The tipping point

But that still leaves the crucial question of whether skill dominates chance. To examine this we ran simulations comparing the performance of skilled and unskilled players. We found the tipping point: skilled players can expect to do better than their relatively unskilled counterparts at least three quarters of the time after 1,471 hands have been played.In other words, poker becomes a game of skill after around 1,500 hands. To put this into perspective, most online players are likely to play 1,500 hands in 19 to 25 hours – and less than that if they play multiple tables at the same time.Of course, devoted players everywhere might feel inclined to celebrate this revelation. They can bask in the satisfaction of knowing the game they love demands and rewards genuine proficiency and that in the end talent and guile will usually triumph over blind luck.Legal implicationsBut the issue is about more than validation and bragging rights. You might well wonder why researchers are spending their time formulating equations rooted in the myriad complexities of Texas Hold ‘Em. The reason? Whether poker is viewed as a game of chance or a game of skill has potentially major legal implications.Doubts surrounding poker’s claim to being a game of skill have shaped legislation for years. Players in the UK currently pay no tax on their winnings, which is good news for everyone from the most modest online tyro to the likes of writer and TV presenter Victoria Coren Mitchell, whose career earnings on the professional circuit exceed £1.5m.In some countries what are perceived to be games of chance are subject to much tougher jurisdiction: in most US states, for example, online poker has been essentially illegal since the passing of the 2006 Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act.All of this could change if policymakers take heed of these findings that show the opposite. Even without them, the American legal system has already argued the case several times over, with judgements upheld, overturned and upheld again. Perhaps fittingly, there’s an awful lot of money at stake and we can expect the debate to rumble on, as new evidence comes to light.

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