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It Is Better to Be Lucky Than Talented

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It Is Better to Be Lucky Than Talented

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I believed Mike McD for eight years. "People insist on calling it luck," he kept saying sarcastically. Sure. We all knew better. If poker was about luck, as Mike says, the same guys wouldn't be sitting at the final table of the World Series every year, right? Poker was about skill and intuition. Poker was about reading opponents like a police detective, outplaying and outwitting them, always remaining ahead. Poker was about shifting gears, changing betting patterns, appearing meek one minute and pouncing like a panther the next. Poker was about an accumulated series of gambling experiences, good and bad, that mold you into a real player. You didn't lose because you were unlucky; you lost because you were outplayed. Big difference. That was poker. Or so I thought.

You know what poker is really about? Luck.
I found this out the hard way in Vegas, on the heels of my abrupt departure from the Main Event at the WSOP. I played a hand perfectly and somehow lost a $20,000 pot. That was it. I was done in two hours. Over the next 10 days, almost 9,000 other players were knocked out -- some for the right reasons, some for the wrong ones. At the final table, no famous pros were left sitting. A former Hollywood agent won the whole thing. Twelve million bucks. Nobody was even surprised. See, everyone thinks they know how to play now. Before Mike McD broke onto the scene, Hold'em was an underground game, the forbidden door most gamblers were afraid to open. But repeated cable showings of "Rounders" inspired a new breed of casual players like myself to give the game a try. ESPN popularized the pocket cam and made the game easier to understand. The Internet boom allowed shut-ins to hone their skill, cresting when no-name qualifier Chris Moneymaker won 2003's Main Event. Websites and satellites even made it possible to qualify for the World Series without fronting the 10 grand. Poker shows popped up like pimples. Stars were made of pros like Phil Hellmuth and Phil Ivey,...