Is Poker Gambling or Is It Based on Skill?


I wanted to write a post about gambling and poker. Poker is yet often seen as gambling in the general public. However, poker is a game of skill and luck where the best poker strategy wins in the long run. In practice, it means that you regularly lose to less skilled players, but after a certain number of hands, skills will overrun the proportion of luck.

In the long run, the percentage of players who gain money in poker is not high – some say that the number is less than 20%, likely closer to 10%. Most of the players are either playing for fun or just don’t make a profit because of the harsh competition.

rank of poker among occupations

Poker is a strategy game, like chess, and it is unbelievably competitive. A regular person doesn’t have a clue what it takes to play winning poker constantly, year after year and stay on the top of the field. In poker, you’ll need mathematical skills, psychological skills, resistance to pressure, and exceptional logical understanding. And that’s not all, poker is evolving all the time.

If you would use the same strategies that were used 10 years ago, you wouldn’t survive even in the small-stakes. Especially the game of heads-up needs analyzing opponents’ strategy and leaks. I would estimate that the best heads-up players use up to 50% of their working time to educate themselves off the table.

Poker is a game of different variations of which all of them need a different approach and strategy. Poker has evolved over the years and nowadays every possible variation has its own specialists. The old legends, like Doyle Brunson and Daniel Negreanu, who mastered all the possible variants of poker, wouldn’t have a chance in the online games of each variation (except maybe the mixed or the draw games, which are played rarely). Every single game has specialists nowadays, 6max, 9max, No-limit, Pot-limit, Heads-Up, Turbos, Hypers and so on.

Are Heads-Up Hyper Turbos Purely Gambling?

If poker is not gambling, then what about turbocharged heads-up tournaments? When you are able to see just a few hands per tournament, it could seem like a fast-paced lottery and to be honest, in the short term that’s what it is. But in the long term, it is a different story.

result graph 2
HERO’s Heads-Up Hyper-Turbo graph in MPN network

Heads-up hyper-turbo tournaments are an extreme format of poker. The blind structure, stack sizes, and one-to-one battle need such an exceptional strategy and mindset that an average (winning) full ring player would get beaten in a heartbeat. Not only full ring players but also short-handed specialists are lost in the tables of heads-up hyper-turbo sit and go tournaments.

I added several result graphs to show how a winning strategy makes steady results over the long term and how the gambling aspect (fluctuation) stabilizes.

result graph 1
HERO’s Heads-Up Hyper-Turbo graph in PokerStars

How to Beat Heads-Up Hyper-Turbos?

What makes a person a good heads-up hyper player? Most importantly, the person has to have an extremely aggressive playing style and not be afraid of bluffing. The player should have a distinctive logical understanding. In heads-up, you are not playing the cards, you’re playing the opponent.

You need to have third or fourth level thinking in heads-up. Which means that you have to think what your villain thinks you have, or even further. You have to know how to use HUD in an exceptional way, and you need to adjust after every single hand and be able to change the pace of your game.

And last, as we all know, games are getting tougher every year. You have to study and practice all the time. Many players see the heads up play as the Holy Grail of poker. The hardest format to master and at the same time the most lucrative format of poker. Doyle Brunson said that No-Limit Texas Holdem is the Cadillac of poker, but I think it should be rephrased. The real Cadillac is, in my opinion, No-Limit Texas Holdem Heads-Up.

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  1. If you read poker forums on the internet there are still a lot of people who claim that hypers & spins are totally luck-based games.

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