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Sunday, May 6, 2007

Luck be a lady


Apparently, a number of academics have jumped on the bandwagon to define "poker" as being a game of "skill" rather than a game of "chance." There's big money at stake, as it were, since the status of poker affects not only casino gambling, but the huge online gaming industry as well. Back in September, Congress barred online wagers on any "game predominately subject to chance."


The Wall Street Journal reports that Harvard Law Professor Charles Nesson recently convened a meeting of academics and poker buffs to strategize on ways to get poker defined as a game of skill. In one 1989 California Circuit Court decision, the court held that poker is a game of skill, but the case law is constantly evolving -- where it stops, nobody knows.


Clearly poker involves skill (just try keeping a poker face), but is it more skill than luck? The traditional definition of gambling recognizes the element of skill. Black's Law Dictionary says that gambling occurs "where there is a chance for profit if a player is skillful and lucky."


As for poker, the word is thought to derive from poque, which was an archaic French bluffing game. But is bluffing a matter of luck, or skill?

4 comments:

Charles said...

can you tell me more about poque? is there a history of it?

Adam Freedman said...

Funny you should ask. Yes - you can find out all you ever wanted to know about the predecessors of poker at cardplayer.com which has a detailed history of poker here: http://www.cardplayer.com/history_of_poker/article/7-poque-or-poqas-to-pokuh
Basically, it was a late 18th Century card game among aristocrats - before they lost their heads. Four players, five cards each. It was influenced by (or it influenced - nobody is quite sure) a Persian game called As Nas. In any event, Frenchmen introduced it to Louisiana where it eventually morphed into poker.

WordzGuy said...

Speaking broadly, I would think that any game where strategy is involved -- and by this I mean strategy that increases the chance of winning beyond random chance (thus excluding "strategies" for winning the lottery) -- could be considered a game of skill. Most card games would qualify, most obviously something like bridge. On which people bet, if I understand correctly.

As for poker, I would think that bluffing is very much a place where skill comes into it, as you suggest with your comment about a "poker face." The skill in this case, however, is not in a strategy for how to play the cards, but in how to play your opponents, so to speak.

Being exceptionally bad at poker (in every way that you can be bad at it), I would heartily agree that it's a game of skill. I mean, in case there's a vote or anything ...

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