A misleading standard. Suppose they were against average players. The ones who break even on the kitchen table. In that case the experts skill would be such that it was 75% he would be ahead after ten hours at most. And I have a feeling that such a statistic would convince most non players that poker was predominately skill.

But even the above is not a totally fair measure. Unless the game was head up. The fairer criteria would be how the expert COMPARED to the average player after a certain number of hours. Would he be doing better or worse? I think we would all agree that in most poker ring games an average player would have less than a 25% chance even after three or four hours, to be doing better than an expert sitting in that same seat.

Hopefully that last sentence, properly proved, gets the job done.
I posted this earlier, but this seems like it's a fairly air-tight argument for the predominance of skill in poker:

In my opinion people are thinking about this the wrong way in terms of skill and luck and that is because the difference in skill between any two people who know the rules is not that great (yes even between Ivey and some noob). The better way to think about this is if two people are playing and one is trying to win and the other is trying to lose and they both follow the rules of the game will the person trying to win usually/always win. The answer for poker is obviously yes. If I raise/fold 100% of the time and my opponent is not a moron and knows that I am doing this, he invariably wins. This is true for all games of skill, (basketball, tennis, etc...) but is not true of games that involve skill (i.e., sports-betting, stock market investing, etc...). While following the rules of these "games" even if you try to throw a match you could not be guaranteed to do so. I think this demonstrates the predominance of skill in poker over luck, however, the problem is more complicated as skill edge is so small and thus the likelihood that an individual wins any given match or over any given period of time devolves into a statistical argument but that seems to be completely irrelevant for whether poker is a predominantly skill game and thus differs from sports betting. I hope someone lets the PPA know about this argument because even though it seems trivially obvious to me, I haven't heard it yet (admittedly though I haven't read much on the subject).
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