General concepts

Points of Play

Tournament Play

Poker Games

All poker games have some elements of skill and some elements of luck. Over the short run the luckiest player will win. However, over the long run the most successful players will be best players.

Most experts poker players agree on this point. What they disagree on is which game requires the most skill. Invariably poker players are prejudiced toward their own specialty.

The hold’em player thinks hold’em is the most skillful game. The seven card stud player is sure his game requires the most skill. Likewise, for the high-low split players it is their favorite that is tops.

Only lowball and razz poker (seven-card lowball) players are apt to admit that their game involves less skill than some other. I have definite thoughts on this subject.

The question of which game is most skillful is not just one of academic interest. It is a practical consideration when deciding upon which game you should concentrate.

If your main criterion is making money you probably should pick the game that involves the least luck. There are a few different possible definitions of “skillful.”  One definition would be the difficulty of playing correctly.

Almost certainly seven card stud is the most skillful game if you use this definition. The mere fact that you constantly must keep track of the cards that are out and the cards that were folded earlier makes this a game of intense concentration.

Knowing how to adjust your poker strategy based on the cards that are out is a skill factor that is not really required in most other poker games.

seven card stud also affords the opportunity for many fancy plays and opportunities to “represent” a hand other than what you really have.

seven card stud is thus, clearly the most difficult game.  However, “difficult” may not be the best definition of “skillful.”

A second measure of the degree of the degree of skill (or lack of luck) in a poker game is the proportion of non-automatic situations that arise during the game.

This definition immediately eliminates lowball, razz, and draw poker, especially jacks-or-better.  (The only exception would be short-handed poker games where there is greater opportunity to mix up your play.)

In fact, a beginning player could very well be a favorite in these three games against all but the toughest players if he played a memorized, good strategy by rote.

So much of the correct poker strategy in these games is based on poker fundamental percentages that you must pretty well adhere to if you expect to win.

Occasional opportunities arise to make a “play” but they are few and far between.  This is not to say that these games cannot be very profitable at times.

When your opponents poker playing hands badly and  do not stick to fundamentals, you have easy pickings.  However, your profits come from your knowledge of the game, not from your skill.

By the second definition, hold’em is more skillful than any other game including both high-low split and seven card stud.

High-low, without declaration, can be a very profitable game against bad players.  Against them it almost is impossible to lose.

However, the play is quite automatic once you know it. Just the admonition to “play for low” is two-thirds of the game.

By my way of thinking, a game is largely skill only if there is a significant difference between the good player and the great player. This is not true for high-low poker games cards speak.

There is one main reason why hold’em has less automatic plays than seven card stud.  It is that hold’em uses five common cards.  There are, therefore, fewer drawouts.

(Two kings in your hand can only outdraw two aces by making three-of-a-kind or occasionally a straight or flush.  It cannot make two pair and win, since the pair “on the board” also makes the aces two pair.)

When playing seven card stud, you frequently encounter the situation where you know you have the worst hand, but you must play, nevertheless, because of your chances of drawing out compared to the odds.

This situation occurs much less often in hold’em.  Nearly everytime a call is indicated, a raise should be considered.  Nearly any time a bet is indicated, a check-raise can be considered.

The peculiar nature of hold’em makes very few plays automatic.  Nearly any playable poker hand can be played in a variety of ways all through the hand.

The automatic bet or call is rare in this game.  This is not true of seven card stud.  What good does it do you to know your opponent’s hands if this information almost does not help you? 

This situation comes up all the time.  You have a small pair and an ace kicker on fifth poker street.  You know your opponent has one large pair.  Your play is marginal no matter what you do.

It is this aspect of seven card stud that explains why bad players are more likely to have a winning session than in any other game.  It is also why I can’t call seven card stud the most skillful game.

The third definition of skill takes the second definition to a higher level.  The greatest degree of skill occurs when the plays are only not automatic but also very often critical.  In order for a play to be critical it must be one in which the right play versus the wrong play will make a difference of  lot of money (in  proportion to the size of the game).

This situation does not occur very often in either seven card  stud or limit hold’em.  However, what about no-limit poker, especially no-limit hold’em.?

Any time someone makes a big bet at you, you are in a situation where making the right decision will have much impact on how you wind up for the night.  The same can be said for the decision whether to try to steal an ante.  Finally, when you have “the nuts” it is critical to know how to extract the maximum amount from it.

Not only are these plays not automatic: they are also critical.  Thus no limit hold’em seems to be (by the definition that I think should be used) the most skillful game.

There is, however, one other game, not yet mentioned, which has a claim to the throne.  Try to guess it.  The game has many non-automatic plays.  More important, there is a play in this game that comes up frequently and is extremely critical.

It is declaration in a high-low split declare game.  Any time a good card reader plays to the end of the hand, he frequently can steal half the pot with no hand at all.

This ability to “escape” is the single most important talent that one can have in any poker game.  To show this dramatically, ask yourself  which game would be best for you if you were using marked  cards.  It is clearly high-low declare.

The declare is by far the most important aspect of the game.  Knowing how to declare and knowing how to influence your opponents’ declaration (either to your side when you have a good hand or away from it when you don’t) is half the game.

Since this skill occurs so frequently and is so important, I think it is safe state that high-low with a declare is at least as skillful as no-limit hold’em.

Most of my readers are tourists.  Las Vegas hustlers call them “live one.”  It is true that the tourists are the underdogs to the hustlers when they are playing the local’s best game.

Tourists from the east are used to playing high-low declare.  Those from the south play no-limit hold’em.  These two games are rare here in Las Vegas.  I wonder what would happen if they weren’t.

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