Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Economist blog post

Shamus's blog post today points to this blog post by "J.F." at The Economist. It's a worthwhile read, and a generally good riposte to the absurdly shallow and thoughtless discussion of luck versus skill in poker that was found in the New York Times piece to which J.F. is responding.

I have just two quibbles with it.
Finally, consider losing rather than winning. Can you deliberately lose a hand of poker if you tried? Of course: bet badly, fold with winning cards, and so on. Can you deliberately lose a game of baccarat or roulette? No: to play you have to bet on an outcome that might happen, regardless of what you do.
This is just wrong. I don't even know how baccarat works, so I won't talk about that. But I do understand roulette. You absolutely can deliberately lose at roulette. Just bet the same amount on every one of the 38 spots (36 numbers plus 0 and 00). The ball will land on one of those slots, and you'll be paid 35:1 there. Suppose you bet $1 on each number. You will have spent $38 on every spin of the wheel, but win $35 back. If that doesn't constitute deliberately losing, I don't know what would. That thought experiment is, all by itself, sufficient to destroy the argument that any game at which you can deliberately lose is necessarily a game of skill.
Offhand, the only games I can think of in which luck plays no part at all are chess and go.
Also not true. In chess, the decision about who gets the white pieces--and therefore gets the advantage of moving first--is made by chance.

But, of course, I have no quarrel with J.F.'s overall theme, which is that skill predominates over luck in poker over the long run, so taking the example of any one hand, in which luck can certainly prevail over skill, is just silly. That's what the Times reporter did, and it's worth having J.F.'s more informed view presented as a counterweight.


NT (aka Cardgrrl) said...

Has it been proven that going first in chess is an advantage? If so, I had not heard that.

Rakewell said...


THOMAS said...

in roulette...if you don't have at least $38 in chips (assuming you are playing with dollars), you can't deliberately lose...but you can lose any amount in poker

Alcantrix said...

In chess tournaments, the color assigned to a player is not decided by luck. It is assigned to you by ranking, number of players, etc.

Generally, a software is used to define matches and color of pieces.

And yes, moving first is and advantage in high levels. when you draw a game, is almost triumph for the one with the black pieces

Short-Stacked Shamus said...

In my summary of J.F.'s piece I had started to go down this same road to point out how the "you can't lose on purpose" argument isn't really sufficient as proof that we're dealing w/a skill game, but I ended up leaving that out. (My use of passive voice -- "the argument is made" -- is perhaps the only evidence in my post that I'm distancing myself from the argument.)

I did ponder further about this, though, thinking, for example, how one can deliberately lose at blackjack, too. (Just keep hitting.) Heck, I could deliberately lose at the lottery by not following the instructions and scratching off too many boxes, thereby making my ticket ineligible. Or eating my Powerball ticket (gulp).

Is following simple instructions like this "skill"? Maybe, in a technical sense. In any case, it's clear that being able to lose a game deliberately hardly proves skill predominates.