Poker Luck Comes in Many Forms; Take Note; Poker and Alzheimer’s Disease

poker luckBernard Lee: The Luck of the (Table) Draw

The Classic Debate Rages On

by Bernard Lee

Bernard Lee
Is poker based on luck or skill?

For many poker aficionados, including myself, there is little doubt that skill plays a larger part in poker than luck. In August 2012, Judge Jack Weinstein of the United States District Court in Brooklyn, NY concluded that poker was predominantly a game of skill. In his ruling, he stated that, “nor does the definition of gambling include games, such as poker, which are predominated by skill.”

Additionally, Judge Weinstein stated, “while players’ actions are influenced by chance events, their decisions are based on skill.”

However, while skill distinguishes the best poker players over the long run, no one can deny that luck definitely plays a role in poker.

When asked the question, I often suggest that much of the skill in poker occurs when your cards are concealed and betting is taking place. However, once the cards are revealed (such as when there is an all-in and a call) and there is no more betting occurring, this is the time when the luck factor can take center stage.

Most people associate luck with making a gutshot straight. Some players envision flopping a set versus an overpair. Others dream of hitting a miracle one-outer on the river. These lucky scenarios often supersede skill at that particular moment, changing the course of the game.

However, sometimes luck at the poker tables occurs in unexpected ways.

To me, one of the most underrated aspects of poker’s “luck” factor is your table draw. During a poker tournament, you are assigned a randomly chosen seat, and the players that are seated at your table are also chosen randomly. The ability of these opponents and their stack sizes directly affect your performance and subsequent outcome, sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse

One positive example in my career was illustrated during my 2005 World Series of Poker main event run to 13th place. Throughout that surreal week, I was fortunate to have great table draws day after day. Although I played against numerous solid players during the tournament, I did avoid some of the bigger names. That year, the final 27 players included the likes of Phil Ivey, Greg Raymer, Tim Phan, and Andy Black. Incredibly, I never faced any of these superstars during the 2005 WSOP main event.

Additionally, I never sat at the same table with poker pros Mike Matusow, Shawn Sheikhan, Tex Barch and Aaron Kanter before that fateful day when the final 27 players reassembled in downtown Las Vegas at the Horseshoe in Benny’s Bullpen to play down to the main event final table. I have no doubt in my mind that these “lucky” table draws during the tournament helped lead me to my near final table performance.

Of course, there have been many difficult situations in which table draws have negatively affected my eventual result. For example, at the 2011 WSOP in the $1,500 deuce-to-seven no-limit single draw event, I was second in chips heading into the final table. Although the table was jam packed with solid players such as Jason Mercier, Josh Brikis, Chris Bjorin and Thomas Fuller, the chip leader and the most aggressive player, Matt Perrins, was seated directly to my left. As I have written before about deuce-to-seven no-limit single draw, position is extremely critical in this game, much more so than even no-limit hold’em. Perrins took full advantage of this situation and dominated the final table. Unable to overcome this table draw and positional disadvantage, I ended up finishing in fourth place, missing out on a coveted WSOP bracelet.

During this year’s WSOP, I witnessed another example of how table draws can affect your outcome. Playing in a $1,500 no-limit hold’em shootout event, I sat down to a relatively unknown group of players at my first table. However, looking around the room, I noticed several tables that were stacked with top pros, while other tables were similar to my situation. Imagine how unlucky for the amateur player to sit down at a shootout table with the likes of Erik Seidel or Bertrand “ElkY” Grospellier (both who won their first table and made it to the second round), along with a handful of other recognizable pros. Although I was unable to get through my own first table, I definitely had a relatively easier situation than some of the other players sitting at much tougher starting tables. For them, the “luck” of the draw was definitely against them.

While table draws are important, this dynamic is not the deciding factor. For example, at last year’s 2012 WSOP main event final table, eventual champion Greg Merson was seated to the immediate right of the chip leader, Jesse Sylvia. However, after a fortunate double up courtesy of Andras Koroknai midway through the final table, Merson became the chip leader and never looked back.

Nevertheless, to somewhat neutralize the “luck” factor of table draws, you can research your opponents, trying to get as much historical information about them as possible. Back in January of 2012, I wrote a column in Card Player about tournament preparation on Day 2s and beyond. To summarize the column, I stated that if you “survive Day 1, you should look up every player at your next day’s table.” You should utilize all the information available, researching “all of (your) opponents’ career stats (including number of cashes, career earnings, number of final tables, number of tournament wins, largest buy-in amount, average buy-in amount, etcetera), news stories mentions, twitter accounts and anything else (you) can gather.” This thorough analysis will allow you to somewhat counteract the “luck” of the table draw by formulating a game plan against your opponents based on their past performances.

So when it comes to poker, “luck” comes in various forms. However, table draws are often not thought of as part of the luck factor, but hopefully it will be in your favor over the long run.

Therefore, the next time you hear: “Good luck at the tables,” it may take on a whole new meaning. ?

Bernard Lee is the lead commentator for WSOP Circuit live stream, poker columnist, author of “The Final Table, Volume I and II” and radio host of “The Bernard Lee Poker Show,” which can be found on or via podcast on iTunes. Lee is also a team member of Follow Bernard Lee on Twitter: @BernardLeePoker or visit him at


taking notes2Taking notes at the poker table can help you win

by George Epstein

It’s no secret: I take notes at the poker table; and I teach my poker classes how to do it and why.

Keeping track of all sorts of things on my handy 4-1/4 in. x 5-1/2 in. sheet of paper, tucked neatly into my shirt pocket, is bound to give me vital information I would otherwise overlook or be unable to retain in my aging brain.

What kind of player is each of my opponents – tight or loose, passive or aggressive? Maniac? Calling Station? Too tight? Timid? Does he follow the Hold’em Algorithm? If so, then he’s a tight player and deserves my respect; if not, then he’s a PokerPigeon – bound to be a loser in the long run.

How many hands I win; how many I win and lose on the showdown. How many bluffs won – and lost. How much I won (or lost) at the end of the session, and how long I played.

Getting Rivered: A while back, I started keeping track of when I got rivered. I was sure I held the best hand until the showdown but an opponent who “had no right still being in the hand,” caught one of the few cards in the deck that took the pot away from me.

Of course, we all know even huge longshots sometimes win the race. With 9-to-1 odds against him, a horse still has one chance out of 10 of taking home the big prize. Bad beats do happen.

Playing low-limit hold’em at my local casino one recent night, I noticed I was being rivered much more often than usual. What’s more, while I usually win over 70% of my bluffs by using the Esther Bluff tactic, this evening I won only about 30%; and as a consequence I found myself bluffing much less often.

Plus it was a very loose-aggressive game: lots of players calling, often raising preflop. Lots of PokerPigeons at that table; a great opportunity to win lots of chips…or so I thought. Rivered 6 out of 17 hands that I lost at the showdown! Even in low-limit games, it’s rare when I get rivered more than once a session.

Taking a Break: So I took a break and joined two of my Claude Pepper Seniors Poker Group members who were refreshing themselves at the bar (no alcohol) before they drove home. Maybe the texture of the game would change during that time, as some players left the game and were replaced by others.

Going back to the table, there was little change that I could discern. And that’s when I really goofed…Why didn’t I ask for a table change? I really don’t know. The information was right there in front of me, vividly looking up at me whenever I used my note sheet. The table was too loose; too many Calling-Stations and chasers. I was bound to lose more vulnerable (beatable) hands – and, indeed, I did!

Finally: It wasn’t until much later in the evening when the table texture became more typical – more “normal.” By then, I was quite a bit behind, hoping to win back my losses. To a large extent, I did. But, I must admit, I still went home a small loser for the session when the table broke up.

My Big Mistake: Thinking about it while driving home from the casino, I realized the mistake I had made. Actually, I knew it as I was playing and suffering – getting rivered hand after hand. That table was too loose; there was no way I could control the hands I played. Raising on the flop with a vulnerable hand, failed to force many opponents to fold.

Lots of card-chasers, in the long run, are bound to be losers. But, in the short term (right now), it only takes one to beat the odds against him. And the more of them at the table, the more often one will catch me on the river…I should have asked for a table change – early on. But I didn’t. A lesson learned!

“The Engineer,” a noted author and teacher in Greater Los Angeles, is a member of the Seniors Poker Hall of Fame. Contact George at


alzheimers 2Latest play to beating Alzheimer’s is playing poker

by Irene Edith
The ancient Roman poet Ovid observed:

“It is the mind that makes the man…”

Our minds define who we are – our personalities, our intellectual abilities, our ability to love and experience a full range of emotions. Even our ability to take care of ourselves. We are at the mercy of our minds – our brains.

The nice house, the fancy car, your retirement traveplans to l… None of these matter much if you deteriorate mentally in your senior years.

In a previous article on, we suggested: Play poker to avoid Alzheimer’s disease! Because Alzheimer’s is such an onerous and devastating mental disease, it is of interest to review recent news stories about combating it as we age. Much of this supports our thesis that playing poker is an ideal way to prevent Alzheimer’s disease that strikes millions of us, especially as we age.

Diet has been suggested of playing a role. Research at the University of Exeter in England has analyzed many studies and concludes that a Mediterranean diet “might reduce the risk of dementia.” More testing is necessary to confirm this conclusion.

By the way, a Mediterranean diet is rich in vegetable, fruit, fish and olive oil – along with less meat and dairy products. This does not negate our premise that mentally challenging activities – such a playing poker – also provide another viable path for preventing Alzheimer’s.

Multitasking is key: More to the point, a recent study conducted by the Neuroscience Imaging Center at the University of California, San Francisco, reported in the Sept. 5 issue of the journal Nature, that a new video game, called NeuroRacer, “may help sharpen mental skills that fade with age.”

The study was funded in part by the U.S. National Institute on Aging. Key is that this video game requires players to multitask – juggle several things that require attention at the same time. Well, that’s exactly why poker is so effective in preventing Alzheimer’s.

Is there a game or activity that requires more “multitasking” than poker? (Well, maybe driving in the bumper-to-bumper traffic on Los Angeles’ pot-filled roads, while listening to the news on your car radio.)

Recall that I told you about a paper in the July 3 online journal of Neurology by Dr. Robert Wilson, professor of neurological and behavioral sciences at Rush University Medical Center, in Chicago. He noted that “people who engaged in frequent mental activity in later life had a rate of mental decline that was 32 percent lower than those with average activity. . . Those with infrequent mental activity experienced a decline in mental abilities that was 48 percent faster.”

Right on the mark: The video game concept, Dr. Wilson’s observations, and our poker observations are consistent with recent recommendations from the Alzheimer’s Association to exercise our brains. To reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s, mental activities such as playing cards, strengthens the connections (synapses) that permit communication between our brain cells (neurons).

“Challenge your mind with a difficult task at least once a week” to “help increase brain cell connections.” Twice a week at the poker table is even better – especially if you develop the skills to be a consistent winner.

What better brain challenge is there than making key poker decisions:

• Peeking at your holecards, considering pertinent factors, should you pay to see the flop? How about raising?

• Should you raise on the flop to protect your vulnerable two-pair – or raise to get a free card on the turn?

• Having flopped the nuts, how about slow-playing to build the pot? Or, should you Check-Raise?

• Can you “read” your opponent: Look for tells. What hand is he likely holding?

• Having evaluated your opponents, how should this influence your decision?

• Holding a drawing hand with 6 outs on the turn, are the pot odds high enough to call a raised bet?

• Is this a good spot to bluff? (Hopefully, you have developed the skills. . .)

As I said before: Try it; you’ll like it – and it may very well help you to avoid Alzheimer’s disease for the rest of your life.

We invite your comments. Email to


Be Sociable, Share!

Comments are closed.