Doctoral research provides empirical proof that skill is the main decider
The skill vs. luck debate regarding the game of poker was revived again this week by a report in Science Daily detailing the results of studies at the Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland which apparently showed that skill is the deciding difference when it comes to winning.
Michael DeDonno, a doctoral student at the university carried out two poker-related studies with students which he claims provides empirical evidence that it is skill and not luck that dominates the game.
In the first study, DeDonno had 41 university students play eight games totalling 200 hands of turbo Texas Hold'em, a computerised simulation of ten-player hold'em poker. The majority of the students had little experience playing poker but half were given charts ranking two-card combinations from best to the worst and were told that professional poker players typically play only about 15 percent of the hands they are dealt.
The other half was given background on the history of poker but with no strategies and did not fare as well as the group who were given strategies. Before starting the study, 64 percent of the students personally opined that winning at poker was 50 percent luck.
'If it had been pure luck in winning, then the strategies would not have made a difference for the two groups,' claims DeDonno.
To statistically verify the results, DeDonno conducted a second study with students playing 720 hands. Again the group was divided and while all students improved their playing with practice, it was the section given strategies that continued to do better.
DeDonno found that students reduced the average number of hands they played from 27 at the beginning to 15 after they were given strategies, which improved their games and validated that ‘fewer hands result in improved performance’.

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