It is understandable why the majority of poker players are so incredulous toward the luck component in poker. In all other sports we are conditioned to be declared the victor if we outplay our opponents. It is an anomaly when marked superiority does not result in victory.
There is no sport where you can find a person on the street that will beat the best in the world. If you played tennis with Rafael Nadal, you might not get one winner in three sets. Sit down with Phil Ivey on the poker table, however, and you will win hands. Poker players need to abandon the sense of entitlement that may come with advanced skills. That worked in other sports and games, but in poker you are at the mercy of luck.
Imagine if the principles that governed poker were applied to some different sports:
A good basketball team trounces a below-average team 86-43. That is by any reasonable measure a show of utter superiority. You would think the other team would be hanging their heads, but it’s not over yet! Now they’re going to have a drawing. 129 tickets are thrown into a bucket, 86 of which belong to the winning team, and 43 belonging to the losing team.
Somebody reaching into the bucket and pulling out a ticket will now determine the winner. 43 tickets out 129 are not bad odds. This is the same scenario any player faces as a robust 2-1 favorite in a poker hand. It would be insane if the winning basketball team would have to expect to lose 1 out of these 3 games they won by a blowout. But as a poker player you have to accept this as part of the game.
A world-class boxer dominates his less-skilled, inexperienced foe, clearly winning the fight. The judges all agree he won 10 out 12 rounds. The losing boxer prepares to leave the ring to ice his wounds, but wait! We’re going to have a little raffle first. 12 pieces of paper go into a hat, 10 belonging to the winner and two to the loser. The rightful victor will probably win, but how many of these situations can he expect to win consecutively?
A poker player holding pocket aces against an opponent with pocket fives is in even worse statistical shape than the aforementioned boxer. In a no-limit poker tournament, where you can lose all your chips in one hand, these situations will be plentiful. Yet you may continue to feel indignant when you lose. You outplayed you opponent. Maybe you skillfully devised an intricate trap that your opponent fell right into. That still does not entitle you to anything in this game. It only puts you in a better position to win.
Poker is not chess. In chess, you outplay your opponent conclusively and you win. It’s simple. In poker, there are two filters which results are run through. First is the skill aspect. This will only determine who will have the statistical advantage before the results are run through the filter of luck. There are many times when poker players use skill to cripple their opposition, and maximize how much they win from a person when they have the best hand with no cards to come. The majority of big action, however, does not unfold in that manner. You may have gotten your money in with the best hand, but with cards to come, it can feel like it’s better to be lucky than good sometimes.