Vice Squad
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
Pushing Poker Skills

In part because many anti-gambling laws refer to "games of chance," devotees of poker often try to convince the world that theirs is a game of skill. (Though I favor legal gambling, I am not sure I am convinced of this claim as a legal argument.) At any rate, poker surely involves decisionmaking under uncertainty, and it might even be an effective vehicle for teaching such skills or for acquiring them in a form that can translate into other domains. For instance, the idea that often the best thing to do is to exit a hand early, that sunk costs are sunk, and that playing hunches as opposed to probabilities is not a surefire way to riches, all could come in useful in a broad array of situations -- and then there is the whole problem of what appears to me to be widespread misunderstanding of probabilistic reasoning.

Recently a Harvard law professor of some renown has been instrumental in establishing the Global Poker Strategic Thinking Society. You can watch the first meeting of the Harvard Law School chapter here. The editor of Reason magazine is as pro legal vice as is Vice Squad (probably even more so), but he is dismayed that the bid for poker legality is couched in its status as a game of skill, that somehow the argument has to be made with respect to poker's virtues.

Meanwhile, a famous poker player, Annie Duke, has joined the board of the Decision Education Foundation. Who could be better? After all, "The mission of the Decision Education Foundation is to improve the lives of young people by teaching them how to make better decisions." Poker is awash in favorable publicity, it seems -- well, except for that embarrassing cheating scandal at a Costa Rica-based internet poker site.

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