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Poker Life: Poker and Gambling

Thu, Apr 6, 9:52am by Poker Guru

Is poker gambling? Or is it a skill game? In many countries that is an important legal question since gambling is either illegal or regulated, while skill games are usually legal and not regulated.

What is gambling? Some people would argue that gambling is when you make bets even though the odds are against you, like in roulette. With that definition losing poker players are gamblers, but winning poker players are not. I have actually heard many poker players say something like ‘I don’t like gambling but I love poker’. Others would argue that whenever you make real money bets, whatever it is about, you are gambling.

One of my favourite songs is “The Gambler” by Kenny Rogers which is actually about a poker player. I am not sure if he is winning or not though. In the song, he is drinking whisky on a train and talking to someone.

Something I find interesting is that many of the world’s best poker players also love sports betting and/or casino games. Stu Ungar, Doyle Brunson, T. J. Cloutier, Phil Ivey, you name them. Doyle Brunson once said that he would be happy to make a coin flip for all he’s worth. No normal person would do that. These top players have all gone broke a few times, only to loan money from other gamblers and bounce back. Most people, including myself, would find such a roller coaster lifestyle very stressful.

But there is clearly a correlation between a risk-loving personality and being a great poker player. You really have to enjoy taking risks. I am not 100% sure about what that risk element is though. Making a big bet with nothing, is that it? Or is it the variance itself? Even if you are a good poker player you will have bad months or even years. If you cannot live with that you will never reach the top. And even if you are playing for the last cash in your pocket you still need to be able to play your best. There is even a line about that in “The Gambler” song: “You never count your money when you are sitting at the table”. I.e. do not let winnings or losses affect your judgement, and I am sure that is easier for risk-lovers.


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