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Last Updated: Tuesday, 16 January 2007, 16:37 GMT
Poker: A game of skill or chance?
By Jane Mower
BBC News Online

Graeme Newman
Graeme Newman won big playing poker online
Derek Kelly's argument that poker is a game of skill and not one which is left to chance has sparked much debate among the gaming community.

He claimed he did not need a licence to host poker games at the Gutshot Private Members Club in Clerkenwell, central London, as the law requires it only for games of chance.

Although Mr Kelly has been found guilty of breaching the 1968 Gaming Act, the debate surrounding the card game, which has evolved over many centuries, looks set to rumble on.

The Professional Poker Player

Graeme Newman, the current European Online Poker Champion, took on 400 opponents over 13 hours to win a prize of $230,000 (115,000).

He is in no doubt it takes skill to win but maintains there is an element of chance involved.

The 30-year-old, who runs a risk management company in London, said: "In any one hand of cards there is a large amount of luck involved.

"It is 20% chance and 80% skill which is done by creating the odds in your favour so it is 100% skill in setting the right odds.

Body language

"You could get your cards in the best possible position and still lose that hand.

"That reflects the fact that you have skill to get to that point, using skill to get yourself into a position where the odds are in your favour.

"The bottom line is that skill is involved and it's all about creating lots of small edges on your opponents.

"A lot of it is about reading your opponent. Playing online you can't see if they are looking nervous but you can identify betting patterns.

"People are creatures of habit. I won't do very much for the first 20-30 minutes and watch how players approach the game.

Derek Kelly
Derek Kelly ran the private Gunshot club in London

"Some make big bets when they haven't got a hand and there are opposite trends where big amounts are made when they have a good hand.

"It's also about trying to disguise your own hand as well as looking for betting patterns and body language, which are called tells.

"Face-to-face games are a lot slower but you get a lot more information so I take about the same time to observe the players as when playing online.

"There is also sophisticated software which provides statistical analysis of a game and knowing how to interpret this information takes a great deal of skill."

The Statistician's viewpoint

Dr Barry Blight, who worked as a lecturer at the London School of Economics, has carried out research into the extent of skill involved in games.

He said: "There is a great deal of skill in poker. It's a combination of two types of skill, assessing the chances of the cards and the bluffing skill, it's very complex.

"Working out the probability of cards is a small part of the game.

"It's very difficult to define skill in games. If players can make a decision that can affect the outcome of the game, then it involves skill.

"There are a lot of decisions in poker; involving the cards and the mood of the opponents."

The Government's stance

The Department of Culture, Media and Sport said the Gambling Act of 1968 was in place to prevent crime, protect children and vulnerable people and ensure games are fair.

A spokesman said that the Gambling Act 2005 was due to come into force in September and represented a modernisation of rules.

"With the area of poker there is recognition that people are playing different games now to when it was drawn up in 1968," he said.

"At the some time we need to ensure that the three principles are upheld and the government believes properly regulated games is the way to do this.

"When gambling involves high stakes the government believes it should take place in a properly regulated environment that includes proper licences."

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