It’s really worth thinking about. I hope you can confirm it soon. Which game do you play today, did you play in the past? Which one do you still play for money today? Every game has its elements, almost all of them form a combination of luck and skill. I would like to explore a bit the proportions of luck and bad luck and also the potential to make money. Because that is also an important factor. All right then, into it:
Chess has been sufficiently discussed elsewhere. The suitability of chess as a money game is extremely low. Despite the elements of luck in chess that I mentioned, which are vehemently denied by chess players, or rather the respective winners (typical chess player’s substitute after a won game: “I had seen it all and planned it that way”, which of course is not true), the winner can nevertheless be predicted with a sufficiently high degree of reliability, which completely discourages the designated losers from playing and participating, but especially from playing for higher stakes. Therefore, in this form of hierarchy, also called the “royal game” and to that extent illegitimate, it is to be ranked at the bottom.
I have studied Skat myself for only a short time and played a few tournaments. The luck factor is quite high in this game. The luck factor itself wouldn’t bother me so much if it didn’t depend very much on the moves of the third man.
When you play a game yourself, you hold the trump cards, so to speak. If the opponents make mistakes on top of that, so much the better. But if you have to turn a game with a fellow player and he doesn’t play the right cards? Is that bad luck or what? And the crucial point when considering playing the game for money is yet to come: with three men at the table, it can always happen that two play together. And that happens often enough. This “spoils” the game. Everybody knows that it can happen to him that he is taken “in the middle”, so by nature only smaller amounts are played for.
When I discovered the game of backgammon, I immediately had the feeling that I had been a backgammon pro in a former life. Everything seemed so familiar, so natural. The moves, the strategies, the logic and also the mathematics. But also the beauty and aesthetics. So I studied the game and then very soon played the first tournaments. And also played for money, they call it “moneygame”.
The big difference to chess: you could suddenly play for big money, much higher than in chess. 20 DM per point was not unusual. Or at tournaments the entry fees 100, 200 DM, later at the World Championship 1000 DM or more. That was a different flair.
But why were players willing to risk such high amounts in this game? The answer is obvious: it is a game of chance. The luck of the dice can favour anyone, Fortuna can smile on anyone. And everyone has experienced in this game that a totally won or hopelessly lost position was turned around in one throw (in one of my first books there was the sentence: “Backgammon – the cruelest game”). I think that was what was meant by that).
So with a bit of luck, anyone can win here. Yes, that’s how it is. But there is a skill factor, quite obvious and undisputed. It’s just that the effects of good moves are often enough lost. In other words, you make the right move or moves and lose. Just cruel. But the professional player must be grateful for this, because, unlike in chess, the better player does not win as often and with the same certainty and reliability. So the weaker player sticks with it and perhaps says to himself: “Today is my lucky day, I will win.” But a very important aspect here is also vanity: the weaker player often attributes his losses only to bad luck. He also actually sees that here and there his opponent wins a game only through luck. Later, he does not think about his mistakes, but about the unlucky games he lost.
Nevertheless, there are limitations there too at some point.
Some time passes. The professionals, the better ones, win and live well. The losers eventually notice that their wallets are getting slimmer. Then comes the ungracious computer age. With it the backgammon programmes. The good backgammon programmes are like today’s chess programmes: Man no longer has a chance. The programme uncovers the mistakes, converts them into “equity” and into “error rates”. The loser loses the possibility to blame his losses on bad luck. The computer has analysed the games, the errors are exposed.
At some point, the unpleasant consequence is that the game loses its appeal. In this sense, it resembles chess: Even if there is luck or bad luck, in the end the better man wins, even if the end is further away.
To avoid misunderstandings: backgammon remains a great and attractive game. It is still played for money. It can also be played on the internet, the game “runs”. The only thing is that the game is gradually losing momentum, the big boom is over, and this is due to another game, the
Yes, this is now the modern game. Although it has a longer history, of course. Poker is really “booming” right now. There is something about poker on TV almost every day. It even seems to fascinate the viewers. The fascination is certainly partly due to the size of the amounts that move across the table there. But surely also because the viewer can experience the tension. Through the cameras, they usually even know more than the player. The player sits at the table and sweats for a huge amount of money. The spectator already knows what he has to do, whether he can win or will lose. Fold, call or raise?
How did the poker boom come about? Poker is simply the ultimate game. It is the ideal combination of gambling and skills. The high amounts only come about because so many people play. And the fact that so many people play is due to the fact that, just like in backgammon, you can also get lucky. The crucial difference to backgammon is this: The mistakes are obscure, hidden.
For example, if you make a bad call at the end with a losing hand (the call is, as it used to be called, “to see”), the opponent shows his cards, you have lost. Good. But you don’t have to show the cards anymore. A computer will never be able to calculate how big or terrible the mistake was. The mistake remains hidden once and for all. If you make a stupid raise, the other person pays and then wins, it’s almost the same: You show the cards yourself, you lost with a bad hand. But you say (to yourself or out loud): “Yes, I wanted to try a blöff. I thought you believed me that I had the good hand. It was an attempt.” Next time it might actually succeed. The opponent passes. Then you can show the cards, i.e. reveal the Blöff to fool or annoy your opponents, or you can return the cards face down. No one will ever know.
Poker did not catch on by chance. It is the best game for making big money Everyone has justification for their moves. And mistakes can practically never be proven, because the element always remains: “I thought…” And no one can contradict. You just thought, you thought wrong this time, but next time you might think right.
The most important aspect is that no one wants to embarrass themselves, to look stupid. If someone makes a stupid move in chess, a beginner’s mistake, the spectators, everyone can see it. Look, this position and he makes such a move, such a gross goof. And that’s supposed to be a grandmaster? In backgammon, the mistakes are now also exposed: the computer says the move is wrong, you give away so and so much equity. It’s no longer obscure either.
In poker, it can never be proven. The long-term loser, the worse player, is protected in his mistakes. I am explicitly excluding live TV broadcasts. They are based on the fact that the viewer can see everything and that some of the mistakes are exposed. But that’s more like advertising for poker. The players, mostly the top players in the world, want to make the right moves and be recognised as “strong”, but a mistake does not knock them down. The publicity effect plays the more important role. Moreover, an effect remains with regard to mistakes, even if the spectator (and thus basically everyone) can see the cards. This is the effect that although you have paid with a losing hand, even raised, everyone can see that you cannot win, but you can still say: “I thought…” or “I believed you did not…”.
Any move can even be right at the time. This led me to think about looking for a move in poker that is guaranteed and proven to be wrong. And that’s not even easy. Here is the reasoning:
If you imagine the following situation: You have the smallest possible hand, your opponent plays, so you have to pay the amount, “call” or “fold”. Is “fold” then correct, always? No, because the opponent could have the same hand, that is at least possible.
There are two situations where a move is guaranteed to be wrong: The first is when you are the last to act and you have the “nuts”, the best possible hand. If you don’t play now, i.e. don’t bet any amount, then you have certainly given something away. Because the opponent(s) can now do three things: “Call”, “Fold” or even “Raise”. With a “fold”, the player with the nut wins just as much as if he does not play at all. But with “Call” or “Raise” he wins more. So it is guaranteed to be better to play. How much you have to play, on the other hand, is completely unclear. If, just to give a number, you play 100 euros and nobody pays, then 100 was perhaps the wrong number. Maybe 50 euros would still have been paid, by one or even several, we don’t know. It’s even possible that more would have been paid because someone thought, “If he’s playing that much, then it must be a bluff. If he really had the winning hand, he would certainly play less. So I call.”
The second obvious mistake would be if you “fold” yourself with the “nuts”, the best possible hand, when your opponent is calling. Even if splitting the pot is theoretically possible, “fold” is wrong, under all circumstances. Otherwise, any move can be right in a given situation. It remains, “I thought…”.
But now it’s really getting funny again in between:
I recited these considerations to another professional player. I was convinced that I had found the two situations where you can actually prove a mistake, now and forever. He simply had to agree with me. And what did he do? He contradicted. Of course he did. And the argument was absolutely correct and plausible: making a very gross and obvious mistake can help you in the future.
So you deliberately make a right, recognisable stupid mistake, no matter what kind of obvious mistake. You do that, for example, when you come to a new, strange table where you don’t know all the other players. That’s really nothing unusual. You create an image. This image is: free, beginner, the man can’t do anything.
That alone would not justify this mistake. It is the following consideration that achieves this: people often form an image of a person quite quickly. This happens not only in poker but also in real life. People hold on to this first and quick assessment as long as they can. One is not prepared to correct it. So if you play flawlessly in the following period, many who have seen the stupidity would still maintain their judgement. “The man is weak, he can’t do anything. Do you know what he used to do? …”
In poker, you can even put it another way: there are calculable probabilities. With what probability do I make a straight, a suit, a full house or a three of a kind (by the way, I’m usually talking about the most popular poker variant, Texas Hold’em). This is identical to backgammon. The difference comes now: there are lots of contingency probabilities. These are the following: How likely is it that my opponent is bluffing? How likely is it that he actually has the hand? How likely is it that if he has the hand, he will hit his cards?
And finally: How likely is it that he has this or that hand? Very good players “bet” the opponent on a hand. They conclude that from the overall character picture. Then they add the sequence of play in a particular pot. Did he make an early raise? If so, what position was he in? Did he play again after the flop? If yes, how much, if no, did he call when someone else played?
The probabilities are impossible to calculate. It is impossible. You can speculate, conjecture and know and factor in the probabilities of your own hand improving. But about the opponent’s moves it always remains conjecture.
All this information together nevertheless adds up to this: by improving one’s playing strength, one can increase the probabilities of reading the hands correctly, of assessing the opponent(s) correctly. As a result, you naturally make better decisions, even if you are wrong here and there.
Poker is at the top of my hierarchy of games. The game is perfect for playing for (big) money for a long time. The boom is far from over. Even if the number of active players stopped growing, it would at least remain constant for a long time. And it is already very high.