Poker is indubitably a game of skill, and countless studies have gone to prove this. For example a rather simple 2008 study by the University of Cleveland, found that players who were familiar and well instructed in the rules of poker performed with a much higher rate of success than those who weren’t. Now this result is obvious enough that it doesn’t require an in depth explanation, but it definitely goes to show one thing – Poker is indeed a game of skill, just like darts or esports, which are all common enough obsessions of the avid punter! But can the same be said for online Poker? One thing that can be said is that Poker, played online or otherwise, is active gambling game as opposed to a passive one, i.e slot machines. Therefore, it still certainly qualifies as a game of skill. But how much skill is truly involved?
As an activity that represents 33% of online gambling in the UK, online poker is clearly largely responsible for the dozens of billions of pounds worth of revenue generated by internet gambling every year over thousands of websites. 55% of online gamblers have admitted to gambling on mobile phones and/or tablet. Knowing this, I believe it’s fair to assume that a large proportion of this 55% are people playing poker on the go, which is surely a detriment to your chances of victory if poker is indeed a game of skill. When played traditionally, as in face to face, the game is centered around a player’s ability to observe their opponents’ behaviours, pathological traits as well as their psychological approach to the game, and use all this information to their own advantage and to their opponents’ detriment. So this essentially means not only looking out for anything, a twitch in the nose, incessant tapping of the table, itching of the forehead, a wry smile, compulsive coughing and anything in between that might help you ascertain whether or not an opponent has a good hand, or if they’re trying to pull the wool over your eyes. This grants the game a great deal of tension and complexity, especially once people start cashing out one by one. It turns into a game of nerves.
However when this game is simulated on a phone, tablet or computer, communication suddenly becomes limited entirely to verbal communication, in most cases not through speech but through text. In a traditional setting you are able to observe your opponent’s tells and behaviours, whereas through the filter of the internet, you suddenly become limited to observing your adversaries’ betting rates. This is not only far less reliable way to discern your opponent’s strategy, but it also lowers your ability to control your emotions, also known as “tilting.” This is a dissociative disorder that occurs due to frustration and leads to a player losing all sense of self control, ceasing the employment of their skills and eventually, of course, losing their money. This in turn has a tendency to induce a state aptly coined “chasing,” where a player is constantly trying to make up for their losses. This has been noted as one of the more observable behaviours in terms of problematic online gambling.
One of the main methods of diagnosing pathological gambling is the South Oaks Gambling Screen (SOGS), which ranks people between 1 & 4, and the main method of diagnosing problematic gambling is the Problem Gambling Severity Index (PGSI), which ranks people between 3 & 7. It’s worth noting that a 2008 study found a link between higher scores on the PGSI and alcoholism. Even having established methods of diagnosing gambling, online gambling presents a new challenge. It is indeed difficult to discern between an experience gambler experimenting with different methods, and an inexperienced one throwing money away when observing the data available on online gambling websites, without resorting to intrusive and illegal methods. This has been a prevalent issue since the dawn of online poker, and after numerous studies looking at online gambling from various perspectives and circumstances, no one is closer to a solution for this problem. It seems that in its current format, online poker is doomed to reduce the card game from an intricate game of mental chess, to something more akin to a roulette machine.