Sunday, May 06, 2007

North Carolina Court Rules Against Poker as Game of Skill

While a greater setback for poker occurred in the form of this week's nonsensical U.S. stance towards the World Trade Organization, a lesser decision went against poker earlier in the week as well. This time it was a North Carolina appellate decision that went against Howard Fierman, who wanted to open a Durham-area poker establishment called the "Joker Club" back in 2004. He was unsuccessful then and remains unsuccessful today.

Naturally, the three-person appellate judges all misunderstood the mathematics and probabilities of chance, confusing single-outcome randomness with the fact that it's the long haul in any event that determines skill. A heartfelt thank-you goes out to the judges in question for demonstrating that rank stupidity can be found elsewhere besides the federal level.

The key point in the argument, according to the judges, was an anti-gambling witness who described the typical 'poker suckout' situation, wherein a hand with a 10% chance of winning goes ahead and takes the pot. Since this single occurrence went against the lomg-term expected probabilities, went the bogus argument, the game itself must be luck.


God forbid the pro-poker side had competent rebuttal, because this is am embarrassingly easy argument to refute. Take, for instance, North Carolina native Michael Jordan, perhaps the greatest player in basketball history and widely recognized as one of the game's best clutch shooters. In Jordan's best year, 1990-91, his field-goal percentage was .539. This means, according to the logic employed by these judges, that over 46% of the time, Jordan had zero skill. How does the image of a player of 0% success in nearly half of all test occasions --- and this in Jordan's best shooting year, nonetheless --- relate to Jordan's reputation as a clutch player and incredible shooter?

It doesn't. Because a small number of test cases never determines the difference between luck and skill.

I actually like Annie Duke's comment on the topic. In a recent Wall Street Journal article, Duke commented that poker had to be a game of skill, because in poker you can lose if you want to.

She's right, you know.

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