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The hidden side of poker

A detail shot of the poker table felt at the third Main Event on the final day of the Epic Poker League Inaugural Season

You may have dropped $20 or $50, even $500 bucks at the poker tables in a Vegas casino or piddled away your pennies online. But even though you can lose fistsful of dollars playing poker, it's not just a game of luck.

Freakonomics co-author and economist Steven Levitt is a poker fanatic.

"Poker is so obviously a game of skill," Levitt says. To test his gut reaction, Levitt has conducted two studies to examine whether luck or randomness accounts for players who consistently win. The first compared the performance of ranked players at the World Series of Poker with casual fans who showed up to rub elbows with the pros.

"The good players did very well and earned postive returns," Levitt said. "And the bad players, the guys like me who show up and think it will be fun to play with the good players, end up losing a lot of money."

In the second study, Levitt and his colleagues looked at 12 million hands of poker played online. The site also shared the cards each player held and kept hidden throughout the games.

"We can analyze the skill of the play in a way that others never have been able to do," Levitt said. "We show on every test we can think of doing that skill predominates over luck in no-limit hold 'em poker." 

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.
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Is there a link or citation/reference for the second paper (analysis of the 12M hands of online poker)?

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